Everyday for the private sector Goliaths

Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi

Email: simboor@yahoo.com Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

Simbo QEDWithout the restraining hands of the State, what will life be like under the suffocating hands of our Goliaths? Without the feeble chains holding back a large section of the private sector from full-throttle, horns-thrusting capitalism, what might our fate be? We will simply end up as food in the belly of these tigers raging, largely unhinged, pretending to be doing so much to deepen the Nigerian economy, while milking the little left in the ordinary man. It is a reflection of how pear-shaped things have become that some of these corporate giants, who should ordinarily shiver at letting out an unsatisfied customer onto the public space, will rather ride roughshod over one, fail to own up to its failings, even when it had clearly done wrong.

The weeks that just flew by were as hectic as interesting with state-sanctioned mediation meetings with two corporate giants squeezed into an already cranky schedule. The first ‘take-away’ from the interactions with representatives of the companies is the haughtiness of their ways. The representatives swagger into meetings, barely containing themselves, doing little to mask the irritation at having to respond to summons to settle disputes with their own customers. One would think a corporate would be glad at the effort of a third-party to broker a settlement which has failed its internal mechanism organs, but arrogance will always stand in the way of reason, no doubt. Yet, it only takes minutes into the meetings before they are forced down their high horses by the lapses and contradictions in their own claims. At such point, words simply fail them. Records betray their shoddy efforts to cover up as they hold on to the basket, pretending it is filled with water.

One of such meetings was at the instance of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), bravely fighting for order and its place in the jungle that has become of our misgoverned marketplace. The other was a court-ordered meeting in the spirit of the Lagos multi-door week, in its bid to alternative means of dispute resolution in a system that is failing the citizens. Standing up to a well-heeled bank without the advantage of being properly groomed in the technical jargon they routinely heap onto the table to cover up mud, can leave even the fair-minded system confused and disoriented, while trying to close up a case without paying attention to details. But that is no fault of theirs, the attempt in itself, is one to be commended. In any case, there is little consideration for the ordinary man in the slow and ever-grinding justice system. It emboldens the corporate to simply work the system to cover up infractions, counting on time to wear out the complainant. The Goliaths will rather push the customers under the bus rather than simply admit to the error of their ways.

It has been a tough few months engaging Airtel over its attempt to be a law unto itself by forcing me to shave, at my own expense.  Standing one’s ground against the giant with the clippers, one immediately realises how lonely the battle can be. I privately table the infractions done me by Airtel before someone who happens to be the public face of the organisation on the strength of his public engagement which would lead one into believing he will stand against injustice in every form, but he only responds with a rather loud silence. That should be no surprise, though. Don’t we all choose our battles carefully? Even for those who write lengthy commentaries about injustice, occasionally queuing behind the Goliath, especially one who foots the bill, without a consideration for the merits of the case, is not a novelty in our land. Activists will sanction slavery, as long as they are not in the camp of David, at the time. Yet, every Goliath has his day. He might be enjoying his days, trampling all over us, but he will surely have his day. His voice might be spreading fear in the camp of the voiceless but it is only for a while.

Our case will be no different. The Nigerian Communications Commission  (NCC) might have abdicated the throne, pretending to be engaging with the telecoms customers through its exclusive parties in hotels, carried around the zones with the delicate fingers of ‘Attendance by Invitation only’. It might pretend to itself that what it organises is a ‘Consumer Parliament’, but it is only fooling a few. What is it doing for the millions daily defrauded by the telecoms providers? Same petition that has yielded a robust response from the CPC lies in the morgue at NCC, dead, yet the commission snores.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) might be lost in the wilderness, seeking to rein in DISCOs that were farmed out to those who know the architecture of the corridors of power inside out, but we understand with Dr Sam Amadi.  We need not be told that it will soon come cracking with the whip of an increase in tariffs, even when DISCOs are dancing around pre-paid meters and other matters.

The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) might be watching all the political advertising that dominated the airwaves before the umpire blew the whistle on black and white television, but it should not be so difficult for it to realise the need for it to urgently wake up from its slumber. There is more to its mandate beyond carrying the digitalisation calabash on its head, around town.

But then, these regulators, among others have largely failed simply because the system has been configured to tread carefully when it comes to the Goliaths. You will think that the efforts being made by the Dupe Atoki-led CPC to stand up to these Goliaths will be applauded by other agencies of government. That the case is remarkably different, even leading to face-off between CPC and Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) only tells us that the Goliaths know their way around. The NCAA has suddenly found its voice, wasting valuable public resources to engage the CPC in a battle for the turf, while the aviation consumer suffers. What is really wrong with NCAA?  Can there be a case of too many agencies to protect the consumer? The next move might be to ease out the shepherd who is wielding its rod in the direction of our Goliaths. The ‘organised private sector’ won’t hesitate to hit hard, if and when they feel too pressured to toe the right path. They know how to take advantage of the divided house of our weak state and its struggling institutions. Nothing is beyond us, these days.

Back to the moment though, the Goliaths might be bullying their ways around, but that definitely will not be forever. On my way out of court from one of the sessions with a Goliath, a message comes in from Airtel informing that my account had been credited with another N19,400 bring the total amount so far refunded by the company to N22,450. It does not put an end to the matter. We are only just beginning to make more sense of it. Even with the judiciary on its feet and other institutions gasping for breath, the ‘take-away’ from this is the need to stand up to the bullies around the corner, seeking to ride us into their ever expanding corporate belly. Everyday might be for the Goliaths, but one day…