Unusual landmines in Nigeria’s consumer landscape

Irukera embraces the sins of Akunyuli

By Emmanuel Ogbonnaya

The consumer landscape in Nigeria is such that nothing but a complete sweep for landmines will suffice, the consumer is in constant danger of being blown up when he makes a purchase or uses a service.

Interestingly, those saddled with the responsibility of consumer safety have for a long time looked the other way while consumers are getting hurt, losing their lives and money to defective, unhealthy products and getting charged for over-priced services not rendered in some instances.

So what is really going on? Where are the laws? Are there no lawmakers in the country? The consumer seems to be on his own when it comes to consumer abuses. You either hold your ground or concede to the abuse without a fight.

The thing though, is that when as a consumer you go out to spend your money on a product or service, the last thing on your mind is getting to condescend to fisticuffs. The manufacturers and service providers know this too, they also know that it is difficult to get respite for infractions, from the banking sector to telecom providers, electricity suppliers, petrol stations, replacement parts, electrical accessories, food and beverages, building materials, commercial transport operators (land and air), and the list is endless.

And so the abuse goes on unchecked, the last time Nigerians got any form of protective action from regulatory bodies was when Prof Dora Akunyuli of blessed memory was the Director General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, where she got her courage from, only God knows! She not only exhumed landmines from the food and beverage sector, especially the pharmaceutical sector, she also exposed those behind the landmines and shut down their operations.

Akunyuli became more popular than the president, because she was at least tackling issues that affected people every day, which they were too helpless to confront by themselves. The media loved her, because she was news, everywhere she went, action was sure to follow!

Of course it was a dangerous job, as several hits were put out on her which she fortunately escaped by the whiskers. One time was when an assassin’s bullet rifled through her head-gear and grazed her scalp. Many thought that would slow her down, but it didn’t, rather it strengthened her resolve to expose the evil people and brands peddling death to unsuspecting Nigerians.

The most unusual thing about the story of Akunyuli’s dogged fight for Nigerian’s safety was that the very Nigerians she stood up and fought for, found justifiable reasons to side against her. How? Well, they claim that she made people to lose their jobs and their investments. Plus she was gaining so much cheap popularity from doing her job. That is it.

And she was well reminded of her sins when she ran for Senate in her state! She lost marginally to her shock and disbelief. The people she fought so selflessly for rejected her.

Sadly today, the same scenario seems to be playing out as the current DG of Consumer Protection Council, CPC, Mr Babatunde Irukera appears to have been dodging unexpected landmines and taking bullets from the very people he is trying to save.

He has been under constant fire and brimstone characterized by name calling from the most unlikely quarters — consumers, who it might appear are suffering from Stockholm syndrome. These online tigers and social media elitists have stormed his social media handles and published articles to attack him for coming to their aid and protecting them from consumer abuses.

Against this barrage of criticisms, Irukera stoically maintains that he has absolutely no dilemma about prioritizing consumer protection over commerce, or any other consideration, especially with respect to food.

While empathizing with the potential for loss in business and the sometimes harsh business climate, Irukera said: “Food safety is bedrock of national security, the one place with no margin of error, any acceptable foreign investment in food can’t violate regulation.”

Needless to say, if he ever chooses to pursue a political career, these carnal sins of his namely: stifling foreign investments and eroding market competition, making people lose their livelihoods and becoming an overnight hit with the media, will be bandied by his political opponents, who I daresay may have already found disposed mouthpieces in his critics.

Little wonder then why Nigerians will most likely not find willing heroes to defend them, as Barabbas will always be preferred to Jesus Christ.

In her book ‘The War Against Counterfeit Medicines,’ Akunyuli narrated how against the barrage of criticisms, she was determined to succeed, to prove her critics wrong and to remain uncompromising in her job.

“Too many people tried to use my relationship with them to get me to compromise in the process of taking tough decisions. Sometimes it was difficult for me, because most of the counterfeiters come from the South Eastern part of Nigeria where I come from. But I was able to remain unwavering in all my regulatory responsibilities,” she wrote.

Babatunde Irukera deserves all the luck he can get, in his thankless job of being a hero for Nigerian consumers.

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