Rights Groups Condemn Consumers Council over Coca Cola row

Our attention has been drawn to the ongoing controversy involving the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited and Nigerian Bottling Company Limited over two half-filled cans of Sprite.

In a statement jointly signed by Nelson Ekujumi, Director, Centre for Rights and Grassroots Initiative, and Fadeyi Olalekan, Programme Director at Centre for Governance and Qualitative Studies, the groups aver that “As concerned Nigerians, we can only be pleased to have a revived CPC that defends rather defenseless Nigerian consumers against large corporate bodies and manufacturers that often take advantage of the lax regulatory and enforcement environment in Nigeria to the detriment of poor consumers.”

According to the group, it must be stated that the CPC in this case seems to be acting beyond the laws establishing it and acting out an ambiguous script in the guise of defending consumers. How else is it to be seen that the Consumer Protection Council Act of 1992 provides under section 9 (1) that “it shall be the duty of the manufacturer or distributor of a product, on becoming aware after such a product has been placed on the market, of any unforeseen hazard rising from the use of such product, to notify immediately the general public of such risk or danger and cause to be withdrawn from the market such product”;

Subsection two of the same section 9 stipulates that “any person who violates the provisions of subsection (1) above is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to N50, 000 fine ….”
It is cause for concern where the CPC is arrogating to itself the powers to impose a whooping N100, 050,000 against Coca-Cola Nigeria and Nigeria Bottling Company over a consumer complaint which the regulator has been celebrating in the media.

While the CPC has not claimed to have tested the two half-filled bottles of Sprite in any laboratory to ascertain whether being half filled also means that the contents are not fit for human consumption, the issue has been misleadingly portrayed in the media as a case of harmful products rather than a case of short-filling.

The Act establishing CPC clearly foresaw the need to rule out speculations as the basis for its decision by the provision in section 14 that “In the discharge of its functions under this Decree, the Council may seek collaboration with government agencies or other professional bodies in establishing laboratories or in joint use of testing facilities, common procedures or in ensuring standards of consumer goods or in assessing the quantum of loss or damage.”
Nigerians know that the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration (NAFDAC) is legally empowered to regulate on food and drugs where carbonated soft drinks fall but CPC in its wisdom would not comply with this provision of the very Act establishing it and collaborate with NAFDAC to ascertain the quality of the contents of the two half-filled bottles of Sprite before imposing fines.

Therefore our stand is that the CPC has not approached this issue with the level of discretion, responsibility and due process expected of an agency of government.

Why does CPC arrogate to itself the status of a republic, or an autocracy? How else are Nigerians supposed to view a body supposedly led by a lawyer who does not want the courts to interpret its decisions? When did it become disobedience of criminal proportions to seek judicial intervention on the ruling of a government agency? How does recourse to a properly constituted court amount to criminal breach as the companies are being charged? If the CPC insists on pressing the charges, why lift the corporate veil by joining the managing directors of Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited and Nigeria Bottling Company on this matter? What have they done in their personal capacities to deserve this?

We want to highlight that the CPC is insisting that it spent N60 million on investigating two half-filled cans of Sprite. Can the CPC disclose what its investigation entailed that made it expend this huge amount? If the Council is acting in defence of Nigerian consumers, these same consumers need to know.

We can go on and on but we want to highlight that it is evident that the global business community is watching and this overbearing attitude of the CPC would do Nigeria’s drive for more foreign direct investment no good.

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