INTRODUCTION

We all are consumers in one form or another. But in the present socio economic scenario we find that the consumer is a victim of many unfair and unethical tactics adopted in the market place. The untrained consumer is no match for the businessman marketing goods and services on an organized basis and by trained professionals.1 He is very often cheated in the quality, quantity and price of the goods or services. The consumer who was once the ‘king of the market’ has become the victim of it. The modern economic industrial and social developments have made the notion of ‘freedom of contract’ largely a matter of fiction and an empty slogan so far as many consumers are concerned. With globalization and development in the International Trade and Commerce there has been substantial increase of business and trade, which resulted in a variety of consumer goods and services to cater to the needs of the consumers. In recent years, there has been a greater public concern over the consumer protection issues all over the world.

In the early law, the doctrine of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) was the philosophy of the law of sales. Today it has been replaced by “let the seller beware”. As a result of this change of legal philosophy, business is heavily regulated on behalf of the consuming public. Many corporations today have a department of consumer affairs. Product liability suits are already a part of tort law. The Consumer Council does not see the consumer as a ‘buying unit’ or ‘a foot soldier in the onward march of affluence’. Consumers are not necessarily people with money to spend. Consumerism is as much about ensuring that people can afford to spend to satisfaction or purchase an adequately. This is a world away from a ‘philosophy of consumption’.

DEFINING CONSUMERISM

The definition of consumerism is simply the protection of the rights and interests of the general pool of buyers, or an obsession with buying material goods or items. Laws and rules that protect people who shop and spend are examples of consumerism. An obsession with shopping and acquiring  goods and services.  Consumerism comes from the verb consume, which is rooted in the Latin word consumere, meaning to use up or to waste. The noun consumerism also refers to a movement that promotes the interests of consumers — that is, people who purchase goods, use them, and then buy more — especially the protection of these consumers from things like fraud or price overcharging. Again, consumerism means   the movement seeking to protect and inform consumers by requiring such practices as honest packaging andadvertising, product guarantees, and improved safety standards.The theory that a progressively greater consumption of goods is economically beneficial.3

The term consumerism has several definitions. These definitions may not be related to each other and stands confusing, and they conflict with each other and mostly relates to efforts to support consumers’ interests.  Consumerism is seen as the concept that consumers should be informed in decision making in the marketplace. In this sense consumerism is the study and practice of matching consumers with trustworthy information, such as product testing reports.

For better understanding, Consumerism is perceived as social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. With the industrial revolutionmass production automatically lead to an economic crisis: in other word where there are overproduction — the supply of goods would grow beyond consumer demand, and so manufacturers turned to planned obsolescence and advertising to manipulate consumer spending.5

The theory of consumerism is that of an increasing consumption of goods which is economically desirable also: a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods … the contemporary marketplace is shaped solely by the craven needs of lowbrow consumerism Consumerism is the concept that the marketplace itself is responsible for ensuring social justice through fair economic practices. Consumer protection policies and laws compel manufacturers to make products safe. Consumerism refers to the field of studying, regulating, or interacting with the marketplace. The consumer movement is the social movement which refers to all actions and all entities within the marketplace which give consideration to the consumer.

While the above definitions were becoming established, other people began using the term consumerism to mean “high levels of consumption”.7 This definition has gained popularity since the 1970s and began to be used in these ways: Consumerism is the selfish and frivolous collecting of products, or economic materialism. Consumerism is a force from the marketplace which destroys individuality and harms society.  In a 1955 speech, John Bugas (number two at the Ford Motor Company) coined the term consumerism as a substitute for capitalism which better describe the American economy.8

The term consumerism would pin the tag where it actually belongs — on Mr. Consumer, the real boss and beneficiary of the market system. It would pull the rug right out from under our unfriendly critics who have blasted away so long and loud at capitalism.

BRIEF HISTORY

The consumer society emerged in the late seventeenth century and intensified throughout the eighteenth century.9 While some claim that change was propelled by the growing middle-class who embraced new ideas about luxury consumption and about the growing importance of fashion as an arbiter for purchasing rather than necessity, many critics argue that consumerism was a political and economic necessity for the reproduction of capitalist competition for markets and profits, while others point to the increasing political strength of international working-class organizations during a rapid increase in technological productivity and decline in necessary scarcity as a catalyst to develop a consumer culture based on therapeutic entertainments, home-ownership and debt. The “middle-class” view argues that this revolution encompassed the growth in construction of vast country estates specifically designed to cater for comfort and the increased availability of luxury goods aimed at a growing market. Advertising plays a major role in creating a consumerist society, as goods are marketed through various platforms in nearly all aspects of life, pushing the message that the viewer’s life is in need of some product.


1. Onah,  J.  O  (2007), “Consumerism  in  Nigeria”,  in  Agbonifo,  et  al.  (Eds
2. Umenyi,  I.  (2007), Federal  Government  Advises  States  on  Consumer  Protection,     (accessed  on  20/10/11), http://www.nigeria.gov.ng/pressreleaseJanuary.aspx  
3. “https://www.thefreedictionary.com/consumerism” consumerism
4. Swagler, Roger (1997). “Modern Consumerism”. In Brobeck, StephenEncyclopedia of the Consumer Movement. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio. pp. 172–173.
 5. In 1899, a book on consumerism published under the name, Thorstein Veblen, called 
6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumerism
8. Eriksson, Kai (20 November 2012). “On self-service democracy: Configurations of individualizing governance and self-directed citizenship”European Journal of Social Theory. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
9 Trentmann, Frank (2016). How We Became a World  of Consumers, from the 15th Century to the 21st. Penguin UK. ISBN 9780241198407. Retrieved 28 October 2018. 


CULTURE OF CONSUMERISM

This pattern was particularly visible in London where the gentry and prosperous merchants took up residence and created a culture of luxury and consumption that was slowly extended across the socio-economic divide. Marketplaces expanded as shopping centers, Shops started to become important as places for Londoners to meet and socialize and became popular destinations alongside the theatre. Restoration London also saw the growth of luxury buildings as advertisements for social position with speculative architects like Nicholas Barbon and Lionel Cranfield.10

There was growth in industries like glass making and silk manufacturing, and much pamphleteering of the time was devoted to justifying private vice for luxury goods for the greater public good. This then scandalous line of thought caused great controversy with the publication of Bernard Mandeville’s influential work Fable of the Bees in 1714, in which he argued that a country’s prosperity ultimately lay in the self-interest of the consumer. Advertising plays a major role in creating a consumerist society, as goods are marketed through various platforms in nearly all aspects of life.

MASS PRODUCTION

The Industrial Revolution dramatically increased the availability of consumer goods, although it was still primarily focused on the capital goods sector and industrial infrastructure (i.e., mining, steel, oil, transportation networks, communications networks, industrial cities, financial centers, etc.). The advent of the department store represented a paradigm shift in the experience of shopping. For the first time, customers could buy an astonishing variety of goods, all in one place, and shopping became a popular leisure activity. While previously the norm had been the scarcity of resources, the industrial era created an unprecedented economic situation.


10. Peck, Linda, Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England, Cambridge Press, 2005
11. The Design Observer Group. 11 November 2009. Retrieved 14 February 2010


For the first time in history products were available in outstanding quantities, at outstandingly low prices, being thus available to virtually everyone in the industrialized. In many critical contexts, consumerism is used to describe the tendency of people to identify strongly with products or services they consume, especially those with commercial brand-names and perceived status-symbolism appeal.

In economics, consumerism may refer to economic policies which emphasize consumption. In an abstract sense, it is the consideration that the free choice of consumers should strongly orient the choice by manufacturers of what is produced and how and therefore orient the economic organization of a society. In this sense, consumerism expresses the idea not of “one man, one voice”, but of “one dollar, one voice”, which may or may not reflect the contribution of people to society.

Early criticism of consumerism occur in 1899 in the works of Thorstein Veblen,12 the newly emergent middle class arising at the turn of the 20th century, came to fruition by the end of the 20th century through the process of globalization. In the domain of politics, the term “consumerism” has also been used to refer to something quite different called the consumerists’ movement, consumer protection or consumer activism, which seeks to protect and inform consumers by requiring such practices as honest packaging and advertising, product guarantees, and improved safety standards. In this sense it is a political movement or a set of policies aimed at regulating the products, services, methods, and standards of manufacturers, sellers, and advertisers in the interests of the consumer. In the domain of economics, “consumerism” refers to economic policies placing emphasis on consumption. In an abstract sense, it is the consideration that the free choice of consumers should strongly orient the choice by manufacturers of what is produced and how, and therefore orient the economic organization of a society. Overall, since the end of the 20th century, the burgeoning of consumerism as a way of life across all domains has remade politics, economics and culture.

Today, economic globalization increases the need to have universal standards to protect consumers both nationally and internationally and consumer law requires incorporating the international dimension. As an autonomous discipline, consumer law is distinct from traditional legal branches like civil law and commercial law by giving priority to the consumer rather than the transaction itself.


12. Veblen, Thorstein (1899): The Theory of the Leisure Class: an economic study of institutions, Dover  Publications, Mineola, N.Y., 1994, ISBN 0-486-28062-4. (also available: Project Gutenberg e-text)


In the global context, consumer law has to develop to “a truly international discipline.” The international community needs to develop common principles as well as concrete instruments to implement the goals or objectives of “consumer protection” listed in international treaties or other legal documents. Taking into account the internationalization of consumer transactions, the international dimension of consumer law has to contain a number of themes. First,13 since the consumer and the trader are located in different jurisdictions, there is a need to elaborate rules of private international law, which are specifically targeted at cross-border consumption relationships. Currently, different approaches have been adopted by different jurisdictions, for example, the approach of “excluding party choice of law,” the approach of “limiting party choice of law,” and the approach of “curtailing party choice of law.” Private international lawyers have proposed “the most favorable law approach” in order to provide a better protection to the consumer. However, there does not yet exist a consensus so far about essential philosophies of conflict of laws and conflict of jurisdiction rules applicable to transnational consumption relations.

Second, although economic integration sets sight on the creation of a single global market, the reality is that the world market is still legally fragmented. Consumer protection legal standards and substantive rules are different across different countries. Empirical studies show that differences in national consumer law have impacts on the development of cross-border consumption. Producers, service providers, and traders adapt sales practices to suit each country’s legal setting. On one hand, the international consumer law necessitates efforts and impetus toward increased harmonization and standardization; on the other hand, problems related to cross-border transactions call for transnational responses and solutions.

Third, there is also a need to establish regional and international institutional frameworks or regulatory networks. International consumer protection will never turn out to be effective without coordinated enforcement and a well-functioning network among national regulators and agencies. Given the fact that the judicial redress as doctrinal solutions to consumer law issues is always troublesome and arduous for consumers, moreover, anti-consumer jurisprudence has emerged in some jurisdictions; alternative mechanisms such as regulatory initiatives an administrative measures can facilitate the rights to access to justice of the consumer.


13. Consumerism Label Urged”. Independent Press-Telegram. 1955-01-23.


Therefore, there is a need to assume ex gamble approach to avoid individual land collective damages in consumer society, and perhaps some global agencies that centralize such functions may offer some innovative contributions. The consumer protection should be guided by the following general principles:

  1. Consumers are the weaker party in situations of mass contracts or standard form contracts, in particular concerning information and bargaining power.
  2. It is desirable to develop standards and to apply rules of private international law that would entitle consumers to take advantage of the most favorable consumer protection.
  3. Regulation of consumer contracts should be effective and fair and ensure transparency.
  4. Responsible lending is incumbent on all those involved in consumer credit transactions, including credit providers, brokers and advisors.
  5. Consumer groups should participate actively in the development and regulation of consumer protection.”14

The Nigerian consumers as a result of the knowledge imbalance had over the years suffered so much in the hands of producers and suppliers of goods and services with whom they were engaged in trade relationships in terms of supplying sub-standard goods and services, fake and expired products. Fake products are those goods and services that fail to meet up to the promised specification, conformance and performance quality. They posited that consumer protection became an important area of interest because of the knowledge imbalance coupled with the sophistication of consumer products which made it difficult for consumers to ascertain and distinguish the genuine products from fake and substandard ones.

Consumer protection in the opinion of Ladan15 is all about “the provision of appropriate and effective mechanism to protect the pecuniary, health, environment, safety and security interests of all legal persons against misleading, fraudulent and harmful business practices including manufacturing, trading, packaging, advertising, distribution and selling of goods and services to the ultimate consumers”. The issue of consumer protection became relevant since the reliance on the rule of “Caveat Emptor” (Let the buyer beware) is no longer an adequate protective measure because the principle is based on the premise or assumptions that the buyer knows what he wants, has knowledge necessary to choose wisely and has adequate contact with the sellers.


14. Micklitz (2012), p. 296. Micklitz and Twigg Flesner (2010), pp. 201–207.
15. “Consumerism”. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia Online. 2008.


This complaints by consumers over a period of time gave rise to mass movement of people (consumers) referred to as “consumerism” that forced marketing practitioners in most advanced countries of the world such as Europe and America to respond favourably and adopt better ways of delivering goods and services without abusing the fundamental human rights of consumers . These mass movements in the opinion of Ona comprised of those formed directly by consumer groups or representative groups as well as the government.

However, there is practically no real organized consumer movement as such to fight for the protection of the rights of the consumers apart from a handful of groups scattered around the country. This consequently placed the bulk of consumer protection on the shoulder of the government. As a result, the government took over, a development common in developing countries where consumerism is still low. Kaynak16 stated that since the government took over, consumer protection had been a matter of government policy through legislation and efficient enforcement than as a matter of engaged public movement or support.

Sequel to the above, the successive Federal Governments in Nigeria set up agencies such as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and most recently the Consumer Protection Council of Nigeria (CPC)17 and charged them with the responsibility to protect and safeguard the rights of the consumers against the unwholesome practices of producers and suppliers of goods and services in the country.


16. Kaynak, E.(1985), “Some Thoughts on Consumerism in Developed and Less Developed Countries,” International Marketing Review, 2 (Summer), 15-30.
17. Mogaba,  J.  E  (2008),  “Consumer  problems  and  consumerism  in  Nigeria”,  Journal  of  Business  and  Social Sciences, Vol. 3(1), May, pp 129 – 136. Monye,  F  (2006),  “Consumer  Protection  and  ADR  in  Nigeria”,  (accessed  on  13/05/2009),


The existence of the imbalance of knowledge and power relationship between the producers of goods and services and customers led to the ugly marketing environment and situations that consumers were exposed to. Over the years, they were subjected to severe exploitations. They were continuously supplied substandard, fake and at times expired products. In physical products, producers and dealers create artificial scarcity in order to make superfluous profits through over overpricing. In advertising, consumers were deliberately deceived by some desperate producers and dealers. In service industry, consumers were made to pay exorbitant estimated PHCN bills without services being rendered. In transportation, consumers were made to pay high transportation fares only to be provided with dilapidated vehicles that break down on the road leaving a lot of then stranded. In telecommunications consumers were overcharged, pay for unconnected calls, face a lot of drop calls and network congestions, subjected to low national network coverage despite the claims of service providers that one is covered everywhere one goes.

On the part of consumers themselves, they accept and pay for goods without adequate assurance of quality and quantity. The government agency and official responsible for consumer protection seem not to monitor adequately the activities of producers and dealers. All these resulted to the massive exploitation suffered by consumers. It is against this backdrop that this study seeks to examine the role of Consumer Protection Council in protecting the consumers against these activities of producers of goods and services.

The issue of consumer protection is very critical that some consumer rights were propounded.18 The consumer rights were based on the Consumer Bill of Rights as presented to the USA Congress in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy. They include;

(i) The right to know or the right to information

(ii) The right to be heard

(iii) The right to safety

(iv) The right to choose

(v) The right to satisfaction of basic needs

(vi) The right to redress

(vii) The right to consumer education

(viii) The right to representation and right to healthy environment


18. The United States versus Norway and  Venezuela,” in New Findings  on  Consumer  Satisfaction  and  Complaining,  Ralph L.  Day and  H.  Keith  Hunt  (eds.),  St. Louis, MO: 66-72.  Barksdale,  H.  C.  and  Darden,  B.  (1971), 


These consumer rights give rise to “consumerism” which contributed a lot to stabilize the market place as most producers and service providers complied with the world best practices of doing business especially in the advanced countries. The important question to ask will be “is the Consumer Protection Council really protective?” The Council in their duty to protect the consumers gives them tips on how to buy well and eliminate waste.

Operations of consumer protection council:19 empowered the Consumer Protection Council to attend to the failures of the producers of goods and services by sharpening consumers discerning skills, providing them with information against the obnoxious practices of unscrupulous producers in the market place.

They include:

  1. Consumers should go for organized shopping instead of going for random shopping.
  2. They should discuss their purchase decisions with others in order to increase their knowledge of the market and the goods and services concerned.

iii. That consumer should visit more than one shop to compare prices before making purchases. They should also inspect items properly to make sure they are without defects.

  1. Make sure they read the external labels on the containers, expiry dates, contents and prices in order to be on the safe side.
  2. They should select the best quality item with comparatively cheaper prices.
  3. They should haggle, if and when necessary.

vii. They should not purchase more than they need.

viii. They should obtain and read through the receipt after payment to be sure of the contents – for this is the only documents that consumers could use to enforce compliance against fraudulent companies and dealers.


19. The Act 25 of 2004 as amended


In other words, total consumer protection is a collective effort.20 Its actualization demands collective input from not manufacturers, service providers and the government, but the consumers must also be fully involved. Therefore, the consumers have the following responsibility to:

  1. Beware – i.e., they must be alert to quality and safety of goods and services.
  2. Be aware – i.e., they must gather the necessary information and facts available about products as well as keep abreast of changes and innovations in the market.

iii. Think independently – they must take decisions about well considered needs and wants.

  1. Speak out: They must inform manufacturers and government of their needs and expectations.
  2. Complain: They should inform businesses and other consumers in a fair and honest manner about their dissatisfaction and satisfaction with goods and services (products).
  3. Be an ethical consumer: They should be fair and never engaged in dishonest practices, which will cost all consumers money.

vii.Respect the environment: They should avoid waste, littering and contributing to pollution. It is hoped that as consumers become aware of their rights and responsibilities, and report unremedied infringements to the council, the dynamics of free market economy would be triggered off  to generate better, sustainable, thriving growing economy in the country. Such would remove wasteful expenditures, reduce poverty as value for money gets assured.


20. Agbonifoh,  B.  A,  Ogwo,  O.  E,  and  Nnolim,  D.  A.  Marketing in  Nigeria:  concepts,  principles  and decisions, (1998),   
21. Kanyip, B. B. (2005), Consumer Protection in Nigeria: Law, Theory and Policy, Rekon Books Ltd


CONCLUSION

In conclusion, the mere existence of the law is not enough and solicited for specific protection and compensatory measures being clearly stated to enable CPC to tackle infringements on any of the consumers rights, as doing so would strengthen the Council’s powers in Nigeria. The Council (CPC) should embark on sustained sensitization of consumers on their rights and how to enforce them, since they have been unaware of the laws and objectives including the strategies employed by the Council (CPC) to protect them. There is need to amend some specific sections of the CPC Acts that would give the aggrieved consumers unfettered access to courts to pursue their rights.

The assumption therefore is that the theory is that the consumers maximize perceived expected utility which is a function of price and quality of their service. Consumers are therefore, protected when the tradeoffs they made in purchase of services offer effectiveness or value of their money. The strength of the theory lies on the fact that consumers that accurately perceive price-quality tradeoffs, always get the best satisfaction and are protected. The imbalance of knowledge and economic power between the producers and suppliers of goods and services is too wide. Consumers also show comparatively low interest in matters concerning the protection of their rights, safety and environmental pollution.

There are real consumerists groups engaging in consumerism activities that would protect the interest of members apart from small groups scattered all over the country. That was why most consumers had not been fully integrated in consumerism that would have fully exposed them to the sophisticated products they demand. As the result of the lack of knowledge, they shy away from litigations against the unwholesome activities of producers and suppliers of goods and services.

Having explore and identify consumer awareness regarding consumer, responsibilities and Consumer Protection Act, 1986, It is patently obvious that consumers are not only the largest economic group but also the pivots of all the economic activities. It is also true that the very consumers are the most unaware or voiceless group in most of the countries of the world. There are plethoras of laws and other mechanism to ensure the welfare of consumers, yet they have no power to order where he can make his purchase at will.23 It is however paramount to suggest the following means as a way forward:

  1. Educate consumers to develop an understanding about their responsibilities as consumers.
  2. Consumer should organize together to develop the strength and influence to promote and protect their own interest.
  3. Government should make and implement rules of punishment more harsh so that manufacturer and shopkeeper think twice before adopting fraudulent practices.
  4. A campaign should be set in motion to involve each and every consumer for making them more conscious and aware of their right and responsibilities.
  5. Government and other consumer agencies should make efforts in the direction of propaganda and publicity of district forum, state and national judiciary established for consumer protection so as to make more and more consumer aware about machinery for their greater involvement and to seek justice in case of grievances.
  6. Redress procedure should be made more logical, easy enough to be understood by a large number of consumers. Further procedures shall so designed as to have easy handling and quick disposal of case.

23. Aba, Afritowers Ltd.  Akomolede,  T.I.  and  Oladele,  P.O.  “Consumer  Protection  in  a  Deregulated  Economy: (2006),    The  Nigerian Experience”, Research Journal of International Studies, Issue 3, pp 13 – 23.


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