We will continue to block illegal lending apps – Irukera
Babatunde Irukera is Executive Vice President and Director General of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. In this interview with ANOZIE EGOLEhe talks about the victories and challenges of the agency
What is the scope of the FCCPC?
The scope of the PCCF is on several levels, from the point of view of the subject, then from the point of view of the regulated entities. For the subject, the scope includes both consumer protection and competition regulation. Essentially, it is about companies’ responsiveness to ensuring customer satisfaction as an objective standard by providing goods and services that meet or exceed prevailing standards and expectations, along with a robust feedback mechanism to ensure sensitivity and responsiveness in case of dissatisfaction by resolving complaints. timely and complete.
From a competition regulation perspective, the FCCPC has a mandate to ensure that markets are fair and undistorted and that barriers to entry, if any, are limited. Overall, we regulate markets in the best interests of consumers, which also benefits competitors. Our ultimate desire is for the market to be highly competitive in a way that promotes quality, innovation, choice, fair pricing and momentum.
From the perspective of regulated entities, the role of the FCCPC cuts across all trade, including certain behaviors that occur outside Nigerian territory but have a significant impact on the Nigerian market.
What are the commission limits?
I guess the main challenges include limited human capacity with only 241 people responsible for a market of 200 million people. Another is the vastness of Nigeria as the FCCPC has only nine offices across the country. In addition, navigating legislative and other bottlenecks and disputes can significantly speed up work and encourage industry players to exploit what can sometimes be a lack of clarity or an operational preference for a particular regulator by report to FCCPC.
Furthermore, Nigerians are still in their infancy in taking on the obligations owed to them by those selling goods or services. The most vital element of any rights enforcement framework is a discerning and highly discriminated consumer who demands and insists on respect and compliance with the rights and obligations owed.
What are the challenges that the FCCPC faces in achieving its core mandates?
As explained above, one is the alignment of mutual regulators with sector regulators, where appropriate. Human capital and commensurate compensation to attract and retain skilled professionals comparable to regulated industries is also an issue. At times, there might be financial constraints given the scope and nature of the work of the PCCF. There are problems with having a proactive, self-aware population that always demands and insists on its rights, and an orientation towards obligations and failures in trade. This is important because it is the fastest and most sustainable way to promote and institutionalize compliance and fairness.
How many establishments has the FCCPC sanctioned for misconduct in the past year?
Several, in fact. Although I must caution that the number of sanctioned companies is not a KPI or a rating/evaluation matrix for us. Indeed, we initiate and support corrective actions and behavioral changes far more than we sanction. We regulate trade and work to facilitate, not to be obstacles. We take punitive action when appropriate, but our work to do so is extremely small compared to our work to prevent violations or offenses that result in penalties.
What is the monetary value of the sanctions?
When a financial penalty applies, there are rules and procedures to deal with it. For example, there is the Administrative Fines and Penalties Regulations which set out a complex matrix of considerations for assessing conduct and penalties, including, where appropriate, mitigation and/or aggravation.
We don’t focus on the amount of fines or penalties because it’s important for agency guidance to focus on corrective and deterrent mechanisms (which is sometimes a penalty), and that could become a credibility problem to be perceived or presented as a revenue-generating agency in the rubric of others.
That said, in addition to the sanctions already imposed, ongoing investigations could also result in sanctions. It is therefore a little imprecise to stipulate a monetary value on an annual basis.
In recent times, the agency has shut down online lending platforms. How many of them have so far been closed by your agency?
We have removed no less than 50 loan apps from Google Play Store.
We have noticed that some of the online lending platforms that were shut down are coming back. Have they been permanently closed? If not, how do you monitor that these platforms do not come back?
Many platforms are very amorphous in nature. You can shut them down by ordering Google to remove them from Playstore and asking banks to freeze known accounts. However, their familiarity and vast technological options allow them to find other ways of doing their business, including availability for download on other platforms or direct website access, and other ways to perform transactions without traditional banking infrastructure. This is why some can resume their activities.
Either way, their activities have been severely restricted and we continue to collect information on people who are perpetually misbehaving and restricting their ability to transact by continuing to restrict and prohibit other services that support their activities.
The new Limited and Interim Digital Lending Guidelines released recently by the Joint Task Force through the commission are an additional and more institutionalized step in putting in place safeguards to streamline digital lending in order to s ensure that they are neither abusive nor abusive.
Many Nigerians have complained that some cable TV channels do not offer services after being paid for by subscription. What strategy do you have on the ground to meet the challenge?
This complaint has actually decreased significantly over the past two to three years. The commission, as part of its regulatory intervention and oversight of pay TV, requires their payment systems and interface to be able to immediately activate or restore service upon payment. We also require that where the business has not received the money, but the consumer is able to show proof of payment, service must be restored while the businesses and their banks or payment system providers settle transaction delays between them. It seems to have worked. But if there are complaints, we continue to resolve them. One thing is clear, however, and that is that it is no longer a widespread or mainstream problem.
You recently warned operational payment systems to stop providing payment services to online lenders under investigation. How do you monitor this directive?
It’s not difficult. Any complaint against a loan app will show that an app is still in operation, and we are able to find out how their transactions and payments are happening, including the platform provider. The good thing though is that the responses received from payment systems convey a collaborative approach to solving what we all agree is a problem and the exploitation of the most vulnerable in our society.
The Association of Fintechs has been in communication with the commission, in its part to collaborate, but also to express concern or resistance. We appreciate feedback; we are committed and believe that the consensus will strengthen. However, in the event that the association or any of its members takes an adversarial or non-conforming approach, the law will take its course and the commission will enforce it to the fullest extent.
You said you were offering interim arrangements with Google not to release an app unless it was properly registered. Is this happening?
This is part of the interim regulations discussed earlier. In due course, its operation and effectiveness will emerge and the process will be modified, if necessary, to strengthen the framework. However, so far Google has been very supportive, including providing expert knowledge and experience in advising on what works best to achieve laudable regulatory goals.
Despite the efforts of the commission, Nigerians are still complaining of receiving embarrassing text messages from some of these loan apps. What other strategies do you have to verify this?
It’s true, and we’re working diligently to eliminate it. You will agree, however, that gradually from March 2022 to date, over the past six months, these defamatory messages or unethical refund or collection practices have diminished significantly. I believe that if the Joint Task Force continues on the path we are on and our mutual regulatory oversight and collaboration deepens, I firmly believe that in the months ahead we will see an even greater reduction in unacceptable practices.
Do you have an open channel through which consumers can relay complaints?
Absolutely. Regarding digital loans, in addition to our permanent and traditional channels, we have created a dedicated messaging portal and we also act on the cases we receive on this portal.
Generally, we accept complaints by phone, post, email, but most effectively through the Complaint Resolution Mechanism which is available as a portal on our website and as an app that consumers can download with their portable devices.