According to the ISO, “A standard is a document that provides requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.” While a Regulation is a “document providing binding legislative rules, that is adopted by an authority”. Basically, standards ensure that materials, products, processes and services do exactly what they are meant to do while regulations provide legislative powers to authorities that enforce these standards. The advantages and benefits of using standards and regulations include:
- Support for societal and environmental policies
- Offers consumer protection
- Are used across different markets
- Reflect the state of the art
- Disseminate new technologies
- Are used for conformity assessment to enhance confidence
Nigeria claims to be the largest economy in Africa based on its rebased GDP even though ordinary Nigerians can’t attest to the benefits of such an economy. One of the reasons for rebasing Nigeria’s GDP was to take into account the growth in certain sectors of the Nigerian economy since the last time it was rebased in 1990. Some of the major economic sectors in Nigeria include telecommunication, manufacturing, oil and gas, transport, Entertainment, health, agriculture and Power amongst others. Although the growth in some of these sectors of the Nigerian economy is undeniable, the impact of such growth is not felt by ordinary Nigerians. There are various reasons why the impact of the economic growth is not felt by ordinary Nigerians, corruption being the major reason, but the lack of standards, its implementation and regulation in these economic sectors is an equally important reason. This part of the article will focus on three of the most important economic sectors in Nigeria and their regulators i.e. food/drug consumption, telecommunication and power. Subsequent parts of this article will cover other sectors and their regulators.
As a newbie in the United Kingdom, I was struck by the fact that all eggs in the UK had a stamp with an alphanumeric code and a lion seal on it. I was curious as to what the code meant and why it was present on every egg in the Land. The Lion seal represents British eggs from hens vaccinated against salmonella and produced to a strict code of practice. The alphanumeric code represents the farming method, country of origin and farm ID as illustrated in the diagram below. This seal and alphanumeric code represents the standard required of every British egg and reassure consumers of the quality and safety of the eggs for consumption. There are so many other “visible” standards in the UK that ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for purpose.
I used the word “visible” in the last sentence because in Nigeria we also have standards and regulatory authorities like NAFDAC, SON and many others, but many of these standards are not been enforced and some of these regulatory bodies are literally ineffective. In relation to the example of the eggs in the UK, we have the NAFDAC registration number clearly printed on majority of the consumable goods in Nigeria. But many other consumable goods are left unregulated like eggs, meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and so on. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is a government agency in Nigeria that regulates and controls the manufacturing, importation, exportation, advertisement, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, chemicals and packaged water. This is not to say that NAFDAC aren’t doing a wonderful job because they are, but there is still much to be done. For example in Abuja, there are so many gardens where people visit to drink and socialize. In these gardens, it is common to see hawkers selling cigarettes, snacks and all kinds of sex enhancing drugs among others. These sex enhancing drugs are clearly not approved by NAFDAC hence they are illegal to sell but that doesn’t stop the hawkers from trying to capitalise on the insecurities of their vulnerable customers. Hawkers selling sex enhancing drugs is wrong in so many ways because first of all, drugs shouldn’t be hawked but rather they should be sold in pharmacies and secondly, sex enhancing drugs should be prescribed. Even though the public have been warned by NAFDAC to avoid purchasing such unauthorised drugs, NAFDAC is still responsible for preventing such drugs from getting into circulation and when the drugs manage to get into circulation, NAFDAC is responsible for getting them off the streets. Another area I think NAFDAC should look into enforcing is pharmacies that sell prescription drugs to the public because most pharmacies in Nigeria fail in this regard. In my opinion, NAFDAC is leading the industry in terms of enforcing standards and regulations when compared to other sectors of the Nigerian Economy but there is always room for improvement.
The telecommunication sector is one of the biggest economic sector in Nigeria and it is often cited as a major example of the recent economic growth in Nigeria. This is because most Nigerians now have a GSM mobile phone as compared to the small number of people who once owned land lines. The growth in the mobile telecommunications industry is a welcomed development, but this growth came at the cost of the death of the land line infrastructures. Since the emergence of the mobile telecommunications industries, the Nigerian government has neglected the land line infrastructures to the point that they are unusable any more. Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (Nitel), the agency that operated and maintained the landline infrastructures have been left to ruins. Once upon a time, there where public phone-booths operated by NITEL but that has also gone to a state of oblivion. As a result of the neglect faced by Nitel and its infrastructures, the only source of internet connection to Nigerians today is the notoriously unreliable wireless and expensive cable broadband. There are no infrastructures to provide Nigerians with DSL, ADSL and FTTX broadband because the underlying copper telephone cables have been left to ruins. If these land line infrastructures had been maintained, improved and eventually deployed to every household in Nigeria, broadband technologies like Fibre, cable, DSL and Wireless would have been competing with each other. But broadband consumers in Nigeria only have wireless technologies to contend with. If you are not happy with your mobile telecoms service provider, the only option you have is to switch to another mobile telecoms provider. Not much of a choice there. Due to this lack of real choice, consumers rights are often abused, for example Telecoms companies like MTN and GLO are notoriously known to spam their customers with text messages advertising ringtones and other services for sale often times charging the customers even when they haven’t chosen the advertised service. MTN is also known to provide misleading advertisements – An MTN advert displayed a recharge code that if used together with a top-up voucher would give you double the cost of the voucher. An advert like this would obviously encourage dozens of customers to buy top-up vouchers and use with the advertised code in the hopes of getting double the price. But guess what? that code didn’t work for loads of customers but MTN definitely exploited its customers to buy recharge cards instantly and they got away with it. Another very good example of MTN providing horrible service to its customers is in the internet dongle recharge scenario and this has happened to me several times. When you want to subscribe for an MTN internet service, you need to select a subscription plan and send a corresponding code for that plan to a unique number provided you have sufficient funds on your sim card. When you send this code to MTN’s unique number, a notification message is sent to you informing you that your subscription plan has been accepted and you now have access to the internet. On three different occasions, I have sent a code for a particular subscription plan and the appropriate amounts have been deducted, but the confirmation messages were never sent to me and I ended up being unable to gain access to the internet. This is a very common scenario that happens to many MTN customers. When you call their customer service centers, they are mostly unhelpful and end up advising you to visit a contact centre to complain. This is where standards and regulations come into place. These telecom companies should have a strict standard of service that they should adhere to when providing services to their customers. These standards should be created and enforced by the government. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is the independent National Regulatory Authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria and as stated on their website, they are responsible for creating an enabling environment for competition among operators in the industry as well as ensuring the provision of qualitative and efficient telecommunications services throughout the country. One of the functions of the NCC is to ensure the protection and promotion of the interests of consumers against unfair practices including but not limited to matters relating to tariffs and charges for and the availability and quality of communications services, equipment and facilities. If the NCC is truly carrying out its duties as stated in the previous statements, then there would be alternatives to mobile telecommunication services such as landline services, there would be visible sanctions in situations where consumer rights have been violated and there would be surveys measuring customer satisfaction with the various mobile telecommunication services available. The result of these surveys would then be used to publish a report on the standard of services provided by these telecom companies. Consumers would then be able to identify from the report which service provider provides the best services and which ones provide horrible services. This report would help the consumers make informed decisions about the services they pay for and in turn it would drive the telecom companies to improve the services they provide.
The power sector is another industry in Nigeria that could benefit greatly from the implementation of standards and its proper regulation. The entire population of Nigeria strives on less than 4000 megawatts of electricity hence the sporadic nature of the power supply. Nigerians cannot boast of 24 hours of uninterrupted power supply and it has been this way for more than a decade. In fact, certain regions in Nigeria cant boast of an hour of uninterrupted power supply. The situation is so bad that the current president, Goodluck Jonathan promised that his administration would ensure the supply of an average of 18 hours of electricity per day to most Nigerians. It is embarrassing enough that the government should promise just 18 hours of electricity per day to Nigerians, but the fact is that most Nigerians can’t even boast of half of that amount currently. Certain regions of the country are supplied with majority of the power generated while other regions are left with little or no power supply. That should not be the case because every region in the country should have uninterrupted power supply every time of the day. The implementation of a strict set of standards in the power sector would greatly improve the industry as it would ensure that
- The infrastructures needed to generate and supply power are of industry standards
- The electrical infrastructures are maintained or replaced in a timely and consistent manner
- The rights of consumers are protected rather than abused and exploited as is the case today
- Incidents of power outages as a result of faulty infrastructures are resolved in a timely manner
- There is competition amongst the operators in the industry so that consumers can choose their electricity providers according to the quality of service they offer.
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is the independent regulatory agency in Nigeria that monitors and regulates the electricity industry, issues licences to market participants, and ensure compliance with market rules and operating guidelines. As stated on their website, they carry out a couple of important functions in the electricity industry one of which is the enforcement of standards, procedures and regulations for handling consumer affairs. It is all good and fine to state all these functions and services they claim to offer on their website, but in reality, the standard and quality of service received by the Nigerian populace betrays everything they claim to stand for. Just ask any Nigerian what they feel about the service they receive from their electricity service providers and their response would illuminate the failures of the so-called independent regulatory agency. There are numerous examples of the horrible standard of services experienced by Nigerians on a daily basis but I would provide only two of such examples that happened to me personally in the last two months. The first example involved an overhead cable that is connected directly to a transformer that is situated right next to my bedroom window. Whenever we have strong winds or heavy rainfall, this overhead cable start sparking off sometimes with loud banging noises that eventually leads to a total blackout of my particular block while every other block remains unaffected. Any time this happens, we end up calling a PHCN staff to report the incident and we have to wait for at least 24 hours before a team is sent to resolve the power outage (by the way, there are no official PHCN numbers for reporting incidents like this, if you do not have the number of a PHCN staff member, you have to drive to their head office to report your incident). Whenever the PHCN technicians arrive, they fiddle around with some of the overhead cables and the transformer and then the power comes back until the next heavy wind or rain. This scenario occurs every other week as the technicians clearly cannot provide a permanent resolution to this problem. The second example involved the conlog ekard prepaid meter that was compulsorily installed for most residents in Abuja. This meter developed a problem preventing us from using the keypad. Basically, the meter appeared as if it was working properly as it was not damaged or tampered with but the keypad was disabled because the clock icon remained constantly on (The clock icon indicates that the meter is temporarily going through a process and hence the keypad is disabled but in this particular scenario, they keypad remained disabled continuously for over 24 hours). Once again, there were no service numbers to call but I sent an email to NERC the so-called regulatory body. Eventually, I had to visit the PHCN office to report the incident and an engineer was subsequently assigned to follow me to my residence. On reaching my residence, the PHCN engineer carried out some diagnostics and informed me that I would have to pay N25000 for him to resolve the problem. I informed him that this was a PHCN equipment that had not been tampered with hence I shouldn’t have to be charged for its malfunction. The PHCN engineer left without attempting to fix the problem so I had to go back to the same PHCN office and I was assigned another engineer who eventually resolved the problem for the cost of N5000. At the end, I still had to pay for a faulty PHCN meter even though the charge was less than the initial offer from the first engineer.
The regulatory bodies discussed in this part of the article are responsible for creating, implementing and regulating standards that are used in the most important sectors of the Nigerian economy i.e. food/drug consumption, power and telecommunication. But these regulatory agencies have failed to enable Nigerians reap the benefits of implementing standards and regulating them. As a result of this failure, Nigerians have lost confidence in their ability to carry out their duties one of which is to use conformity assessment to enhance confidence. There are no divine solutions to these failures because these regulatory bodies already have the standards needed to drive the Nigerian economy even further, all they need to do is enforce them effectively, continuously and transparently.