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Theophilus Oladipo: Nigeria must develop a legal framework against deceptive advertisement

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By Theophilus Oladipo 

The growth of digital marketing has come with a concurrent rise in fraudulent dealings and unfair commercial practices in the online business space. On Twitter,  complaints of a customer receiving inferior goods upon delivery are now commonplace. This is usually couched in the popular internet parlance: What I ordered vs What I got.

The 2020 Influencer Compensation Report, a novel study on sub-Saharan Africa, disclosed that about 86% of the consumers surveyed are more likely to rely on social media influencers for credible information on brands and products. As more brands continue to engage the services of social media influencers, their roles as intermediaries and potential legal liabilities for false advertising, along with their principals, might arise.  

The risk of potential collusion for deliberate deception by online businesses and these influencers thus make it expedient for a wider discourse on the development of a framework for consumer protection and prevention of unfair competition. If consumers can place so much trust in these individuals and brands, mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that they can find private remedies for a breach of this trust. 

Since e-commerce is rapidly growing in Nigeria, the question that arises in this light is if a customer could get a remedy for falling for deceptive advertisements. While deceptive advertising is not within the exclusive preserve of social media influencers, their roles as catalysts in commercial activities online make it a dire need to implement a legal framework. 

The law in Nigeria on this subject is still in bits and pieces and urgent attention needs to be drawn to it.  In developed countries, there have been legal and policy innovations around this problem. For example, in the United States and the United Kingdom, there are the Lanham Act and the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive respectively. 

The general direction of consumer protection laws and policies in Nigeria is that they, more often than not, concentrate the power and right of action in the government. For instance, the Nigerian Food Products (Advertisement) Regulations and the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) Act contains provisions proscribing false advertisements with no accompanying penal sanctions. 

While this seemingly serves a utilitarian purpose on the surface, it may not sufficiently cater for the individual rights of affected consumers. The lax attitude of the concerned regulatory bodies in the pockets of laws earlier identified towards enforcement also makes it desirable to have consumers directly enforce their rights through the courts. 

Conversely, Section 125 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA) provides that the consumers may claim damages against deceptive marketers. While this clarifies to an extent the individual right to claim a remedy, it fails to provide for the right of competitors to claim remedy for unfair practice. 

As e-commerce continues to boom and influencers continue to cash in on the boom, the government must do more to ensure fair competition and consumer protection in the online marketplace. To achieve this, the development of a robust legal framework that vests private rights in the consumer and competitors is imperative.

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Theophilus Oladipo is a writing fellow at African Liberty where he writes on Governance and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Theoladipo.

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