Babatunde Irukera, the Executive Vice-Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), has said the agency has frozen accounts of over 50 firms operating loan apps in Nigeria.
Irukera who made the disclosure in an interview with Punch, noted that the action became necessary because the firms were violating the rights of Nigerian consumers.
He said, “We have so far frozen 50 accounts. We have taken over 12 applications off the Google Play Store and we are in discussions with more than 10 companies right now. The rate of defamatory messages has dropped by at least 60 per cent.
“I am not saying they have stopped but they have dropped by at least 60 per cent. More than half of the companies that are currently before us have agreed that they will have to modify their behaviour. Many of them have changed some of their systems, including sacking some employees who sent defamatory messages. We are developing a regulatory framework that will involve other regulators, and we are prosecuting at least one company right now.”
Irukera emphasized that although money lending is not a crime, the operators the loan apps deploy unwholesome tactics and violate the rights of Nigerians.
“Money lending itself is not a criminal conduct. So, you have to determine there has been a crime. And even defamation, when civil, is not something a regulator can enforce. It is an injury to reputation that is only enforceable by the injured party and through the judicial process,” he said.
“What we are doing as a regulator includes things that the law gives us power to do. Some of these things are still happening, but we will continue the work to eradicate them.”
The FCCPC boss said the agency carries out investigations before deciding which firms fall into the category of violators
“It is from investigations. It is basically from what we get from our investigations,” he said. “At least 10 companies are engaged with us in one way or the other. They are even more than 10 at the moment.”
On how the agency ensures that there is level playing field in the sector, he said, “We have at least three major investigations opened into companies which we think are abusing their market dominance in a manner that will frustrate smaller players.
“When we look at the market and consider it inefficient, whether it is a monopoly or market dominance, the first thing we do is to unlock the barriers for others to enter. It is when you do that that you see the market correct itself. It needs the regulator to address certain behaviour in the market. Don’t forget that the competition law was introduced in Nigeria only in 2019. We lost the whole of 2020 to COVID-19. So, the amount of market intervention that the FCCPC has succeeded in doing is actually commendable and commended widely.
“One of the ways that you may not know that we have addressed monopolies is in the area of mergers and acquisitions. We are refusing to approve mergers which we think will lead to dominance and possible monopolies and disruption to the market.”