By Charles Nwaoguji
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) has received an award from the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI) for outstanding performance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Commission’s chief executive officer, Babatunde Irukera, received the award certificate, tagged Extra Mile Award, signed by the Honourable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, CON at its head office in Abuja.
The certificate stated that the “Extra Mile Award is presented to Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) for outstanding performance as a member of the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment Committee on Sustainable Production/Delivery of Essential Commodities during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
In a similar vein, the Permanent Secretary, FMITI, Dr. Nasir Sani-Gwarzo, mni in a letter to FCCPC, signed on behalf of the Honourable Minister, emphasised that FCCPC’s “exemplary dedication, commitment and loyalty in the service of our fatherland will remain indelible.”
It would be recalled that in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria, the Commission announced on February 28, 2020, that it had become aware that “certain suppliers and retailers are taking undue advantage of citizens and engaging in unconscionable trade practices with respect to basic safety and protective apparel such as face masks and latex gloves, as well as personal hygiene products like sanitisers and anti-bacterial wipes, because the products are relevant and necessary in preventing infection or spread of COVID-19.”
The Commission cautioned that the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA) empowered it to address such abuses, and advised businesses to operate within the law or risk consequences, which may include criminal prosecution.
In March 2020, Jumia Nigeria delisted 390 products belonging to 168 sellers of hand sanitisers and face masks from its online platform on account of FCCPC’s warning that sellers who engaged in price gouging and arbitrary increases in prices of protective and hygiene products would be prosecuted.
In June 2020, FCCPC arraigned four major pharmacies and supermarkets at the Federal High Court, Abuja for allegedly taking advantage of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country to increase the prices of key hygiene products, contrary to law.
Babatunde Irukera, the chief executive officer of the Commission is personally leading the prosecution of the affected companies, H-Medix Pharmacy and Stores, Faxx Stores, Ebeano Supermarket and Bakan-Gizo Pharmacy.
In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, FCCPC sealed Med Contour cosmetic surgery clinic in Lagos, following an open investigation, on reasonable suspicion of illegal activities, and in an abundance of caution and consumer safety, pending further inquiry. This culminated in the arraignment of Dr. Anu Adepoju, doctor in charge, and Med Contour Clinic at the Federal High Court, Lagos, in July 2020, under criminal charges of failure to appear and provide information relevant to FCCPC’s investigation.
Further to its surveillance and work to prevent unjust, unreasonable, exploitative or unscrupulous conduct by businesses during the period, FCCPC set up a COVID-19 response team and created a dedicated platform through which it received information and complaints or intelligence.
The Commission busted a number of companies in the course of its surveillance and enforcement operations, including FarEast Mercantile Company and Apples and Pears Ltd, in whose warehouses it uncovered large quantities of expired products.
As part of its continuing oversight and in response to multiple social media posts about what appeared to be excessive and imprudent pricing of potentially vital medication, Hydroxychloroquine, that is perceived or presented as efficacious therapy in addressing COVID-19, FCCPC conducted simultaneous on-site investigations on Ebus and Avis Pharmacy, both in Port-Harcourt, multiple locations of Health Plus Limited in Lagos and Abuja, Tonia Pharmacy, H-Medix, and New Health pharmacies, all in Abuja on August 4, 2020.
In some of the targets of the investigation, which is ongoing, FCCPC discovered what appeared to be inconsistent pricing of Hydroxychloroquine and other products that are considered relevant to managing COVID-19, with most being sold at margins between 66% and 89%.
In the period under review, the Commission also prioritised key competition and consumer protection issues related to and arising from the pandemic, particularly prevalent complaints, which included failed electronic banking transactions and associated delays in restoration, reconciliation or resolution, slow speed internet connectivity, as well as arbitrary and inexplicable charges for data and restricted access or delayed signal release after payment for payTV services.
From February 2020 to date, the Commission has received thousands of consumer complaints in the aforementioned areas, which it continues to resolve.
The Commission’s mandate to promote competition was not ignored in its COVID-19 response, as it created room for merger review, advisories or investigations.
For merger review, FCCPC undertook to accept remote filing and electronic notifications where there is a possibility or imminent failure of the business of a merging party.
Other grounds propounded by the Commission for merger review during the period include where there is a host jurisdiction other than Nigeria, or situations where there are time limitations, but requiring notification and determination by the FCCPC prior to conclusion of the underlying transaction, and other sensitive situations.