The level of consumer awareness in Nigeria is relatively low. The result is that consumers are saddled with poor services and often subjected to unwarranted hardship over basic services. The problem is more glaring with government agencies. Indeed, Nigeria’s president has acknowledged that Nigerians have for too long felt short-changed by the quality of public services, which often are not delivered without “undue influence” or “inducements." He has noted that public offices in Nigeria have long been riddled with inefficiency and corruption and have become impediments to the effective implementation of government policies. In a bid to reverse this trend, the Nigerian government in 2004 introduced the “SERVICOM,” described as a “service compact with all Nigerians.”
According to the government’s website:
SERVICOM is a social contract between the Federal Government and the people of Nigeria. SERVICOM gives you the right to demand good service. Details of your rights are contained in SERVICOM charters which are now available to the public in all government agencies wherever services are provided . . . The charters tell the public what to expect, how to expect it, and [provide] clear process of grievance redress in case of service failure.
SERVICOM is based on quality services designed around consumers’ requirements. The scheme applies to all government establishments including ministries, agencies, parastatals (large state-owned entities) and other government departments.
Under the scheme, each government entity is required to prepare and publish a SERVICOM Charter, which must include basic components such as a description of service, mission, and vision statements; details about customers; service delivery that customers may expect; and a grievance redress mechanism. In addition, the Charter must contain a statement of what the service requires from staff, management, and customers, or even the government, in order to guarantee the delivery of the services. This has been described as “the other half of the contract” (SERVICOM Document at 16).
The SERVICOM Office monitors the implementation of SERVICOM Charters by service providers. To this end, the Office conducts a periodic evaluation of service providers and publishes results of its findings on its website. The Office also facilitates the resolution of consumer complaints by service providers.
SERVICOM Charters are now a common sight at Government establishments in Nigeria.
The question now becomes: To what extent can a consumer rely on a SERVICOM Charter to enforce his or her right in the event of shoddy services? Put differently, does a SERVICOM Charter create an enforceable contract between the service provider and the consumer?