Nigerian consumers have remained victims of manipulation in the hands of manufacturers. Although, there are regulatory agencies saddled with the responsibility of checkmating this menace, the violation of customer rights seems to have continued unhindered.
Staple foods have become fast-moving consumers goods (FMCG) for many Nigerians. Not a day goes by without thousands consuming them.
This high rate of consumption has made the FMCG business very lucrative both for manufacturers and sellers. In an industry as precise as that of FMCG, the margin for error should always be minimal, suggestive of a 95% confidence interval.
However, there are lots of fast-moving consumer goods in Nigeria that do not measure up to standards. Investigations confirm this. The statistical steps taken to determine product conformity to standards are inadequate. It is also worthy of note that each industry has adopted its own style of perpetuating this.
In an attempt to address this problem, sometime in 2012, the Federal Government published the Weights and Measures (Legal Metrology and Related Services Regulations). The Regulations were made by the then Minister of Trade and Investment pursuant to Section 47 of the Weights and Measures Act, Cap W3, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 (“Act”).
The objective of the Regulations is to prescribe fees for services rendered by the staff of the Weights and Measures Department of the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment to various businesses.
The Act was enacted to ensure uniformity of standards of measurement throughout Nigeria. The Act sets out the lawful weights and measures applicable in Nigeria and prescribes the mechanism for inspection and enforcement of the use of such weights and measures. This includes the manner in which weight and measure equipment or instruments are to be tested, confirmed and approved for use by authorised inspectors.
The minister is charged with maintaining secondary and tertiary standards which shall consist of measures or weights provided under the Act which collectively are known as the Nigerian trade standards.
The minister is also empowered under Section 47 of the Act to make regulations prescribing the fees to be paid on the stamping, marking, verifying, repairing or adjusting of any weight, measure, weighing or measuring instrument by an inspector; as well as prescribing the tests to be applied for the purpose of ascertaining the accuracy and efficiency of these instruments.
Also, the Act makes provision for the department to weigh or measure any good submitted to it for that purpose, or test the accuracy of any weighing or measuring equipment. It should be noted that such weighing or measuring equipment or instrument can include those used in the petroleum industry.
It is also important to note that the phrase weights and measures imply the selling of goods by weight or measures, such as volume and length. It is backed with a range of rules. These rules are designed to help customers understand how much they are buying and to ensure they receive the number of goods they are entitled to.
In fact, the clamour for best practices in all human endeavours and the desire to have accurate and effective service delivery informed the decision of the Federal Government to include issues of weights and measures in one of its Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) known as Weights and Measures Division which Abubakar Dangaladima is the current Director.
There are legal frameworks that empower the department to certify and check the compliance of all measuring and weighing equipment in all sectors of the economy, including oil and gas which includes creating uniformity in the measurement of products in the market. This is in collaboration with State Ministries of Commerce and Industry, and equally entails inspection of factories for compliance and accuracy of their measurement; inspection of petrol retail for accurate dispensing of petrol, diesel and kerosene; as well as inspection of measuring equipment in the oil and gas sector of the economy (both upstream and downstream).
The law relating to weights and measures, known internationally by the name “legal metrology”, is not only a vital instrument of consumer protection but is also vital for the scientific, technical and industrial development of a country.
The law has application in almost all spheres of human activity ranging from ordinary trade transactions to evaluations of the value of products that are subject to duty or other taxes and even those measurements needed for ensuring public health and human safety.
In ordinary trade transactions, the law ensures that during the sale of any commodity, the quantity delivered to the purchaser is not less than the quantity contracted for and paid for. This does not only save the trader large losses, but also protects the consumer from being cheated.
Legal control on measurements involving public health and human safety is equally important from the viewpoint of consumer protection. For example, a clinical thermometer or a blood pressure instrument that is not properly tested may lead to the wrong diagnosis and incorrect medication. Also, measurement of axle load on trucks to control overloaded vehicles minimise damage to roads, with the consequent reduction in road fatalities, and expenditure on development and maintenance of public roads.
In the case of pre-packaged commodities, the primary need is that the packages intended for retail sale should be marked with the correct statement of quantity together with such other information that would help the consumer make an informed choice of the product or commodity they intend to buy.
Inspection is a policing operation to check compliance with any of the requirements of the law. It is an important element of metrological control from the viewpoint of consumer protection and is done without notice.
However, in recent times, some businesses have questioned the astronomical fees introduced under the Regulations and the expansion of the powers of the department. For instance, the Regulations prescribed fees to be charged for oil and gas, electricity, water, and telecommunication sectors.
More specifically, the Regulations prescribed a fee of 0.175% of the Free on Board value on hydrocarbon commodities for export. In this regard, one pertinent question is whether the role of the department statutorily extends to the regulation of hydrocarbon exports and whether the minister can by regulation, extend the powers or functions of the department.
However, analysts are of the view that the department needs to extend its services to every part of the country for the purpose of efficiency.