Nigeria’s consumer protection agency cracks down on digital loan firms

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At least seven digital loan companies operating in Ikeja, Lagos, were raided in a joint operation with the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) on Friday for a “possible violation” of consumer rights.

The operation led by the commission’s boss, Babatunde Irukera, was in response to several complaints of malpractices on the part of the lenders.

A PREMIUM TIMES investigation, last December, revealed how these lending companies offer short-term loans to help subscribers meet urgent needs, but resort to unprofessional measures of harassment, cyberbullying, and breach of data privacy of their customers who may have defaulted in loan repayment.

The companies – GoCash, Okash, EasyCredit, Kashkash, Speedy Choice, Easy Moni – owned by Blue Ridge operate on the third floor of a four-storey building in the area.

During the operation, Mr Irukera told the over 800 employees of the purpose of the raid and their rights.

Soko Loan, another lending company, operates in another location in the area with over 150 employees and some of its employees protested the seizure of their equipment.

The operations were carried out by the FCCPC, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), and the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).

Addressing the press, Mr Irukere said the loan companies rose to prominence due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Because people were on lockdown due to the pandemic, people started needing small easy loans which is understandable.

“But over a period of time, people started complaining about the malpractices of the lenders so we started tracking it.

Police remove barricades after a protest by Soko Loan employee
Police remove barricades after a protest by Soko Loan employee

“Sometime towards the end of last year, after gathering quite a lot of information, we started working with some other key agencies like the EFCC, ICPC, National Human Right Commission, CBN, NCC. And FCCPC led the meeting where we all agreed that there would be a joint effort to look into these businesses.”

Mr Irukera said the cause of concern was the naming and shaming of borrowers and violation of their privacy with respect to how the loans are recovered.

“Secondly the interest factor seems to be a violation of the ethics on how lending is done. So those were the two things that we set out to look for,” he said.

Investigation

Mr Irukera said it was difficult tracking the loan companies, adding that it took them several months because some of the lenders moved from one place to the other.

He said that some of the officials visited the companies daily to be sure of their location.

“We found out that most of these companies operate from the same place. We also found out that many of them are actually operated by the same person,” he said.

Loan companies with over 800 staff raided by the FCCPC
Loan companies with over 800 staff raided by the FCCPC

“They are not Nigerian companies, they don’t have addresses in Nigeria and they are not registered in Nigeria with the Corporate Affairs Commission and they do not have any license to do their businesses.

“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 gave us more information.”

Mr Irukera said that they presented their findings to the court, and got a warrant to “proceed with an investigation into a search and seizure. And sometime last month, a court issued a warrant and between then and now we were preparing a sting operation which is what you are seeing here today because we want to be sure we are hitting at the place where we could get many of them.”

Soko Loan
Soko Loan

Mr Irukera also said the commission has issued multiple orders and two of them are going to vendors, App stores and Google stores where some of these apps are available to shut down the loan apps so that people will not be victimised anymore.

“I must add though that not all money lenders are operating illegally and that is why it has been taking time for us to track these people,” he said.

Protests

When the regulatory team visited Soko Loan company in the Ikeja area of the state to enforce another court injunction, they were denied entry and had to force their way in.

One of the employees said he could not answer questions from Mr Irukera.

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But another explained that he gets his salary (cash) from a man identified as Philip, adding that his employer is unknown.

Another identified as Ms Tijani clarified that Soko Loan switched its name to Fast Loan recently.

Meanwhile, some employees had waited outside to lament the employment crisis in the country and demanded that their equipment that were seized by the team be returned.

But Mr Irukera insisted that employing people in furtherance of illegal activities can never be an excuse.

This, however, angered some of them and they barricaded the road, thereby preventing the team from leaving but the police swung into action, shooting into the air and removing the barricade.


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