Writers have often inferred that Nigerians and many other African countries have in several ways contributed to the slow economic development of Nigeria, through the low patronage of Nigerian-made products and services. A good example is that many would rather spend on China-made products than buy locally made Aba products. The government through its monetary and fiscal policies have tried to coerce consumption of locally made products by placing bans on certain imports and enforcing strict foreign exchange policies, but this has failed to deter Nigerians as they still prefer to smuggle in foreign goods despite all the odds.
The government in its bid to attract foreign investors, increased the ease of foreign direct investment in the core production and servicing sector of the economy, but the preference for imported products is still very present. The undesirable attitude of an average Nigerian towards locally-made products has directly relegated the growth of the country’s economy to the barest minimum whilst contributing tremendously to the economic development of western countries.
Effects of Lack of Consumer Right Awareness on The Economy
Africa is the least developed continent despite several of its countries being blessed with enviable natural resources. One of the major challenges encountered by some of these countries, especially Nigeria, in its quest to progress from a developing economy to a developed economy is the unwavering love of Nigerians for foreign-made products and services. This can be attributed to the fact that Nigerians have long lost trust in the country’s production and service industries for flooding the market with substandard products and the non-availability of a platform to protect and fight for consumers and more importantly sensitize them of their rights as consumers.
Most Nigerians prefer to use the same products and services as their foreign counterparts that know their rights to ensure they are being protected by association. This in turn has affected the factors of production in local industries, including labor, due to reduced demand by consumers. Because there is no structure in place for consumers to interact directly with fellow consumers, suppliers and manufacturers, they would most likely never be aware when there is an improvement in quality and the manufacturers would not also be made aware of the real reason behind the decline in consumption and patronage.
It is important to note that contrary to the believe that Africans patronize foreign-made products and services in order to enhance self-worth or to be sophisticated and cosmopolitan, they patronize these products and services majorly because they are convinced that they are being exploited by local manufacturers, middlemen, service agents and sellers to such extent that their health is jeopardized and sometimes leads to loss of lives, limbs and properties, and the culprits wouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. This reinforces the preference of foreign-made products and services that they can be certain are protected by formed consumers organizations that help consumers make better choices in the market space and pursue complaints against businesses whenever their consumer's rights are trampled on.
The music sector of the Nigerian entertainment industry recorded significant growth over the years. In the past years, the growing number of studios and artists springing up has paved way for a more vibrant and sustainable industry. This is because the Nigerian government has taken some key steps to grow the media and entertainment industry by creating the Creative Industry Financing Initiative, also increasing the internet penetration rate by establishing laws and guidelines aimed at promoting increase access to the internet through the already licensed infrastructure companies (InfraCos). This singular act made available a platform that connects the entertainment industry stakeholders with the consumers, thus giving the major players in the industry an opportunity to compete with their international counterparts on a global level. Over time, the industry has earned consumer’s trust, gained competitive power and continued to release great contents. The Nigerian government should emulate this in other industries to boost trust, which would likely result in consistent development of the country’s economy.
Aside from the perceived quality of foreign-made products and services over local ones, the fact that consumers’ rights and protection are placed top priority in advanced countries also contributes to several countries all over the world preferring their products and services. In the survey conducted by the Consumers Protection International CPI on ‘The state of consumers around the World’, it was concluded thus: "The results of this survey provide valuable insight into the state of consumer protection around the world. There is some progress being made. For example, in areas such as consumer safety, financial services and healthcare a wide range of consumer protection measures are in place in most countries surveyed. However, despite these positive developments, some serious gaps remain. As might be expected, in many cases there appears to be a strong link between income level and the development of consumer protection measures, Low-Income Countries (LICs) are yet to implement some of the most basic protections. For example, only 61% of LICs have a general CPA (Consumers Protection Acts) and only a third have a national policy on consumer protection. The development of measures to ensure consumers have adequate information is also patchy in LICs. In other cases, a more comprehensive range of measures may be in place but are not delivering results. For example, access to (and reliability of) essential services remains a serious issue in MICs(Medium Income Countries) and LICs (and even in high-Income Income Countries) to some extent), suggesting that current approaches are not effective”.
Consumers feel the need for protection through legislation because the general laws and market forces have failed to provide it. The fact remains that in real markets, consumers have markedly less power and information than producers or service providers.
The law takes the action of a consumer in buying goods or services to be the making of the contract. Which however is a free and consensual Act in theory and practice, the legal consequence is attributed to the action by the law without any consideration of what the consumers know or want. The common law of contracts simply cannot afford consumers the protection they probably would seek if they were rational, fully informed, and equal in economic power to the producers or service providers.
Nigerians and their other counterpart in African countries will always want to patronize the countries where consumers' rights are in place and where these rights are protected to the latter. Nigerians will always prefer to school abroad because the schools abroad will do everything to provide services that were paid for without prejudice, they don’t want to fall below the world standard.
Most manufacturing companies in advanced countries would only put out quality and durable products in order to maintain a good brand and public image, and to avoid possible legal actions against their companies. Other service providers in the developed countries will prefer to treat consumers with respect and give them optimum satisfaction because they understand what fundamental human rights mean. In underdeveloped countries, most citizens do not understand their basic consumer rights, that is why they condone a lot of shortcomings from certain industries. They do not when to exercise their power as consumers and there are little or no platforms available to help sensitize and fight for these rights, so many prefer to suffer and smile in silence as they cannot afford to legally go against some of the big companies individually when these rights are being trampled on.
It is inevitable for the trust level in such environment to drop to its barest minimum, because contract law offers an inadequate basis for an equitable legal transaction. To gain back the lost trust, there needs to be a modification to afford greater protection to consumers than they can negotiate for themselves, as is done in advanced economies.
Cases of Consumers Protection and Awareness in the Developed countries
The Consumers International – a World Federation of consumer rights groups, confirmed that consumer protection Acts are less prevalent in low-income countries or badly implemented in some. Since 1960, most developed countries with common law legal systems, the nations of Europe and recently Asia, have enacted significant consumer protection legislation. Needless to stress that this move also came with an economic boom.
We have seen several consumer cases in Asia, example of such case is “Ashok Iron Works PVT. Ltd filed a complaint under the Consumer Protection Act, against KPTC, claiming damages in the sum of Rs.99.900 for the delay in the supply of electricity”, also the Case of Dr. Arnid Shah V Kamlaben Kushawa- The plaintiff alleged that his son died due to the administration of a wrong treatment by the doctor. The state commission upholding negligence provided compensation.
These are only but a few of the many cases geared towards protecting consumers’ rights in developed countries. Unlike these developed countries, cases of consumers fighting for their right is not common in this part of the world, consumer’s do not feel protected as there are no structures or campaign in place for educating consumers of their right and there’s a high level of distrust for suppliers and manufacturers, therefore leading to economy stagnation.
Recommendations and Conclusion
Building trust in Nigerian products should be the major objective of the government, manufacturers, suppliers and service agents. Organizations should be created to educate consumers of their rights, fight for them when there’s a violation and protect them from such possible violations without hidden benefits. This would ensure that manufacturers are conscious of the consequences of substandard outputs when producing, it would serve as a strong motivation for local reputable producers and service providers to observe extremely high commercial standards. It would also eliminate nonchalant capitalists who do not care so much for reputation and operate only in the short term, and organizations producing below standard outputs due to competitive pressure to up their games. Nigerians are willing to pay for quality products and services if they are affordable and within reason, even when they are locally made, as long as there’s trust.
The theoretical tendency of market forces to provide safe and quality goods and services at an affordable cost does not match practical reality. By the time market forces have the platform to operate, far too many consumers are either dead, cheated, maimed, or deprived. The Local laws on consumers' rights protection can help avoid some of these harms, implementing these laws can go further in stopping these ills. Having an independent organization that avails consumers a seamless advocacy will eliminate these problems and then will the trust for homemade goods and services be reinforced.
In summary, we need more platforms that ensure consumers' rights are protected, we need more consumers advocacy that comes at low or no cost. We need to do more in making consumers aware of their rights. We need to see more cases where consumers' rights are protected in Nigeria and many other developing or underdeveloped countries in Africa. This is the only way to build trust and confidence in the consumers’ minds. It is then Nigerians and by extension other Africans will prioritize homemade products to foreign-made. This can help boost economic development.