By Yinka Kolawole
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), in conjunction with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and other related federal agencies, over the weekend, raided the premises of an illegally run Chinese-owned online money lenders at two locations on Opebi Road in Lagos.
The Executive Vice Chairman of FCCPC, Babatunde Irukera, who led the enforcement exercise, condemned the exploitation of Nigerians by unlicensed online money lenders in the country, noting that most of them were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and do not have any license to do their businesses.
According to him, the activities of the company were against the rights of Nigerian consumers.
Irukera said many of the online money lenders came into existence during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
He stated: “This investigation started a long time ago. Sometime during the pandemic, when the country was on lockdown in 2020, we started seeing a rise in online money lenders.
“Because people were on lockdown due to the pandemic, people started needing small easy loans, which is understandable.
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“However, over a period of time, people started complaining about the malpractice of the lenders. So, we started tracking it”.
He said that after gathering a lot of information, at the end of 2021, the commission started working with some other key agencies to look into the operations of the loan companies.
The agencies, according to him, including EFCC, ICPC, National Human Rights Commission, CBN, NCC agreed on a joint effort to investigate the activities of the money lenders.
“The key two things that were subjects of concern were what seems to be naming and shaming, violation of people’s privacy with respect to how these lenders recover the loans.
“Secondly, the interest rate 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.
“We started an investigation trying to determine the location of these people and that has been a very difficult thing.
“We did that for several months and so one of them has moved from one place to the other and we have been visiting this place for months,” he stated.
According to him, most of the companies do not have physical addresses, all they had was an App, and that led the commission to gather and engage people who had been their victims for more information.
The company that was raided, Soko Lending Company, with a workforce of over 2,000 has several loan apps — Soko Loan, Fast Money, Go Cash, Okash, Kash Kash, Speedy Choice, Easy Moni, among others.
For instance, a worker at one centres raided told the team: “The way the App is programmed is such that once it is downloaded, the address book (contacts) of the client is automatically uploaded.”
It was gathered that workers are paid between N28,000 and N56,000 per month, depending on their work schedule.
The FCCPC boss said the commission got a court warrant which paved the way for an investigation that could lead to a search and seizure.
“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.
“This is because we want to be sure we are hitting at the place we could get many of them,” he said.
Irukera said that in addition to the sting operation carried out, the FCCPC had also issued multiple orders.
He noted that vendors, App Stores and Google Stores where some of the apps were available would be shut down so that people would not be victims anymore.
The FCCPC boss said the commission had made efforts to freeze some of the accounts being used by the managers of the online money lenders.
“I must add that though not all money lenders are operating illegally, and that is why it has been taking time for us to track these people, it doesn’t mean that the people we are proceeding against today are the only ones.
“No, we want to start with them. We also understand that they are between five to seven companies operating at the same location,” Irukera stated.