By Uchechukwu Enem
I was searching through the international calendar and I discovered that March 15 is the World Day for Consumers. Being aware of your rights make you stronger and courageous. Personally, I am not fully aware about my rights as a consumer until I got exposed to some of the activities of the Anti- Piracy Society of Nigeria (APSON). In commemoration of the World Day Consumer Celebration, we remember those consumers who are dead as a result of food poisoning because of fake products. We also remember those who are fighting for a better health maintenance like those who are victims of food poisoning, skin cancer and lots more.
In this celebration, it is important that every consumer seek redress and report issues when they feel they are cheated, shortchanged or not comfortable with the product. Such consumer rights are: Consumer right to be heard, consumer right to healthy environment, consumer right to safety, consumer right to choose, consumer right to information, consumer right to represent, consumer right to refund, consumer right to seek redressal.
There has been an imbalance in knowledge with the relationship existing between producers of goods and consumers of these products. I have been a victim of food poisoning, I have been cheated severally in the market and most importantly, I have been a victim to copyright where people steal and collect my intellectual property. In life when we see a problem, we try hard to find a solution to the problem.
Fides gathered from the Director General of Anti- Piracy Society of Nigeria (APSON), Frank Uduonu, who reeled out the prospects, activities and importance of APSON in promoting Consumer Awareness and Education in Nigeria. I hope you find this piece challenging and educative.
Can you briefly tell us what APSON entails?
As the name implies, Anti-Piracy Society of Nigeria (APSON), involves working against piracy and counterfeits of the products consumers consume.
What Inspired you into building APSON?
Looking at the society, I have been a victim of counterfeit and my family and friends have also been victims of piracy. I grew up in Aba and we were into cosmetics, so I saw people engaging into piracy as a short cut to make money. I have seen people risking other people’s life as a result of pirating products. I have interacted with most of them and I found out that ignorance is the problem. When this vision was coming up, I related it to my experience in Aba where I saw people pirating Peak milk and transporting it to various parts of the country. While growing up, I could not do much to stop that but now I can do much more to stop Piracy.
I have realized that the only way to stop this was through consumer awareness which gave birth to APSON. I was at Upper Iweka, Onitsha to discuss piracy of music and video album and I discovered that the only way to stop piracy issue was through mass mobilization and awareness. The one directional approach to antipiracy needs to be changed and the only way it could be changed is through mass mobilization of the consumers. By this, consumers would understand that before they open a drink, they should check the label. By this, Consumers would understand that their choice of goods and services could be the reason why one of their brothers or sisters have not made money yet, because their choice of patronizing fake products could be what’s affecting their relatives who is into production of original products.
Also, consumers would understand that their choice of purchasing mp3 and downloading illegal music is what could be affecting their brother who is an artist.
APSON aims at creating awareness. We live in a country where consumer education is not valued. For example, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) that is saddled with the responsibility of educating Nigerians are not doing enough in educating the consumers on the inherent dangers of piracy and counterfeit. My inspiration is the make the society a better place for people
Recently, APSON organized a workshop on Consumer Education, could you briefly tell us about the programme?
Every three months, we organize workshops to keep training people and to keep them abreast with the modern technology. The theme of the programme was on ‘Consumer awareness as an Emerging Force in Nigeria’. At the first session, the participants were exposed on how to interpret product labels and how to know the real and the fake ones. At the second session, consumer awareness and the security implications were discussed. The two sessions were respectively taken by the Consumer Education Department and Surveillance Department of Federal Consumer and Competition Protection Commission (FCCPC).
On the second day, we had four guests. They are: Obi Obigeme (an entrepreneur), who gave his views on consumer education from the entrepreneurship angle. Chibueze Oforbuike (Political Analyst), who talked about the consumer education from the political and governmental point of view. We also had Miss Uchechukwu Enem (Online/ Google), who spoke on the need to carefully read online agreements and for consumers to be careful while downloading apps. Also, Mr. Chinemerem Oguegbe (Self-realization Coach), encouraged consumers to realize their potentials and to believe in themselves.
On the third day, the first session was handled by Rev. Fr. Dr. Jude Ezeanokwasa (Esq). He spoke and defined the concept, ‘intellectual property’ and the legal implications on the society. The second lecture was taken by the Sub Dean of the Faculty of Law, Nnamdi Azikwe University, Dr. Mrs. Amaka Eze. She spoke on Consumer Protection Act and the redressal options for nongovernmental organizations for the society.
As we celebrate World Consumer Day, what’s your view on Consumer Education?
Consumer education is the major key to savaging the society. A lot of consumers are not aware of their rights. For example, it is wrong to pay for a house without getting value in return for the payment. We only hear things like this in Nigeria. Also, it is wrong to pay for a house rent, yet, the toilet is not functioning well. It is your right as a consumer to get paid or get value for that loss. It is wrong that after paying for a house rent, the landlord makes a rule that by 9pm he will lock the gate without giving the tenants keys to the gate. It is not wise. Consumers are not aware of certain things and that is why they keep living in ignorance.
Secondly, our choice of goods and services seem to be the problem as well. For example, our choice of buying things that look so beautiful, flashy and catchy without trying to find out the content or label. In consumer awareness, we don’t buy things because they look so beautiful. Always take your time to scrutinize labels. Always take your time to ask good questions when you buy products. These counterfeiters always concentrate more on rural areas where people don’t have access to information, media and education. This is part of the reasons we are concentrating more on the grassroot. We have 21 local representatives in the 21 local government areas of Anambra state. By next month, we are marching into Delta state and hopefully, move into Enugu state. Each state we enter, we will make sure we have offices and local representatives in all the local governments. From March 15th which is the World International Consumer Day till the end of the month, we are moving round to create awareness of consumer education in different localities including public places like the schools, churches, markets etc. it’s a huge task that requires government support. Our government do not seem to look carefully into this issue because the FCCPC saddled with the responsibility of securing consumer interest only have one office in the entire South East which is in Awka. How can they perform well? They can only perform on paper but on practical field, it is not possible. When we talk about consumer right and protection, then there should be a consumer complaint office in every community so that consumers will not find it difficult to complain. People who want to complain do not need to spend extra money in transport. It is your right as a citizen to be protected. For example, someone from Umuchu coming to Awka to lay complaint may decide not to go through that stress and may forget about the case. The person may check the cost of coming from Umuchu to Awka and decide to forget the issue. If the government can make these offices closer to the people at the grassroot level, people will feel free to lay complaints when their rights are being infringed upon. If the government cannot do it, let them come onboard so that the Anti- Piracy Society of Nigeria can teach them and help them do it better because we are masters and we are making difference in people’s life. So, if the government are ready, we are open always to negotiate with the state and federal government on how best we can partner with FCCPC to help them at the grassroot level. If the government can join hands with us, I believe we can make this country a better place.
The recent issue with the EEDC is an example. They stopped the policy about the meter because the consumers started crying and complaining. We need to speak, but people cannot speak about what they don’t know. This is the reason why we are pushing forward for high consumer education in the country. Some people do not know that it is their right that when they buy cloth and it is being changed for a lower quality, it is their right to go back to the seller and change it. It is not about fighting but about your right.
When we educate consumers, we make them understand the triple R’s that exists when they are shortchanged in the market. For example, when a consumer buys a product in the market and later discovered that is not what he expected or bargained for. He can RETURN it back. It is either the seller REPAIRS or REPLACE. But if it cannot be repaired or replaced, then it can be REFUNDED.
How do you see the Antipiracy society in the next 1- 2 years?
We are targeting one family, one antipiracy member. We are launching the campaign this month. One year from now, we hope to cover the entire South-South and South- East. We are taking it one step at a time. Fortunately, if the government comes in, we can spread very quick. We still solicit for government support and private companies because their products are also in dangers. This is because we can help them track it and give their business a meaning. What they need to do is to register and leave the necessary requirements for us because we are expert in that field.
We have five functioning departments which are: The consumer Education Department, Surveillance Department. We have Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Programme, Research and Strategy, (PRS) and we have the Anti-Piracy Secret Intelligent Department (APSID).
Thank you so much for this kind interaction. It was insightful. I hope the readers could seek redress when they are shortchanged. For consumers seeking for more information about APSON, they could kindly visit the Anti- Piracy Society of Nigeria (APSON), at Kwata Junction very close to Prince Paradise Hotel or contact: 09053311077. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy World Consumer Day!!!