- Photo : Babatunde Irukera
By January 30, it would be three years since Babatunde Irukera has been in the saddle as the Executive Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC).
For many Nigerians and even businesses with issues bordering on consumerism, product/service quality, fair competition and allied matters, it has been an enjoyable and equitable experience for them in getting justice and compensations on the matter through the commission, since Irukera became its helmsman.
The erudite lawyer and technocrat from Kogi State has silently turned the agency, formerly known as Consumer Protection Council (CPC), into a swift responding government agency offering succour and justice to Nigerians and ensuring that they get true values for their money on products and services they ordered for as well as ensure level-playing fields in all sectors of the Nigerian economy.
I am one of such Nigerians. I have had two pleasant experiences with the commission in the past two years. Unlike many government agencies in Nigeria, Irukera’s FCCPC promptly responded to my petitions over unsatisfied services and ensured that the two organisations (a private and a public organization) involved did the needful.
My first experience involved my banker, one of the biggest second-generation banks in Nigeria, with whom I operated a savings account. To my surprise, because of the huge volume of transactions that passed through the account, the bank unilaterally converted my savings account to a current account without seeking my approval. It also started charging me COT, apparently to earn fraudulent revenues from my account. On the failure of the bank to correct this after my discovery and protest, I sent a petition to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to complain about the fraudulent conversion.
But the banking regulator simply ignored my petition. Not even an acknowledgement. In frustration, I decided to turn to FCCPC and send a similar petition to the commission. To my surprise, a staff of FCCPC called me to find out more details on my complaints. Within two months, I got a credit alert from the bank as a reversal of part of the fraudulently charges earlier billed to me for operating a non-existent current account.
The other experience had to do with the ‘famous’ Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKDC). The DisCo was fond of removing my area transformer’s fuses with the flimsy excuses that customers are owing them on their ‘crazy estimated billings’ irrespective of the fact that some of us were diligently paying these outrageous estimated bills. It became a harrowing and annoying experience. In March 2020, the DisCo officials as usual removed the street transformer’s fuse. My area was under the Fagba Undertaking Office of IKDC. In frustration, I sent a petition to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and the Minister of Power and FCCPC. Surprisingly, it was only FCCPC that responded to the petition and made a follow-up with NERC. It got back to me to inform me of the resolutions and the order to IKDC to restore electricity supply to my area, which the DisCo promptly complied with as the fuses were put back to the transformer.
My pleasant experiences with the prompt resolutions of my complaints against these service providers are just a tiny part of what Irukera has been able to wield his organization to do since assuming the mantle of leadership at the federal agency.
It is surprising because he assumed control of the agency just about its mandate was widened to incorporate more responsibilities. Yet he has been able to make the then almost toothless ‘consumer and business protector’ active and prompt in responding to its responsibilities. These are being done without making noises unlike before when the few achievements of the then CPC was always celebrated with noises.
A look into the background and antecedents of Irukera revealed that this silent achiever is indeed a round peg in a round hole. He came into FCCPC with almost three decades of Legal Practice in civil litigation and criminal defence, regulatory work, government relations and practice management in Nigeria and the United States. He is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association, American Bar Association, International Bar Association, Washington State Bar Association and American Society of International Law.
Some of the celebrated cases he was involved in included the over a decade quest to get justice for the disabled children of Kano from the global pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, over its controversial clinical trial in 1996 of its then proposed antibiotic, Trovan during the largest meningitis epidemic break out in northern Nigeria. The resilience of Irukera, as the key Counsel, and his team led to the negotiated settlement of $80 Million as justice for affected children and their families affected. This largest settlement in the history of the country earned commendations from Irukera from many foreign organisations.
He was also an advisor to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in the area of its role in sector consumer protection, in which he led the initiative in developing key aviation consumer protection regulations, including the Passenger Bill of Rights; instituted a comprehensive regulatory and parliamentary investigation into anti-competitive behaviour by foreign airlines.
As the leader of the team at FCCPC, he has been able to wield the various departments and units into a performing whole for the agency to deliver on its mandate: enforcement of consumer rights and responsibilities, enforcement of business obligations, ensuring fair competition and other responsibilities. The FCCPC has stepped up the game in the prompt deployment of several regulatory tools to monitor and modify the behaviour of service providers and manufacturers, especially in the areas of complaint resolution, surveillance and enforcement, consumer education, and research and strategy. With surprising speed, it has resolved tens of thousands of complaints from Nigerians received either in person, through email, in writing, and through multiple social media platforms. Surprisingly many of these complaints are resolved through direct engagement, negotiations, mediation, conciliation, investigations, administrative hearings and collaboration with other regulators in a speedy manner to the satisfaction of all concerned.
Its Surveillance & Enforcement, are sometimes triggered by the need to be preemptive in its activities, using unscheduled and random visits as well as scheduled and targeted inspections to prevent violations and ensure enforcement. Its activities are mostly based on intelligence gathering. It also published Guidelines and Advisories on products in the market and restrictions on consumption or use.
Likewise, FCCPC has also placed a premium on quality assurance and development by ensuring adherence to national and international standards, process auditing, developing and issuance of Guidelines/Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in the Nigerian marketplace. Some of the recent innovative initiatives of FCCPC under Irukera include the ongoing move to jointly investigate rights violations in the money-lending industry alongside other regulators like CBN, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). This is aimed at addressing the dubious conduct of some money lenders including the acts of public shaming and violations of the privacy of defaulters; arbitrary, unjust, unreasonable, or exploitative interest rates and or loan balances calculations.
The FCCPC has also been quick to wield the big stick on service providers, including suspension of operations whenever a reasonable suspicion of illegal activities has been established. This move is usually to ensure thorough open investigations into the allegations against the respective service providers and manufacturers. Some of these are carried out by FCCPC on its own or with other general regulatory agencies and industry regulators. FCCPC, under Irukera, has also stepped in the areas of fair business practices in the country, especially in the matters of mergers and acquisitions, Cartel and other Anti-Competitive Conduct.
Indeed, the rise in the profile FCCPC and its prompt response to Nigerians’ complaints has made Irukera, one of the unsung heroes of Nigeria Public Service.
He is a technocrat that has proven that no matter the weight and expanse of responsibilities that are placed on his shoulders, he has the confidence, expertise and temperance to achieve great results. Indeed, he is one of the few Nigerians that can be trusted in public offices.
- Adebisi Adeyemi is a Lagos based publisher and Chief Executive Officer of Gem Communications Resources