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SOARING COST OF LIVING: Price fixing difficult in free market, says Nigeria’s anti-trust agency

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Barely 48 hours after a Nigerian Federal High Court asked government to intervene in the surging cost of living, some government agencies and civil society appear to be set to act on the matter, but are stumped on where and how to start.

Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, FCCPC, on Friday said that it is working with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, other government agencies, consultants, and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to come up with measures to curb the excessive prices of commodities in the markets.

The agency made this commitment on Friday in a statement issued by the Acting Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of FCCPC, Dr. Adamu Abdullahi.

A federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday ordered the Federal Government to fix the prices of goods and petroleum products within seven days.

Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa specifically ordered the government to fix the price of milk, flour, salt, sugar, bicycles, and their spare parts, matches, motorcycles and their spare parts, motor vehicles and their spare parts as well as petroleum products, which includes diesel, Premium Motor Spirit and kerosene.

Dr Abdullahi of the FCCPC, however, said that have been tracking the soaring food prices and cost of living since July 18, 2023.

According to him, the Commission and Consumers International co-hosted the Fair Food Pricing Multi-stakeholders workshop for the purpose of gathering information and evidence on anti-competitive activities such as price gouging, price fixing and other cartel conduct that lead to unfair food pricing.

Abdullahi said the Commission firmly believes that empirical data about the cause of unfair prices in the food sector must be the basis for any enforcement exercise.

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FCCPC’s recourse, according to him is to ask help from the public.

He therefore, said the Commission is encouraging the public or anyone with useful information in the food chain industry, with respect to unlocking possible illegal, exclusionary or restrictive practices that contribute to unfair food prices to report same to the Commission, through its designated portal.

“The Commission’s priority remains to address key consumer protection and competition issues in the Food chain sector.

“The Commission’s surveillance efforts suggest participants in the food chain and distribution sector including at the retail level are engaging in conspiracy, price gouging, hoarding and other unfair tactics/ strategies to restrict the supply of food, manipulate and inflate the price of food in an indiscriminate manner; this conduct violates both moral and legal codes.

“Taking advantage of consumer anxiety and vulnerability to inflate prices, and restrict or distort competition, is obnoxious, unscrupulous, exploitative and illegal.

“Furthermore, the use of undue influence, imbalance in negotiating power, unfair tact and similar conduct in the marketing and supply of goods and services is contrary to Sections 17 and 124 of the FCCPA, and will be penalised under law.

“Any business participating in activities contributing to price gouging in the food chain sector is hereby warned to desist forthwith or face the full force of the law.

“The Commission will not tolerate actions compromising the integrity of the food chain sector, and legal consequences will be swift and severe,” Dr Abdullahi said.

FCCPC adds that it is aware of reports indicating that the Federal High Court had ordered the Federal Government to fix the prices of certain food commodities.

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“This is an unusual practice in a free market.

“Although the Commission was not a party to the suit, it is taking all steps to obtain the judgement of the Court and make appropriate responses.

“For clarity, it is imperative to underscore that the Commission is not mandated to regulate prices.

“However, in rare situations and pursuant to Part XI, and Section 88 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA), the Commission may advise the President to fix the prices of certain goods and services, based on empirical evidence.

“The Commission understands the natural apprehension consumers and businesses are experiencing. It, therefore, notes and welcomes continuing engagements and progressive measures to contain price gouging throughout the food distribution chain,” he said.

 


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