The Executive Vice Chairman of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Mr. Babatunde Irukera, yesterday led a team of investigators and enforcers to swoop on alleged operators of illegal online lending and loan recovery through the use of Apps in a manner that exploits and damages the reputation of their victims.
Some of the alleged online lenders that were raided in Opebi, Ikeja, in Lagos State by the FCCPC, in collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the National Information Technology Development Agency, were GoCash, Easy Credit, Speedy Choice, Kash Kash, Easy Moni, Sokoloan and All Cash.
At the Sokoloan, which occupied two floors at 21 Opebi Road and was alleged to be owned by Chinese businessmen, the workers refused to open their doors and constrained the FCCPC operatives to break their locks.
The Sokoloan is said to have over 5,000 employees that earned a minimum of N50,000 per month.
Irukera told journalists that the FCCPC started gathering information on the activities of these alleged unscrupulous lenders in 2020 during the peak of COVID-19 lockdown when people needed easy loans to cope with.
He said, “Some time at the end of last year after gathering quite some information, the FCCPC engaged other agencies including the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), ICPC, National Human Right Commission, Central Bank of Nigeria, and Nigerian Communications Commission, to create a joint regulatory task force to look into these businesses.
“The key two things that were subject of concern, were, what seemed to be naming and shaming or violation of people’s privacy with respect to how these lenders recover the loans.
“Secondly sometimes the interest factor, and the way it was calculated, showed the violation of ethical principles of lending. So we started an investigation trying to determine the location of these people but that has been a very difficult thing. We did that for several months and some of them have moved from one place to the other and we have to do reconnaissance on this place almost on a daily basis for months.
“We also found out that many of these companies are not Nigerian companies, they don’t have an address in Nigeria and they are not registered in Nigeria with the Corporate Affairs Commission and they do not have any license to do their business.
“Essentially what they have is an App, and so we started gathering more information, we engaged the public and people who have been their victims for information.
“And as we got more information we had enough to present to the court to convince the court to issue a warrant for us to proceed with an investigation into a search and seizure. Late last month, a court issued a warrant, and between then and now we were preparing a sting operation which you are seeing today because we wanted to be sure that we are hitting at the place where we are going to get many of them.”
Irukera added that the FCCPC also issued multiple orders today to App stores and Google stores where some of these apps are available to shut them down so that people would not be victimised anymore.
“Secondly some people have gone to the banks today freezing accounts they use to exploit people.
“I must add though that not all money lenders are operating illegally and that is why it has taken time for us to tease out the ones that we want to proceed with.
“It doesn’t mean that the people we are proceeding against today are the only ones, but these are where we have information now and we want to start with them,” he said.
The executive vice-chairman of FCCPC said that the commission would restrain the business of those that are found wanting, freeze their accounts and advise the general public not to do any business with them.
“There is going to be a long protracted investigation to determine what has gone wrong and whether there will be a penalty.
“The most important thing for us is to be more corrective than retributive.
“But it is too early to say if the place will be sealed off or not. If there is sufficient evidence that illegal activities are happening here and there is no way to stop that illegal business, we will. Sealing up a business is not something we take lightly.
“But if the entirety of a business is illegal and leaving it open will lead to further exploitation, we shall have no choice but to seal.
“Employing people in furtherance of illegal activities can never be an excuse to allow those illegal activities to go one,” he said.