Appraisal of the Regulatory Regime for Protection of Consumers of Telecommunications Services in Nigeria
1.1. Background to the Study
The Telecommunications sector has witnessed phenomenal growth following the liberalisation of the industry in 2001. It has been described by many as a revolution that has dramatically changed the face of information and communications technology in Nigeria. The socio-economic impact of this development is unquantifiable; the mobile phone has become the most popular method of voice communications, broadband penetration is on the increase, commercial transactions are concluded on mobile phones without a face to face contact of the contracting parties. It has also enabled the cashless society policy of the Federal Government of Nigeria, while in the health sector; it has advanced health care delivery through telemedicine. This research seeks to assess the adequacy of legal and regulatory regime for protection of consumers of telecommunication services in Nigeria. Also, the research examines the challenges faced by the consumers of telecommunication services and the challenges of enforcing consumer rights in Nigeria.
It will not be an overstatement to say that the telecommunications industry is one of the most regulated sectors of our economy today. Despite this, the consumer of telecommunications services is faced with a lot of challenges. Amongst the challenges is the issue of the Quality of Service which is a key determinant in the relationship between consumers and the operators. This often makes the consumer to lose in the power equation as he often does not get value for his money.
1.2. Statement of the Problem
The fundamental rights to privacy of citizens; their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications which are basic consumer rights have been guaranteed by the Constitution of Nigeria.
The Nigerian Communications Act does not specifically mention subscribers’ rights, but only refers to them in a broad sense3. Typically, subscribers’ rights and interests cover assurances of quality service (including availability of service), security, privacy, affordability, ease of use, functionalities, ability to connect to subscribers on any other network (interconnection), freedom of choice of operators and service options and transparency4. By the legislation establishing the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), its primary responsibility is to safeguard, moderate and regulate the rights of citizens of this nation, to exchange views and information through any of the modern technologies of telecommunication without let, hindrance or exploitation. In seeing to it that the telecommunications consumer is adequately served, it is beholden of the Commission to erect and maintain proper guide posts and regulations to enhance the harmonious co-existence and cooperation of various operators who need to utilize the same air waves to reach their numerous consumers5. This means that whichever way the issue is viewed, whether from the stand point of the Commission or that of the service provider, the delivery of professional and qualitative service to the consumer is uppermost in the scale of priorities.
Unfortunately, more than a decade after the advent of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), subscribers in Nigeria are still far from getting world standard services. The experience is erratic, epileptic and inefficient services for which subscribers pay the highest tariffs in the world. Indeed, the GSM operators were recently fined N1.17 billion by the Nigerian Communications Commission over performance indicators on quality of services in 20136 . This penalty seems not to have impacted on the quality of services as the grade of service is still low necessitating another penalty of N647.5million in February 2014 on three major service providers: MTN Nigeria Communication Ltd, Airtel and Globacom. This is a confirmation by the regulatory body that the Nigerian consumer has been badly treated by service providers.
This research seeks to ascertain the adequacy of the extant laws adequate for the protection of consumers of telecommunications services and to examine the challenges of enforcing the rights of consumers.
1.3. Research Questions
This research seeks to answer the following questions:
1. How adequate is the legal framework for protection of consumers in the Nigerian communications sector?
2. What are the challenges faced by the consumers of telecommunication services in Nigeria?
3. What are the challenges of enforcing the rights of consumers of telecommunications services in Nigeria?
1.4. Objectives of the Study
The revolution in the telecommunications industry has brought with it issues, cardinal of which is the issue of consumer protection. The telecommunications industry is complex given the high level of illiteracy in the country. The Nigerian Communications Commission has placed the consumer at the centre of its vision as the only way to gauge the quality of services provided by service providers. It does appear that despite this laudable vision, the customer does not get value for his money since the quality of service continues to be poor.
The researcher therefore has set out to examine the existing legal framework for the protection of the consumers of telecommunications services in Nigeria, examine the challenges faced by the consumers of telecommunication services and to assess the adequacy or otherwise of the existing legal and institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of the rights of consumers of telecommunications services with a view to recommending a reform.
1.5. Scope of the Research
This work examines the laws that exist in Nigeria for the protection of consumers, particularly as it relates to the telecommunications industry. The work also takes a look at the other laws that promote and regulate consumer interests in service quality, price and fair trading practices. Case law is also examined to see how our courts have performed in this regard. The work also examines the position in 3 other countries to offer concrete solutions to consumers’ problems in Nigeria.
This research adopts the qualitative approach on both primary and secondary sources of data collection. The primary source is the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria. Secondary sources include textbooks by renowned authors, statutes and legislation passed by National and State Houses of Assembly and other delegated legislation as may have been passed by the agencies of government (NCC and Federal Ministry of Communications Technology), articles in reputable journals, handbills, newspapers and seminar papers.
1.7. Significance of the Study
This study appraises the legal and regulatory regime in Nigeria for the protection of consumers of telecommunication services. It recommends measures that will enable consumers enforce their rights which are daily been violated by service providers through; poor services, unsolicited calls, wrong billing, dropped/uncompleted calls amongst many others. The study also recommends the strengthening of laws that will protect the privacy rights of consumers as guaranteed by the Constitution of Nigeria (1999) as amended. Also, this study is a comprehensive attempt at examining the adequacy of these laws and the challenges inherent in enforcing them. Policy makers, legislators, students and players in the telecommunications industry will find this work useful.