Telecommunication Services in Nigeria: The Available Legal Rights and Remedies to Customers (Subscribers)

Introduction

Telecommunications services are essential to modern society, which facilitates global communication, business, and connectivity. In recent years, Nigeria’s telecommunications business has developed and expanded greatly, owing to technology breakthroughs and regulatory reforms. However, in addition to these advancements, consumers frequently face issues such as network congestion, call dropouts, and insufficient customer support, all of which weaken service quality and reliability. This article examines the Nigeria’s legal framework regulating telecommunications services, as well as the remedies accessible to consumers who have been affected by service failures.

Definition of Concept

Telecommunication

Telecommunication may be defined as any transmission, emission, or receiving of words, signals, images, sounds, or intelligence of any kind through wire, radio, or other means. It includes the transfer of data across vast distances and comprises a number of industries, including fiber, electromagnetic fields, light, cable, and more. Larger organisations provide telecommunication as a crucial system and service that allows information to be exchanged globally by text, speech, audio, or video.

From the development of the electrical telegraph in the 1830s to the present day of mobile networks and high-speed internet access, telecommunication has seen substantial change. The industry comprises wireless communication, telecom equipment, and telecom services. Its main sectors are long-distance carriers, processing systems, wireless communication, and communications equipment. Essentially, telecommunication serves as the basis for the global transmission of data, linking people, organisations, and different communication devices across an intricate network of services and technologies.

Consumer

The Consumer Protection Council Act, CAP C25 Laws of the Federation, 2004 defines a consumer as an individual who purchases, uses, maintains or disposes of products or services.

Consumer Protection is a law that protects customers from unfair trade practices, exploitative and illegal business practices including the activities of manufacturers and service providers. It means safeguarding customers against products and services that are detrimental to their health, life, and property, as well as providing them with access to a variety of goods and services at reasonable costs.

Consumer protection covers a range of consumer rights, obligations, and legal remedies.

Legal Framework on Protection of Consumers of Telecommunication Services

The legislations that protect the interests of consumers of telecommunication services in Nigeria include the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Nigerian Communications Commission Act, Telecommunications and Postal Offences Act, Wireless Telegraphy Act, Consumer Protection Council Act, and Standards Organization of Nigeria Act.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended): Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution makes provisions for the protection of privacy for citizens, their homes, correspondences, telephone conversations, and telegraphic communications.

The Nigerian Communications Act, 2023: The Act establishes a framework for the administration and regulation of the communications industry and grants the NCC broad discretionary rule-making powers for effective monitoring.

It covers licensing, competition policy, quality service, interconnection, scarce resource management, infrastructure sharing, universal service, tariff regulation, penalties, sanctions, and dispute resolution in the telecom industry.

The Act highlights the importance of consumer protection, efficient market behavior, and the growth of Nigeria’s telecommunications capabilities.

Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act: The Act protects consumer rights by providing remedies for misleading assurances, unfair trade practices, and fraud.

The Telecommunications and Postal Offences Act, 1995: The Act addresses offences and punishments for acts against telecommunications and postal services. It also addresses other relevant issues. Some of them are directly related to consumer protection for telecommunications services, tampering with wireless cables, diversion of telephone lines, fraud-related offenses, obtaining telecommunications services by fraud, impersonation, touting, aiding and abetting commission of offense, etc.

Wireless Telegraphy Act: The Act that governs wireless telegraphy, licenses, and consumer protection in telecommunications services. Section 9 of the Act stipulates that the NCC, with the Minister’s approval, may make regulations to protect the secrecy of wireless telegraphic communications.   Section 10 of the Act addresses misleading message interception and disclosure of messages.

The Standards Organisation of Nigeria Act of 2004: This Act plays a critical role in consumer protection by ensuring products meet specified quality and safety standards before they are allowed into the market.

The Act creates the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) as the governing body in charge of standardizing and regulating goods in Nigeria.

The Act authorises the SON to regulate products, certify compliance with standards, and take action against producers or marketers of substandard commodities, thus protecting consumers’ interests.

Rights of Telecommunication Consumers

The rights of telecommunication consumers in Nigeria contained in several legislations include but not limited to the following.

Right to Quality Services: The Nigerian Communications Act and Quality of Service Regulations ensure that telecom operators maintain high-quality communication services while protecting consumers from unfair activities.

Right to Fair Charges and Accurate Billing: To promote transparency and fairness, telecom providers must adhere to billing standards, itemize charges, and issue bills on time.

Right to Privacy and Protection of Personal Information: Regulations demand confidentiality of customer information and prohibit unsolicited telemarketing.

Right to Protection from Unfair Practices: Consumers are protected from unfair practices by telecom companies, such as poor service quality, erroneous billing, and unsolicited messages by the Nigerian Communications Act, 2023 and Consumer Code of Practice Regulations 2007.

Right to Safety: The Right to Safety legislation promotes product/service quality and safety through consumer education programs. It seeks to deliver services that do not endanger clients’ health or society well-being. Consumers should be cautioned of dangerous radiation, odorless or deadly gasses, and associated health hazards.

Rights to Information and Consumer Education: Consumers have the right to accurate and timely information about services, pricing, and billing from their telecom providers. The right to information enables customers to make informed decisions based on their needs and preferences. It also guarantees that customers are educated on the environmental, social, and economic consequences of their decisions. This involves truth in marketing, price, product labeling, disclosure of interest rates, and discounts. Consumers should be able to appreciate their purchases.

Right to Choose: Consumers have the right to choose from a variety of goods and services at reasonable costs, protecting them from monopolistic tendencies and market practices. This includes the right to expect good quality and service at reasonable prices, ensuring basic goods and services are available.

Right to Redress: Consumer rights include the right to express grievances, infringements, and violations, as well as the right to fair resolution and refunds for misrepresentation, defective goods, or poor service.

Remedies Available to Telecommunications Consumers

In Nigeria, the remedies available to telecommunication consumers include:

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution Method (Resolving Disputes with Service Provider)
  • Statutory Remedies
  • Civil Remedies

Alternative Dispute Resolution Method (Resolving Disputes with Service Provider)

If a consumer is dissatisfied with telecommunications provider’s service, billing, or unfair tactics, such consumer has the right to seek a resolution. Consumer can take the matter to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecommunications industry’s regulatory body.

Consumers who have suffered damage or losses may follow the procedures listed here to access the legal remedies available in the telecommunications industry.

  1. Consumers should file a complaint with the service provider and follow their complaint handling procedures.
  2. If a consumer’s issue is disregarded or not resolved satisfactorily, the consumers should lodge the complaint with the Nigerian Communications Commission.
  1. The Commission can order licensees or service providers to pay compensation to consumers and provide guidance on compliance with the Nigerian Communications Act and its subsidiary legislation. 

Consumers who have experienced loss, damage, or injury due to a telecommunications service provider’s defective product or service can also file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Council, State Consumer Protection Committees, Public Utilities Charges Commission, or Public Complaints Commission.

Statutory Remedies

Protection Offered Consumer under The Nigerian Communications Act

The Nigerian Communications Act of 2003 sets out a number of consumer remedies for Nigerian telecoms users. Below are some important points about consumer remedies under the Nigerian Communications Act:

Minimum Standards of Quality of Service: Section 104 of the Act requires all service providers to meet the Commission’s minimal quality of service standards. Consumers have the right to expect fair service quality and to have their complaints resolved.

Consumer Complaint Resolution: Section 105 allows the Commission to resolve complaints about customer service, consumer protection, and service quality. The Commission can handle complaints and develop alternative dispute resolution methods if needed.

Consumer Codes: Section 106 empowers the Commission to designate industry bodies to serve as consumer forums and create consumer codes. These codes specify how businesses meet consumer expectations, handle complaints, and compensate customers for code violations. Licensees must also adopt individual consumer codes, subject to the Commission’s approval.

Enforcement Powers: The Commission has the jurisdiction to enforce consumer protection measures, issue compliance notifications, and take legal action against licensees who fail to follow consumer codes and regulations. The Act establishes mechanisms for penalties, fines, and other measures to ensure that consumer rights are protected.

Protection Offered Consumer under the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA)

The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA) provides numerous remedies for Nigerian consumers:

Right to Redress:

Consumers can seek remedy through designated courts, tribunals, and committees. If a company’s trade practices, services, information, or advertising violates a consumer’s rights or causes injury or loss, they can initiate a civil action for compensation or restitution before a competent court.

Accredited Consumer Protection Groups:

Accredited consumer protection groups may advocate for consumers in court, resolve disputes through mediation or conciliation, and participate in national and international consumer protection forums. These groups can act in any venue to ensure that the interests of their consumers are effectively addressed.

Penalties & Fines:

Companies that breach consumer rights or engage in anti-competitive strategies may face penalties, fines, or other punishments from the FCCPC. Consumers may receive monetary restitution or compensation.

Investigations & Enforcement:

The FCCPC can investigate consumer complaints, issue directions, and take enforcement actions against firms which adversely affect consumer interests. This includes seeking written assurances from firms that will desist from such action.

Civil Remedies

Under Nigerian civil law, telecommunications consumers have many options if their rights are violated or they suffer damages as a result of poor service quality.

Damages: Consumers can seek monetary compensation for losses caused by a telecom operator’s breach of contract, negligence or conduct that is unacceptable. This includes refunds for underutilized services, cost reimbursement, and damages for inconvenience caused. In a case like Nigerian Telecommunications Plc v. Odu’a Investment, a consumer was awarded damages for the telecom operator’s breach of contract in providing poor quality services.

Specific Performance: A consumer may request that the court compel the telecom operator to precisely perform its contractual obligations, such as restoring interrupted services or providing the agreed-upon quality of service.

Rescission: If a breach is substantial enough, the consumer may terminate the contract and be released from further responsibilities. This enables consumers to reclaim any payments given to the telecom operator.

Strict Liability for Injury Caused by Services: Strict liability may apply when a telecom operator’s service causes injury to a consumer, even if fault is not shown. If the service is intrinsically harmful or defective, the operator may be held responsible for any consequent damages.

Nuisance: If a telecom operator’s actions or omissions significantly disrupt a consumer’s use and enjoyment of their property, consumers may have a private nuisance claim. This could include instances of excessive noise, vibrations, or damage caused by the operator’s infrastructure.

Injunction: Consumers may apply for injunctions to prohibit telecom providers from continuing conduct that infringes their rights or materially interferes with the use and enjoyment of their property.

Complaints to Regulatory Bodies: Consumers can register complaints with regulatory bodies, such as the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to resolve disputes, apply penalties, and enforce compliance with consumer protection legislation.

Enforcement of Consumer Rights: The courts play an important role in enforcing consumer rights, as demonstrated in instances like Adegboruwa v. Nigerian Communications Commission, where customers sought remedy for poor service delivery and arbitrary tariff hikes by telecom carriers.

Conclusion

With the provision of vital services like internet access, television transmission, and mobile phone connectivity, the telecommunications sector is essential to modern society. However, a number of issues, including poor services, inconsistent billing, or unjust contract terms, can give rise to customer complaints with telecom providers. The Nigerian government has put in place extensive consumer protection laws that regulate telecommunications services in order to protect consumer rights and guarantee equitable treatment.

In conclusion, this paper emphasises the importance of legal remedies in protecting the rights and interests of Nigerian telecommunications customers. This effort aims to empower customers by explaining the rights bestowed by law and the means available for enforcing those rights, as well as holding service providers accountable for breaches of contract or regulatory duties. Finally, this article calls for sustained vigilance and activism to guarantee that Nigeria’s telecommunications services are accessible, low-cost, and of good quality, hence encouraging consumer welfare and growth in economy.

Note: The content of this article is anticipated to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstance.

By Adeola Oyinlade & Co.

Adeola Oyinlade & Co.; a full-service law firm in Nigeria provides help and offers advisory to both local and foreign clients on Telecommunication and Sub-Telecoms related matters in Nigeria. 

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