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Special Report: FCCPC’s Babatunde Irukera, epitome of leadership with courage

Mr. Babatunde Irukera, Executive Vice-Chairman and CEO of FCCPC

Protecting citizens is a key constitutional expectation of government…. The audacity of those who undermine this nation (Nigeria), and endanger citizens as a matter of course and their business is stunning! But for us, surrendering is far beyond loss; it is exactly what it is ─a surrender of not just the rule of law, but the fate of nation…. ─Babatunde Irukera, Executive Vice-Chairman/CEO of Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

Mr. Babatunde Irukera is Executive Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (EVC/CEO) of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), formerly CPC, the leading competition and consumer protection agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
As a consummate barrister at law and public prosecutor, he started overseeing the transition and operationalisation of the regulatory Commission since January 30, 2019, when the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA) was enacted.

Irukera (middle) as a barrister and prosecutor

He is responsible for the daily management and leadership of the Commission in fulfilling its mandate to promote market competition, protect consumers and secure remedies when consumer rights are violated.
Interestingly, Irukera’s record of advocacy and representation in competition and consumers’ issues is exceptional and provides the clarity that both the Commission and industry need in addressing issues of customer service/protection, promoting a level-playing field in the Nigerian marketplace, and ensuring regulatory stability.
He has been in active legal practice for almost three decades. His varied experience ranges from being In-house Counsel to General Counsel, Managing Partner in a law firm, and advising senior government officials as well as key government institutions.
Over this diverse career, Irukera has gained considerable experience in transactions, civil rights and commercial litigation, regulatory work, government relations and practice management.
Key areas of significant litigation and resolution experience for him include medical malpractice. He was key counsel in prosecution, negotiation and settlement of a large multi-jurisdictional case involving a major pharmaceutical company and the conduct of a clinical trial that resulted in injuries.
He also played vital roles in sector related consumer protection advancements, including advising the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) with respect to its role in sector consumer protection.
He led the initiative in developing current aviation consumer protection regulations as well as the Passenger Bill of Rights. He also led the team that revised existing aviation economic regulations and superintended a comprehensive regulatory and parliamentary investigation into anti-competitive behaviour by foreign airlines.
He has also provided capacity-building and advisory services to government institutions and other clients with respect to competition/antitrust issues in the country.
Irukera’s unique combination of advocacy, commercial practice and reputation provides the required mutual industry/regulatory assurance and balance for a vibrant and robust consumer protection regime that promotes business stability and investment, as well consumer satisfaction and confidence.
In this special virtual interaction with Irukera, the EVC/CEO of FCCPC sheds light on diverse burning consumer-oriented issues and regulators’ continued efforts at consumer protection in the Nigerian economy, including fuel scarcity and attendant price hike, ‘coordinated’ airfare increase of Nigerian airline operators, investigations into unprofessional medical practices, and currently, the burning issue of illegal digital loan companies (loan sharks) as regards their unprofessional measures of harassment, cyberbullying, and breach of consumer data privacy, among others.  
Irukera’s courageous leadership at the FCCPC has, unapologetically, championed the cause of consumer rights, and intervened in Nigerians and businesses with issues bordering on consumerism, product/service quality, fair competition and allied matters.
All these efforts at activating the Commission’s regulatory mandate are geared towards ensuring an enjoyable, equitable, and quality consumer experience for Nigerians in getting justice and compensations where necessary.

Insights into the central mandate/strategic goals of FCCPC

Investors want a stable and predictable regulatory environment. Our role contributes to what their perception would be… We (Nigeria) didn’t set out at dawn, but we must set out before dusk.”

Some of our strategic goals are to ensure that producers and service providers and their patrons mutually respect their commercial and social contracts; and diminish to the barest minimum incidents of consumer aggravation and frustration.

The FCCPC should sufficiently protect consumers from hazardous products or injuries from consumption of substandard products, while promoting a quality culture in both processes and final products.

The regulatory Commission also engenders a marketplace of informed, sophisticated and discriminatory consumers, and provide information, and be a resource to consumers regarding products, trends and patterns.

We as well ensure that service providers and manufacturers make full disclosures of relevant information about their products, or developments with respect to consumption of their products, in a consumer friendly manner which truly guides consumers’ choices, among others.

Relationship with industry stakeholders on quality assurance, consumer rights protection

Some big businesses, multinationals and big corporations, previously, have responded with nervousness. They were initially anxious, but now they are more comfortable, not with the existence of the law, but with the approach of the regulator.

Irukera (right) engages Malam Farouk Salim, Director-General of Standards Organisation of Nigeria, on protection of consumer rights

Interestingly, the big companies are much fewer than the SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) and the MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises).

So, the other companies who were afraid or unable to thrive as well sometimes because of the larger ones, have embraced this and are very happy, very collaborative and they provide Intel many times.

Memorable experiences in activating FCCPC’s mandate, consumer protection programmes and initiatives

Our team (including me) at the then Consumer Protection Council (CPC), now FCCPC went to Uyo (Akwa Ibom State capital), for what we believed was a dangerous, but an important mission June 2018.

We came prepared, but discovered to the country’s shock and disbelief that our preparedness was nothing compared to what was really an extremely large, organised, powerful and dangerous enterprise of contaminated rice merchants-merchants of injury and death, who made a living, and whose lives were made by jeopardising the lives of others who are fellow citizens and neighbours.

What we discovered was unbelievable! But what was really even more beyond belief was the audacity and capability of these people to resist law enforcement, succeed in it, and even dominate the space, including suppress law enforcement.

“Big Men” as we call them in, and with friends in high places who injure us in violation of our rights and the law.

Businesses operating illegally in contraband and injurious products, who are protected by our law enforcement apparatus at our expense and against us.

Businesses willing to use the law enforcement and legal systems that belong to, and are funded for by citizens to undermine, even harass legal authorities created by government to protect citizens.

I was stunned and disillusioned by what seemed like the structure and system that should protect us as citizens, and even in our duties as consumer protection officers, not only did not protect, but persecuted, and even attempted to prosecute us.

It became difficult to tell if our most acute exposure was to unscrupulous businessmen, or the apparatus created by society and law to protect us, including legally exercising lethal force where necessary.

The FCCPC Executive Vice-Chairman/CEO engages some of the staff of illegal digital loan firms during the regulators’ recent raid on the companies in Lagos

The consequence? The tested modifier of human behaviour was the only way to prevent these people and many others watching, from smuggling contaminated rice, re-bagging and selling to innocent citizens who are almost certain to fall sick, and probably even die from consumption. I felt submitting them to the course of the law would be the right course.

Over the past year, I have discovered that the same effort they (in Uyo) deployed to frustrate the regulatory process remains available, and has been used to frustrate the legal process. We have tried over the past months to close the investigation and proceed to prosecution.

They have frustrated the effort repeatedly, sadly by using elements even within the relevant institutions responsible for taking certain actions.

When they were charged to court, they didn’t really “evade” service of the charges, they prevented service. I say this because, they repeatedly appeared in court in their own actions against the FCCPC, yet the court process server ultimately filed an affidavit in court claiming service was impracticable.

The audacity of those who undermine this nation, and endanger citizens as a matter of course and their business is stunning!

But for us, surrendering is far beyond loss, it is exactly what it is ─a surrender of not just the rule of law, but the fate of nation.

And when a regulator surrenders the fate of a nation, nothing weakens or questions the people’s faith more.

So, we continued, I personally got involved, and as influential defendants exploited their influence and network, we dug in more, insistent that the law will run its course.

This included me having to personally go back to Uyo to exploit my own resolve and position to see “it” through.

Finally, and exactly one year from the dawn raid and sting operation in Uyo on June 22nd, 2018, to the very day, today, June 21st, 2019, the presiding Judge of the Federal High Court Uyo granted an unprecedented order issuing a warrant to arrest 5 defendants, some very powerful and recognised names in Church and State.

FCCPC helmsman’s personal involvement in legal prosecution in courts

In personally appearing as counsel and arguing motions myself. I felt both the nostalgia of a “small” win against an enemy of the state cabal who consistently defy the law and the people, violently protect and conduct their illegal and hazardous enterprise on the one hand; and the anxiety of how many more battles through the judicial process laid ahead to win this war on the other hand.

And, of course, a natural concern for our personal safety and security as we confront what can affect these dangerous and powerful people in their nefarious business, and curtail their personal liberties.

As a litigator, securing the arrest and arraignment of criminal defendants is an important step in bringing them to justice, but it is hardly a time for relief or celebration because it merely starts the case.

For me, as momentous and paradoxically innocuous as this key step is, it is at least a crack in that ceiling of impunity without consequence. I am hopeful for a fair, transparent and speedy trial in protection of the people and deterrence to many.

So, yes, it’s a slow tedious march to a better society, but every step counts, and this for me is a memorable one.

Our society has been so badly battered that a standard step in a regular process is now exceptional, remarkable and memorable.

I remember promising that this despicable conduct should not end with confiscation of the contraband product, but continue to consequences for such conduct by prosecution.

Despite the delay, a brave and committed team and a courageous judge have brought us to an end in itself, but a beginning as it should be.

“The wheels of justice may turn slow, but no one should be able to grind it to a halt.” For those who have made a business, pattern or life of abuse of process, nation and values, one day like today, the slow turning wheels won’t stop, and one day in the future, as I hope and pray will be the case in this instance, it will grind exceedingly fine, and true and full justice will be done, regardless of how slow people made it turn.

Please read more in the full Special Print Edition report downloadable HERE >>

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