The Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Investment (FMITI) has given the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) an award for outstanding performance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commission, saddled with the responsibility of protecting consumers and ensuring their wellbeing, exercised its power more during the pandemic.
According to a statement by the commission, the award, tagged “Extra Mike Award” was received by its chief executive officer, Babatunde Irukera, and signed by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo, in Abuja.
“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,” the certificate read.
The Permanent Secretary, FMITI, Nasir Sani-Gwarzo, in a letter to FCCPC, signed on behalf of the minister, said the FCCPC’s “exemplary dedication, commitment and loyalty in the service of our fatherland will remain indelible.”
Efforts since the pandemic
Barely 24 hours after Nigeria recorded its first case of coronavirus, protective apparels like face masks, hand gloves, hand sanitizers became scarce as suppliers and retailers hoarded the items to be sold at higher prices.
The commission railed against the exploitation in a release at the time, citing the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA) that prohibits “obnoxious trade practices”, or the “unscrupulous exploitation of consumers.”
“Considering the circumstances and the vital national interest/security this illegal conduct undermines, the commission intends to strongly enforce the full letter of the law, including the fullest extent of penalties associated with this conduct,” it said.
Also, in March, Jumia Nigeria delisted 390 products belonging to 168 sellers of hand sanitisers and face masks from its online platform.
This was after the FCCPC warned that sellers who engaged in price gouging and arbitrary increases in prices of protective and hygiene products would be prosecuted.
In June, 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.
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.
Later, the plastic surgeon in charge of the clinic, Anu Adepoju, was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Lagos, in July, on criminal charges for alleged failure to appear and provide information relevant to FCCPC’s investigation.
The commission also 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 prioritized 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.
The commission said it has received thousands of consumer complaints in the aforementioned areas, which it continues to resolve since February.
“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 of 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 the conclusion of the underlying transaction, and other sensitive situations.”