With a lot of dissatisfaction of flight passengers with prolonged delays in flight, cancellations of flights, and other frustrating attitudes of airlines, consumer rights have placed stiffer sanctions on offenses like these.
It has come to the notice of Naijauto that a fine in excess of N200 million has been stipulated by consumer rights protection acts that have just been recently signed. The act deals with violations including indiscriminate flight delays and cancellations.
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA) 2019 as it is called, has overridden the former Consumer Protection Council (CPC) Act and has more stringent penalties for violations and non-compliance.
Though these regulations apply to all goods and service providers across Nigeria, the aviation industry stakeholders seem to be more concerned, especially with air travel which already is sanctioned by international regulations and conventions.
The law which was signed in February by the President Muhammad Buhari is binding on all commercial activities and undertakings within Nigeria. The federal, as well as state government corporations, parastatals, and profit-oriented commercial activities, are also affected.
This law is aimed at promoting and maintaining competitive markets within the Nigerian economy. It is also to ensure that the rights and welfare of consumers are prioritised by making product choices available to them at competitive prices. A tribunal has been set up by the FCCPA to hear cases of Consumer Protection violation, and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) has been set up in line with these obligations.
Of particular interest in this law is section 33 which states that "failure or refusal to respond to a summons of the FCCPC amounts to an offence and is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years and a fine of not more than N200 million or both."
Again, the tribunal has the powers to impose administrative penalties not exceeding 10 percent of the undertaking’s annual turnover in Nigeria and its exports from Nigeria during the preceding financial year. This is according to section 51 of the act.
Also section 120(3) states : “A supplier or service provider may not impose any cancellation fee in respect of a booking, reservation or order, if the consumer is unable to honour the booking, reservation or order because of the death or hospitalisation of the person from whom or for whose benefit the booking, reservation or order was made.”
Numerous individuals have reacted to this development. One of such people is Abayomi Oladipupo, a consumer right activist who didn't mince words to say that it has long been awaited and should be a big relief to consumers. Abayomi, who criticised the repealed CPC act, said that it was almost impossible to indict violators over basic rights.
“More often, companies simply disregarded summonses and continued to treat consumers with so much disdain. Look at our airlines; what they do around here is an abomination in other countries.
“They delay and cancel services without any form of apology, yet the Consumer Protection Council could not challenge them. With the new act, all of these are over because they can now ignore us, the consumers, only to their own detriment,”
You will recall that according to the scorecards by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), showed out of 59,818 flights operated by eight local airlines, 36,350 were delayed, and 544 cancelled. This is an average of three out of every five flights delayed in 2018. This has become worrisome especially for the teeming population of fliers whose time and money are being wasted.
Air Peace is one of Nigeria's international airlines that is likely going to be affected by the act!
Also reacting to the development is an aviation lawyer in one of the regulatory agencies. He submitted that the acts are meant to protect the rights of consumers across the country, but he worries that the FCCPC has an unusually wide jurisdiction. He laments that FCCPC covers every consumer issue in Nigeria, such that it brings industries with specific regulations under its fold.
“Having such in aviation will cause serious problems for the industry because it has always been a battle getting airlines to submit to the CPC after submitting to the NCAA. To do so will amount to double jeopardy. Yet, aviation conventions forbid aviation matters from being tried outside of the confines of aviation itself. Personally, I don’t see the law taking effect without major conflicts in the industry,”
according to the lawyer.
Another reaction given by Mojisola Olugbemi, a managing partner at starklegal law firm affirms the law as akin to “a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of an irate consumer,” strong enough to force airlines to withdraw from the country.
Olugbemi noted that anyone who can feign sickness and also get a doctor's report to back it can have a rebook without extra charges. Mojisola stated that this would amount to further losses for the airlines.
Even though there are fears, the majority of aviation regulators and operators seem not to be aware of the new provisions and the clause that allows primary agencies of regulated industries a period of one year for visiting the FCCPC in order to identify and streamline their jurisdiction and consumer protection issues.
The NCAA already is aware of the act while both foreign and local airline still claims unawares, NCAA only said it was still studying it to take necessary action.
Air travellers suffering from delayed or even cancelled flights
Another reaction from Chris Aligbe who is an aviation consultant was one of disappointment as he had expected aviation to be excluded, with numerous conventions which he says guides and regulates the industry.
NCAA was instituted by an act of parliament and has provisions already for consumer protection. Part 19 of the Act, the other conventions of regulatory bodies like the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and International Air Transport Association (IATA), to which Nigeria is a signatory, all see to the protection of consumer according to Aligbe.
Chris also reiterated that the National Assembly also considered a National Transport Commission, to regulate all modes of transportation, but had to temporarily stand down air transport due to its peculiarities, as persuasion was made.
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