Concerned about unfair hike in food prices, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, FCCPC says it will investigate the activities of Trade Associations that negates the objective of the Associations including price gouging and cartels.
Speaking at a multi stakeholders workshop on fair food prices in Nigeria put together by ”Consumer International in Lagos, the Executive Chairman of FCCPC Mr Babatunde Irukera said this became necessary given the unfair hike in food prices and the recent declaration of state of Emergency on food insecurity by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Food prices have been on the rise across Nigeria in recent years. The situation deteriorated due to the impact of government policies such as the removal of subsidy on petrol, among others.
Hence the need for stakeholders to come together to seek ways of addressing such challenge.
Mr Irukera who regretted the activities of some trade associations said anti competitive conducts , price gouging and other issues would be addressed pointing out that the purpose of competition is to unlock the market and it is most unacceptable, if it involved food which is an essential part of living.
Mr Irukera who pointed out that the issue of hoarding would equally be addressed said that trade associations in many places have become cartels that are illegal though they are important but certainly not to discuss pricing, supply or restricting supply or demand that happens in some of the trade associations.
He added that Trade associations are important to business and to the wellbeing of the society but there are limitations on what they should engage in and one of the most important limitations are the control of supplies or affecting trade and commerce in a manner that reflects in price.
He explained that the FCCPC certainly does not have control over climate change but can never ever succumb to citizens’ exploitation of fellow citizens and such actions if not addressed will continue.
He clarified that the FCCPC is not only to regulate the big companies or the formal sector; it is also to regulate the informal sector. The purpose of competition regulation is to unlock the market and enable it to behave the way it should and let price be negotiated between a seller and a buyer, which is always the surest way to arrive at the fairest possible price.
“Any action by an association or a group or combination of businesses that affect or diminish free market competition is wrong and most unacceptable when it happens in foods and worst when it happens in place like Nigeria, with rising poverty, population and inflation on citizens with limited income and the amount of disposable income that is spent on food.” Irukera said.
Mr Irukera charged Market associations and transport associations to promote commerce and not destroy trade and this was why FCCPC must in addition to advocacy develop strategies for enforcements.
The Project Specialist, Consumer International, which is a membership organisation for consumer groups around the world, Mrs Davine Minayo said their responsibility entails gathering data and evidences on ground for hike in food prices, submit to policy makers and proffer solutions to the problem.
Mrs Minayo said they are starting with Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya.
However, a representative of the Marketers and Traders Association of Nigeria, Mr. Ayo Abiola, refuted the allegations that market associations were manipulating the prices of food items and pointed out that Nigerians shy away from focusing on the real factors responsible for food price hike including multiple taxations and extortions
In a panel discussion issues such as lack of facilities for preservation, wastages, multiple taxations, illegal collection of money by road touts, and influence of trade unions were listed as some of the factors that contributed to hike in food prices.
Other stakeholders Mr Rasaq Oke from fooddotcomacademy and Mrs Idowu Alaba from the Nigerian Institute Of Science and Food Technology decried the activities of trade unions who lock up the market and do not allow non members to sell their products, insecurity of farmers , high cost of production to mention but few.
It is believed that the evidences, solutions proffered at the workshop and enforcement by the regulatory agencies would go a long way in addressing hike in food prices in the country.
The workshop was attended by representatives of Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Manufacturers Association Of Nigeria, MAN, Youth Initiative For Sustainable Agriculture, Consumer Advocacy And Empowerment Foundation and Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.