This study on the assessment of ordinary consumer representation in the liberalised mobile telecommunications market in Nigeria is situated within the broader perspective of the public interest and in the context of policy and institutional failure (what happens after policies are adopted?). It focuses on aspects of compliance monitoring and enforcement; areas that do not receive adequate attention in policy literature.
The study is conducted using the New Institutional Economics framework and its analytical tools: transaction costs, property rights and agency. It adapts and extends the Saleth and Dinar (1999) institution decomposition model to deconstruct the mobile institution into four main components: policy, law, administration and enforcement for analytical purposes. Using document analysis and semi-structured interviews as main methods, this study provides insights into how the regulatory framework relegates the protection of ordinary consumer interest and how this has implications for the delivery of the stated policy objectives.
The main findings reveal that: 1) due to inconsistency in the procedural definition of consumer interest and weak institutional structures, such as enforcement mechanisms, the regulator and mobile service providers do not hold ordinary consumers’ interest at levels consistent with policy and law; 2) there is need for legal provisions for independent statutory consumer bodies to ensure ordinary mobile consumers’ influential participation in the regulatory-decision-process and facilitate their capacity to harness the legal provisions in their interest; 3) there is need to make the arbitration process focused on the ordinary consumer, as currently it involves substantial resources-funding, time and expertise- beyond the capacity of ordinary consumer.
Telecommunications policy and the institutional framework in place have so far benefitted mobile companies in Nigeria rather than ordinary consumers. The existing policy failure, as discussed in this case study, can provide inspiration for rethinking the place of the ordinary consumer. The study’s focus on mobile is important given the growing significance of this sector throughout Africa and globally too.