Barrister Babatunde Ayokunle Irukera is the Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Federal Competition Consumer Protection Commission in this interview with Samuel Olugbemi, he described Kogi State as microcosm of Nigeria as a country, enumerates his achievements and challenges in Federal Competition Consumer Protection Commission. Except
Barr Babatunde Ayokunle Irukera was born into the family of His Royal Majesty, Oba Ayodele Irukera, the paramount ruler of Egbe town in Yagba West Local Government Area of Kogi State on the 14th May, 1968.
He completed his primary school education between 1978 and 1980 at University of Ilorin Staff School before he proceeded to Federal Government College, Ilorin for his secondary school education between 1980 and 1985.
He gained admission into the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife to study Law in 1985 and completed his Bachelor of Law (B.L) in 1989 from where he proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos and was called to Bar in 1990.
He worked briefly as Counsel to Rims Merchant Bank, Lagos between 1990 and 1992, later became the General Counsel to Associated Properties & Trust PIc, Lagos between 1992 and 1995.
He also worked as Partner, Thomas & Irukera in Chicago, United States of America between 1996 and 2000; Managing Partner, Partners, Attorneys & Counselors, LLC, Chicago, United States of America between year 2000 and 2006.
He was also Partner, Simmons Coopers Partners, Victoria Island, Lagos, from 2006; he is Nigerian Government Legal Representative, Privatization Process; Counsel, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission; Legal Representative, International Tribunals including the ECOWAS Court of Justice in dispute arising out of oil block bid rounds and compliance with Local Content Legislation; Consultant to Federal Government and Oil Companies in extra-territorial litigation under the Alien Torts Claims Asset and the Liability implication for joint venture partners and possible scope of discovery involved in the development of antitrust legislation and regime in Nigeria; Legal Consultant Securities Litigation, investments & divestment, joint venture; oil block acquisitions; product liability; fiduciary duties of directors; intellectual property; Cross Border Litigation; Provide Capacity-building advisory services to Federal Agencies; Legal Representative to the Federal and Kano State Governments in a Corporate misconduct case against a global pharmaceutical giant leading to a settlement in Nigeria.
Member of Nigeria Bar Association, American Bar Association; International Bar Association; Africa Bar Association; Washington State Bar Association; American Society of International Law; Africa Interest Group, America Bar Association, African Committee; served as liaison between the International Sector & Africa Bar Association.
He has participated in previous ILEX delegate to Africa; Admitted before the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh & Fourth Circuits and the prestigious Federal Trial Bar.
Barrister Babatunde Irukera has been featured in the Who’s Who Legal International; Profiled in the American Lawyer & Spiegel, Simmons Coopers Partners, Victoria Island, Lagos.
He was appointed as the Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Federal Competition Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2017 and got reappointed in 2021 for a second term in office.
He holds certificates of LL.B, B.L, he is a Legal Practitioner and Consultant Administrator. He is married to Mrs Mebal Foluke Irukera (née Mesaiyete) and the marriage is blessed with wonderful children that are doing well in their various fields of endeavors.
Question. What would you say are your achievements and challenges in the Consumer Protection Council?
Ans: Thank you for the question, when I started work at Consumer Protection Council (CPC) as it was in 2017 then, one of the most important things to me was an awareness of the council to all stakeholders and to resolve complains as much as we could and to get companies to be more responsible toward consumers.
The other important objective was to also pursue change in legislation that will introduce antitrust for competition regulations in Nigeria and of course changing the working environment for the officers and operatives of the then CPC. We succeeded in all of that before the last four years ended early this year and we were able to get new tenure courtesy of the magnanimity of Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari who believes in our leadership to reposition the agency for better service delivery to all stakeholders in Nigeria.
At the beginning of 2019, I think I will speak more of our work in Federal Competition Consumer Protection Commission not CPC, right now. We are involved in complains resolution across the board, in electricity, aviation, telecommunication, banking, other services and even food and drugs and I think that is unprecedented as it was under the CPC.
We also took over the role of analyzing, reviewing, approving or modifying mergers and acquisitions in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and we scaled that up as a matter of fact, FCCPC is now considered one of the leading competition regulators in sub-Saharan Africa.
We were able to respond very proactively as Covid-19 hit, by ensuring that consumers were not exposed to potentially harmful products and then making sure that even during the lockdown, when materials changes the way we live our life during Covid-19, we were able to continue to protect consumers, file actions to ensure that prices changes were not excessive on account of Covid of some of the most vital products that are required for personal safety and public health during the pandemic. We succeeded in doing quite a bit of that, this year as we came out of Covid, we focused a lot more on our internal structure and developing the regulatory framework for fair market in the competition regulatory framework, so we got a merger review regulations out there, the restrictive agreement regulations are about to come, leniency regulations are also forthcoming. We also engage in some large investigations, some of which will result in significant penalties for both domestic and foreign companies doing business here in the country and all of these are to modify behavior in the market and we do see that, yes many businesses are beginning to modify their behaviours.
Questions: What would you say are the challenges of the agency?
Ans: Well, I mean, the pandemic has been a huge challenge for everybody, it is a human resource issue, it is a movement issue, it is a logistic nightmare apart from that the agency is still relatively small for its mandate talking about 240million people to cover consumers protection across all sectors and competition regulations across all markets. So there is a limited number of people to cover because there is budgetary constraint, but we believe that in the coming years, we will be able to get more manpower and resources. Apart from that, is apathy by consumers to challenge exploitation, the most important component of any right enforcement framework is a knowledgeable consumer who beyond being knowledgeable is also willing to demand for his or her rights even when they are not respecting it. The more people we have demanding and insisting on quality service standards the quicker way to develop a fully more robust consumer protection framework nationally.
Questions: What can the Agency do to bring down the high inflation rate on consumables in the country e.g, foods, clothing and other related products?
Ans: Well, Nigeria is a free market, we do not regulate price, there is no price control. However, we regulate competition, the more we are able to promote competition and can remove entry barriers and get other players in the market who compete for customers and patronage, who offer more for less to stay ahead, the more we will see prices go down. Apart from that, when you see things like price dodging, which is unjust, arbitrary, unreasonable, exploitative, irrational and supported price increases, we engage. Currently we are prosecuting some major supermarkets and pharmaceutical chains in Nigeria for price catching. So that is what we do.
Question: What would be your legacy in the agency at the end of your tenure in office?
Ans: For me, the legacy I would like to leave is an institution that has found its feet, recognized and respected in both market and industries; an institution that have rated professionally, that have succeeded in raising the profile of consumer protection and competition and also transferring some of its reforms to the industries so they are already respecting those rights before the people demand, that is the legacy I will like to leave behind.
Coming to Kogi politics, having contested in the previous elections, what is your plan toward the 2024 governorship election in the state?
Well, what I think right now is that we should focus on governance, the value proposition whether I contest or not must always be a needs assessment of the state, matching those needs with the skill set, experience and records of whoever the candidate would be. As for the West, I understand the agitation from the West for a turn in governance; I don’t think it is unreasonable, I think it is founded on what has helped Nigeria work. If it was about who has power in numbers, neither the South-South nor South-West will rule Nigeria based on the population census, but we’ve come to an understanding, equality is important but equality must be modified by equity. What is equitable and so even when things happen not so naturally like we experienced in Kogi. Kogi State is really like a mini Nigeria, multiple tribes, Kogi is the only state that we have legitimate emirs, Oba and Igwe, so Kogi State is like Nigeria, and so the principle that have worked for equality, equity, and justice in Nigeria should be applicable in Kogi and there is nothing new. For instance, our trajectory follows the same trajectory we had in Nigeria having a minority who became the President of Nigeria because of the unfortunate demise of a President, and that minority ultimately went on to complete that term and also become elected. After that minority, power simply returned to the majority. So, there is always the template that is the epitome of promoting equity. I don’t think we need to spill the milk preventing or finding new ideas other than what has already been demonstrated nationally to work, especially when you are looking at a state that is a microcosm or a mirror of the nation itself.
However beyond that, what is most important which in addition to equity and equity cannot be subtitled, is competence. Like I say, we should be looking for leaders who have demonstrated records and characters not anticipatory, we cannot hope for what someone will do simply because of their desires, we can only base our expectations on a record, if we were looking for school leavers to be Governor, we will still have to look at their results, so we are not looking for school leavers. So beyond results, we are looking for their records of activities and things that matter to us. Leadership, experience, execution, value for people, engagement and interface. So, I think those are things that will matter to us and if by chance we are able to build a consensus around an equitable devolution of power to the West for instance I think the West would make that case stronger by presenting candidates who even without devolution of power would have been strong and acceptable across the state.
Question: Sir, you held an empowerment program in Lokoja recently, what informed that?
Well, I firmly believe that an individual’s life should count for far more than what impact they are able to make in their family, I think it is a successful father or mother who is able to assist their children. Give them good education and those children become successful in life, that when you are successful parents and we are not just parents, we are individuals in the community and products of that community, so we must translate successful parenting to successful community participation. A legacy of any individual cannot possibly be his bank balance or his personal wealth. I believe the people will build stand surer, better and taller than even the skyscraper we build and so for me, every opportunity to become relevant is the difference between something and nothing. I grew up, child of a teacher and a civil servant. They did everything they could to provide educational opportunities for me but I will say that God has been so good to me that I have surpassed the expectations of my parents when they were investing in my education. I think that I also hold an obligation to do just one more, because that is how we can really promote sheer prosperity, one person at a time especially in a society like ours in Nigeria particularly Kogi, when making a difference in the life of one person, can transform the entire family. I want to give example of someone who used to work for my father at a relatively low level, I remember him going to the same school that I went to, I graduated in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, he went and graduated in University of Lagos, he became an engineer in an oil company, very senior level executive now, he changed the trajectory of his family. That is the duty we owe each other, one person at a time and that is what governance is all about. The difference between personal individual engagements I do from my heart and governance is that the government is the most powerful platform to do that in many lives at once. If you have a hundred billion naira today and put all of it in philanthropy, there will still be many people in Okunland that would still not be able to go to school because they could not afford it. Even if you have a hundred billion naira and put it, there will still be people who will die in the hospitals before they could get money from you to pay their medical bills. So with your best intentions and incredible amount of resources as an individual there is little you can do but the government has a bigger platform. So imagine if the schools were so good and free the bureaucracy to get to you for school fees would become irrelevant. If the hospitals across the country or in a state are working well, the connection needed to get to you and make you believe in the story, would have saved lives. So, my firm believe is in or out of government what is important is doing good, so the platform I have as an individual, I use it, if I have a platform in government I will use it. Thank you