In recent times, harsh economy and inflation have taken a negative toll on consumer spending and the disposal income of many people. The COVID-19 pandemic has also created not only a public health crisis but economic concerns in many countries across the world, particularly in developing economies like Nigeria. This has made disposal income and purchasing power of consumers wane drastically. On the other hand, businesses continue to grapple with strategies to keep customers and sustain businesses amid intense competition, hardship, and current realities.
World over, competition exists across several fields and sectors of the economy and it is inevitable in business regardless of the business type, structure, size, and industry of operations. Fair competition exists when no single buyer or seller can control the price or product in the market. Even if a business enjoys a monopoly in a sector it must compete with other businesses over where consumer spend their money. Consequently, competition is really not a bad phenomenon as it can spark innovation, productivity, competitiveness, and it largely contributes to an effective business environment.
For this reason and more, businesses needs to continue to attract consumers with innovative behaviours. In fact, competition is a natural and healthy part of running businesses in an adequately regulated economy. Because when businesses vie for customers, competition makes prices fall, and with that economic output increases. Therefore, if practiced the right way competition can ensure consumers have a range of choices, businesses can equally strive better, and workers can be retained. However, the place of anti-competitive practices, which is a huge challenge for businesses particularly small businesses at this time is the focus of this piece and awareness needs to be brought to it in my opinion.
Although anti-competitive practices which are acts that prevent or reduce fair competition in a market often enrich those who practice them, it is widely believed to have a negative effect on the economy as a whole. From context observation, these anti-competitive practices exist in the various business landscape in Nigeria and indeed many African countries and this behaviour continues to fester. Anti-competitive practices can include unfair mergers, cartel conducts, collusions, price-fixing, the overbearing influence of vested interests, deceptive marketing practices, monopolization, price discrimination, political patronage, and predatory pricing amongst others. Cartel conducts are one of the most harmful anti-competitive practices a nation can deal with. For instance, the businesses are ailing in Nigeria, not only because of the weak infrastructure environment but largely due to several cartels’ conduct and collusions, exacerbated by the current economic downturn and stiff challenges. A visible trend is the engagement of individuals or few businesses amongst the cartels in taking samples of products to a foreign country to reproduce on a large scale, dump at a predatory price into the market, where no room for fair competition can exist.
This pattern happens with many household items and consumer goods such as textiles, building fixtures, and fittings, detergent, cosmetics, tissue paper, biscuits, shoes, clothing, vehicle spare parts, all types of electronics, phones, generators, and to a commodity as low as nylon bags, etc. Predominantly having predatory pricing is usually the strategy of the cartels, where prices drop so low until the local businesses are driven out of the market. But sadly these products are usually substandard and with grave health and safety implications.
For instance, in the textile space, six yards of African print (Ankara) can sell as low as N1, 500, that is N250 per yard, can a Nigerian textile manufacturer with the humongous cost of running a business beat that? Can the product be durable? These are the questions. Further to this, a colleague recently bought a flash drive of 32gig capacity for use and he could not copy an 18gig presentation file with video onto the 32gig flash drive, an example of deceptive marketing practice in every sphere of business life in the country. These sharp practices are a result of a weak regulatory regime and lack of consequences for such acts of anti-competitive behaviours.
So, overall the local manufacturing sector continues to suffer on the account of this unchecked behaviour where importation of substandard products prevails despite the ban on some of these imported finished items. I, recognize that Nigerian consumers are highly price-sensitive due to limited income and shrinking purchasing power, but the worry is the unabated importation of these items at the detriment of health and safety. Without doubt, poverty plays a significant role in all these because it has been one of the increasing challenges facing the country today. More so, ceaseless dumping of foreign-manufactured substandard products into Nigerian markets has been a major problem and this needs more attention by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) to achieve significant effort on non-shipment of sub-standard goods to Nigeria.
Nigerian consumers are highly price-sensitive due to limited income and shrinking purchasing power, but the worry is the unabated importation of these items at the detriment of health and safety
The whole idea is that this anti-competitive behaviour is used by a few dominant individuals or businesses to generate abnormal profits and it erodes fair competition within the market. The central thing is that if this activity continues uncontrolled it may take a negative toll on the Nigerian small business ecosystem, create market failures, erase job creation, and wealth creation within the economy. It is imperative to mention that one of the biggest challenges that result in business failure aside from financial constraints, lack of manpower necessities, operational difficulties, and absence of adequate structure by businesses particularly the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Nigeria is the negative impact of anti-competitive behaviours. It is so bad that it can affect not only the businesses but the entire economy if it remains unchecked.
The Nigerian government has enacted a national competition law, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2019 (FCCPA), 17 years after the first idea was pushed. The role of FCCPA is to oversee consumer protection and competition issues in commercial activities within or having effects on Nigerians. This step is laudable, however, for meaningful impact, the specific focus should be on proper implementation, enforcement, and prosecution. Adequate sanctions have to be in place to check fraudulent trade practices or unfair anti-competitive practices.