FG begins price enforcement in Abuja, targets Lagos, others

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The Federal Government on Thursday initiated sporadic enforcement raids at multiple supermarkets and markets within the Federal Capital Territory to ensure adherence to price display and quantity regulations, aiming to reduce the cost of food commodities nationwide.

It also said it would continue unannounced inspections at super and open markets in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, and Ibadan in the coming weeks to probe the abnormal price surges and take firm measures against any companies caught engaging in unfair market practices like price manipulation, excessive pricing, or cartel formation.

The Executive Secretary of The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Dr. Adamu Abdullahi, said this when he conducted an enforcement exercise to eliminate grocery store price gouging and illegal pricing schemes.

During the exercise that lasted several hours, the FCCPC sealed 4U Supermarket and evacuated 33 bags of fake stallion and caprice rice filled with weevils from one of the branches of the same supermarket located at 58 Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent, Wuse II.

Earlier on Wednesday, the commission had ordered its operatives to intensify monitoring of both formal and informal markets to identify businesses engaged in unnecessary inflation of prices for required enforcement action.

This move is a direct response to concerns raised by consumers about the rising costs of goods, which go against the recent strengthening of the naira.

Food inflation has been a recurring issue influencing the steady increase of Nigeria’s headline inflation of 33.2 per cent, recording an unprecedented food inflation rate of 40 per cent in March 2024.

It was exacerbated by the extensive fall of the naira against the dollar in January and February leading to the soaring prices of essential goods and services, raising the costs of living costs to an all-time high.

Although the presidency had vowed to continue its campaign against racketeers, urging Nigerians to expect a stronger naira, a significant drop in the prices of essential commodities was elusive.

The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, told The According that the president had directed consumer protection agencies to ensure that the local prices reflect the rising value of the naira.

“But there is still much work to be done and this is not a time for celebration. It is a time for doubling down and working harder to ensure that inflation is sustainably brought down in short order.

“Consumer protecting regulatory agencies must step up enforcement to ensure that our people are not short-changed by enterprises that fail to reflect the prevailing exchange rates on the pricing of goods and services across the board.

“As our private and publicly-owned refineries resume operations between now and the first quarter of 2025, the nation’s cash position will dramatically improve to the extent that Nigerians can rightly expect a stronger Naira and a fair reflection of its strength in the prices of commodities in the market place,” said Ngelale.

The Presidency also assured Nigerians of the better days ahead saying the benefits of the reforms will be “more evident” as the administration progresses.

“Once you join the rising spending power of Africa’s largest population with the historic availability of trillions of naira for consumer credit that will bolster the real sector, you will see why Nigerians will be most pleased that they elected a financial engineer and businessman as president by the end of his first term in office, even as the signs are increasingly more evident today,” the Presidential spokesman stated.

Responding to the charge, the FCCPC boss in an interview with According Online stated that the commission was deeply concerned and that the practices of the supermarket were injurious to the consumers despite a stronger naira and reduced cost of production.

He said it was specifically uncovered that a supermarket, 4U, was selling rice from Stallion and Caprice, although these companies ceased rice production in August 2022.

It was also discovered that the prices of some products on the shelf were different from the prices at the selling point, while some products had no price tag at all.

Abdullahi further explained that necessary sanctions would be meted out to culpable persons after investigations.

On February 16, FCCPC sealed Sahad Stores, a supermarket located in the Garki area of Abuja for engaging in “misleading pricing and lack of transparency in pricing.”

He said, “This exercise is in continuation of our efforts to ensure that prices in the market reflect what is displayed. Nowadays we have found out that there is a lot of pretence in what’s happening especially for markets around the major cities in the country.

“You have seen what we have done earlier with other supermarkets and sealing them but despite these efforts, some supermarkets still engage in this practice. You go to a shelf, and the product displayed is different from what appears when you come to pay at the counter.

“That is not acceptable because you have frisking consumers, and some of the items don’t have price tags attached to them at all. So, you are at the mercy of whoever is operating the counter. You can input whatever price you want there, and that’s not acceptable.

“In addition, we found out another thing that baffles us. Nobody knows that stallion group which has been comatose for a very long time is still in the market. What’s happening is that some people bag their local rice in the pretence that it is the same stallion or kappa that people are used to that people are buying, which is wrong. You are still frisking consumers, you’re collecting from them what is not due because what you pretend to be selling is not what you’re selling and that is bad.

“Essentially, we are evacuating all the rice and they would come to explain to us how they got that rice and we would get to the root of it, we would take necessary sanctions as appropriate with the Act establishing FCCPC.”

A cursory look at the 2018 Act (section 69) of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection stated that any person or company found culpable will pay a fine of N50m or 10 per cent of its annual turnover.

Section 69 read, “A person who violates any of the provisions of this part commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N50m. A Body corporate that violates any of the provisions of this part commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding 10 per cent of the turnover of the Body corporate in the business year preceding the date of the commission of the offence.”

Continuing, the FCCPC boss announced plans to introduce a price tracker to put an end to the extortion of Nigerian consumers by major supermarkets in the country.

According to him, the Commission has also concluded arrangements to raid some open major markets in the country beginning from the FCT this Friday to checkmate the arbitrary increase in prices of consumables by some traders through their Market Unions and Associations.

“We can’t go to the all supermarkets at the same time due to our staff strength. We will be going to other general markets from tomorrow (Friday) and you will see us in the open market what we want to do is find out what associations are doing about it.

“Cartels are not allowed in our law and we will make sure that food and commodity prices come down in this country this is part of the effort to ensure both formal and formal markets comply with the rules of engagement. The dollar has come down and prices of goods must also come down.

“Yes, this is happening in Abuja in the meantime but the last time we carried out the operation in Port-Harcourt and Lagos. This time around, Kano is on our radar. We would go to Kano, Port-Harcourt again, Lagos, Ibadan, and Kaduna and these are places that we have to check out first and other states would follow.

“There is going to be what we call a price tracker and it will be domiciled with the Bank of Industry and it will take off at the beginning of next week. In that way, we can track the prices of commodities across the country and whenever there is any hike in products we would find out why and if it is not worth it, we would know that there is hanky panky and we can stop it fast,” Abdullahi added.

In an interview with newsmen after the raid, the General Manager of the Supermarket, Yunusa Yusuf, who took responsibility for the fake foreign rice promised to expose the suppliers.

Yusuf, however, pledged to henceforth abide by FCCPC regulations on consumer rights to avoid future occurrences.

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