Executive Vice Chairman of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Dr. Babatunde Irukera, has stated that the agency has no power to regulate consumer prices because it is not a price regulator and that Nigeria operates a free market economy.
Irukera stated this in a recent interview with journalists in Abuja. According to the FCCPC boss, the law establishing the commission has a limited provision on price regulation which, if even it allows the government to get involved in prices, requires the commission to conduct research and make a recommendation to the President for a limited time of controlling price in a specific sector.
“When the President accepts the recommendation and adopts it, it will be gazetted. It will only be for a limited period of time. Other than that, we don’t regulate price,” he said.
While stating that the FCCPC Act has provisions that prohibit exploitative or unjust contract terms, including prices, they do not give the commission authority to say just say prices are too steep.
“Does that give us the authority to just say this thing is too high; this price is going too high? No, it doesn’t. What is not reasonable is not a subjective thing. It’s based on objective standards. What is unjust and manifestly so is based on objective standards not arbitrary. And it’s not just a number. That something cost N100,000 doesn’t make it unreasonable or unjust. And our regulatory approach must be methodical, and must be transparent and clear,” he explained.
To buttress his point, Irukera gave an example of how the commission prevented the exploitation of consumers by a supermarket selling hand sanitisers and face masks at manifestly unjust prices during the Covid-19 saga.
“We investigated one popular supermarket and what they had done, a hand sanitiser that was sold for N490 in the morning by noon, the price had increased to N1,400. By 5pm it was N3,400.
“We looked at their inventory, it was showing that they had 45 pieces left, but we couldn’t find it on the shelf or store. They hoarded that for the next day when the prices would keep going up.
“It wasn’t difficult to come to a determination that was exploitative, manifestly unjust and unreasonable, because there was no rational explanation for that progressive increase.
“You could find a circumstantial evidentiary basis, which is important for controlling COVID-19 and COVID-19 is now in town. So, there’s a method and a matrix to decide whether something is excessive,” he recalled.
When asked about the recent price adjustments by pay television provider, MultiChoice, the FCCPC boss stated that the company was compelled to introduce a one-year price lock that enables subscribers to pay the same tariff for one year as long as subscription renewal is made before the due date. He added that the company was also made to introduce toll-free customer care lines and allow subscribers to suspend their accounts up to four times a year as against the previous twice per annum.