Those Mobile Phone Companies That Cheat Nigerians - by Tunji Ajibade

The Consumer Protection Council seeks foreign assistance on how to protect consumers. I recommend that the excesses of mobile phone companies should be the first area of focus for the Council. It’s because they harass and cheat millions of consumers, silently. 

Not long ago, it was in the news that the Director-General of the Council, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, had, while receiving the Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to Nigeria and ECOWAS expressed optimism that the EU would support the Council’s efforts in the development of globally acceptable standard guidelines for businesses in Nigeria.

News of the assistance being sought caught my attention because I had also been on the receiving end of the sharp practices of some mobile phone companies. At the moment, I have taken a definite action against one of them. Apart from this, I have used the opportunity this provides to test how the system responds, as well as follow it through, when a consumer has a case against a mobile phone company. In the process, I find that the current leadership at the CPC is far better, compared to the immediate past administration. There is no point being long on the poor performance of Atoki’s predecessor except to state that at the time I took a complaint to the office of the CPC under that past administration, I got engaged in an argument with a staff about what kind of complaint a consumer could bring, and what complaint a consumer should not bring to the attention of the Council. I left my letter of complaint with them nevertheless, but in the end, there was neither an acknowledgment nor was there any indication that action was taken. I remember that at the end of that particular year, the CPC held an award ceremony, giving prizes to Nigerians it felt had performed. For me, such an endeavour on that occasion under that past administration amounted to an agency abandoning its core mandate to go into what Nigerians didn’t send it to do.

Back to the issue of cheating that mobile phone companies here engage in. Apart from the big money they all make, some of them have gone into taking money that doesn’t belong to them from helpless Nigerians.

They advertise products for you to subscribe to, and without you subscribing, they start to deduct your money. Globacom has done it to me twice, and it still does, even though I have taken a definite action from my end. This was how the matter went when the mobile phone company cheated me for the first time: I was asked to subscribe to a joke pack. I didn’t. But a notice arrived that I had subscribed and money was deducted from my account. I was not surprised when an employee in my office said it had been doing the same to him and his wife. In short, he said the last amount he had on him on one occasion was what he had used to purchase recharge card in order to make a long emergency call, but that wasn’t possible after his account was deducted.

When Glo deducted my account wrongfully for the first time, and because I was keen to test how the system worked in order to have an informed opinion, I wrote a letter to the CPC under Atoki and I personally delivered it at the Abuja office. Excerpts from the letter, written on August 29, 2014, read: “Dear Ma, Complaints Against Glo Mobile Phone Company. Please, note the following: I began to receive notice on my phone that I subscribed to packages that I never subscribed to from the telephone company that I use, Glo. Take the following examples:

Date: August 15, 2014. Time: 8:37am. Text Message: 5052: ‘Your subscription for Joke Pack has been successfully renewed at 100NGN for 30 days.’ I want to state that I had never subscribed to Joke Pack and I had never received any joke on my phone before this information came, so I didn’t know how the matter of renewal came up. The deduction for this alleged renewal was made on my Glo account, and I want my money back. I request that you ask for my data and investigate this matter with a view to stopping it, because the same must have been done to many consumers, so some have been profiting by taking what is not theirs. On this, I want my money back. I will like to be notified of the action your agency takes over this complaint. Thanks and regards.”

The CPC contacted me shortly after I submitted the letter. It was because I had included complaints about two mobile phone companies in my initial letter and the officer who spoke to me on phone wanted me to write two separate letters for each of the two companies, the other being MTN that had been double-charging each SMS that I sent. In case MTN chooses to check my data and investigate this claim, here are excerpts from the letter written to the CPC on August 29, 2014:

“Dear Ma,

Complaints Against MTN Mobile Phone Company for Double Charge. Please, note the following: On most occasions in the last ten months, MTN drew money twice for each text message that I sent. But take for example this date that I have chosen to record: Date- July 31, 2014. Time- 1:19pm. After I sent an SMS, I got this message: ‘Total cost of last SMS sent was 4:00.’ Two seconds later, my account was debited once more for the same text.”

I never got a feedback from MTN, but Glo called me after about five weeks after I submitted my letter to the CPC, and had also personally taken the same complaint to its Abuja office, to ask if I brought a complaint and if I had seen the money it deducted but which it had sent back to my cell phone. Glo did refund some money but what I noticed was that what it refunded was about three quarter of what it deducted. It still withheld the money for the number of days for which it had sent unsolicited jokes to my phone. The matter did not end there. About four months later, it send a message asking me to subscribe to Proverbs. I didn’t. That didn’t stop the company from notifying me that I had subscribed: “Your subscription for Proverbs has been successfully renewed at 100 NGN for 30 days.” The message came on August 15, 2014, under 5052, and at 08:37am. I had never subscribed to its Proverbs, but I was informed that my subscription had been renewed. The company must have done this to millions of Nigerians, and what it reaps from it can be imagined if it takes 100 naira per month for what is not subscribed to from at least one million consumers. It makes big money from what it earns legitimately, but it still proceeds to make money by cheating. This goes on full steam when it is considered that not many Nigerians have the time to take action, follow it through, and demand that what is wrongly taken from them should be returned.

There’s something about these occurrences and others that customers are made to helplessly pass through in this country. The matter is not limited to mobile phone companies. There are others such as the banking sector a few of which cases I have also tried to test and follow through in order to have an understanding of how the system works to protect consumers. Those shall be treated some other time.

But for now, attention is on how the CPC intends to stop the excesses of the mobile phone companies. I clap because the Council is calling on the EU. That’s one continent where no consumer’s cent can be taken wrongfully by any company without it having a fight on its hands. All that the consumer needs to do is lodge a complaint with the appropriate authority and the matter is taken care of. I look forward to a CPC that firmly does the same on behalf of Nigerians. As for the GSM company that continues to send Proverbs to my phone, I don’t recharge anymore but dedicated its line solely to receiving calls. That’s the definite action I have taken. Meanwhile, another network that doesn’t cheat has become the beneficiary of my patronage.