Nigerian authorities have begun an investigation into skyrocketing prices of hygienic masks and sanitising gels following the emergence of coronavirus in the West African nation, an official has said.
Demand for products like hand sanitisers, face masks, and cleaning wipes have spiked since Friday when Africa's most populous nation confirmed its first case of coronavirus.
Cleaning products have been scarce and overpriced due to surging interests. Many Nigerians have decried the situation, calling out some popular stores with exorbitant prices.
The federal government had warned that suppliers and retailers "using the excuse of coronavirus case in Nigeria to inflate protective apparel will be prosecuted.
In a memo issued Saturday, the Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) said the inordinate practice during national public health concern violates both moral codes and extant law.
But, despite the warning, prices kept increasing rapidly throughout the weekend in many superstores in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.
Checks by PREMIUM TIMES in megastores like Shoprite, Panda, Game, Next Cash and Carry, among others showed bare shelves for protective apparels.
Many residents who were scampering for products amidst scarcity met even higher prices at the few stores that still have stock.
A spot check at different pharmacy shops in Utako revealed that the same brand and size of a hand sanitiser, Punkinosis, is being sold at different exorbitant prices ranging from N2, 500 and N3, 000.
"It's because the demands are high," female staff at Richmen Pharmacy in Utako said Saturday evening when asked what was the reason for the price hike.
Babatunde Irukera, Chief Executive Officer of the FCCPC said an investigation into the development has begun across Nigerian cities.
"We are engaging superstores. It is a very delicate situation," the official told PREMIUM TIMES Sunday evening.
He said some stores they visited were able to produce an inventory which showed they purchased at a high price from suppliers.
"This is why we are going after suppliers."
He said the situation is called 'price gauging' when a supplier puts unreasonable and unjustifiable price on a product of impending potential need.
"This is what is happening now and it is even a manipulation of the market. They will hoard the products to make it scarce in the market then they start selling at higher prices," Mr Irukera said. "It is against the law.
The FCCPC boss said it will be difficult to visit every store in the country. We are focusing on bigger shops to serve as a deterrent to the smaller ones when stringent actions are taken," he noted.
Hike in online markets
As a result of scarcity, many people have resorted to online sites where prices have also shot up.
Jumia, one of the biggest online markets where you can find protective products but at almost double the normal market.
A 500ml of hand sanitiser is sold at N4, 000 while a litre goes for N6, 000.
Hand sanitizer used to tell the story.
Mr Irukera said the FCCPC is already working with Jumia. "We engaged them and they blamed the high prices on vendors who place products on the online site."
The official said the online store promised to extend warnings to the vendors. "They agreed to withdraw certain privileges from vendors if they continue putting higher prices".
He also urged Nigerians, who see cleaning products for sale at a higher price, to notify the council.