Court orders banks to freeze assets of money lenders
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) has secured a Federal High Court order to immediately freeze the bank accounts and assets of money lenders involved in illegal operations.
The Executive Vice Chairman/ Vice-Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, FCCPC, Babatunde Irukera, disclosed this at the raid of seven money-lending firms allegedly involved in illegal operations in Lagos State.
The raid was jointly carried out by a team of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), National Human Rights Commission and the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) alongside select journalists.
Irukera stated that investigation into the activities of these firms started in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in the lockdown of the economy, adding that it was during the period that the money-lending firms began to emerge and increase.
He said while some members of the public began accessing little loans to survive the harsh economy, complaints of the illegal practices of the lenders started arising, which made the commission to track their activities.
Irukera said towards the end of 2021, after gathering some information, the FCCPC engaged other key agencies and created a joint regulatory and enforcement task force to look into the money lending businesses and their activities.
He said the lending firms were violating people’s privacies with respect to how they recover the loans, as well as the interest factor, which violated the ethical principles of lending as well as other illegal operations.
Irukera noted that investigations showed that many of the money lending companies were not Nigerian and had no address in the country.
He said the firms were also not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and didn’t have licences to do business in the country.
“We started an investigation trying to determine the locations of some of these lenders, which has been a very difficult thing and some of them have moved from place to place.
“We had to monitor this place on a daily basis for months and we found out that many of the companies operate from one location; we also found out that sometimes multiple companies are operated by the same owners.
“Essentially all they have is an App and so we started gathering information by engaging the public and people who have been their victims and got more information. We had enough information to present to the court to convince the court to issue a warrant for us to proceed with the investigation into a search and seizure.
“Late sometime last month a Federal High Court issued a warrant, and between then and now we were preparing a sting operation because we wanted to make sure we hit at the place where we could get many of them and that is what has happened,” he explained.
Disclosing the contents of the court order, Irukera said: “The FCCPC has issued multiple orders today, two of the orders are going to vendors, app store such as Google store or play store where some of these apps are available to shut down or draw down the apps so that people will not be victimised anymore.
“There are some orders that have gone to the bank today to freeze the accounts they are using to operate this business until we can gain clarity into the business.
“Although, not all money lenders are operating illegally and that is why it has taken time for us to select the ones that we want to proceed with, with respect to enforcement. There are between five and seven of them operating in this location.”
Irukera added that the agencies would quickly restrain the businesses of the money-lending firms they have sufficient evidence against and advise the public not to do business with them.
“There is going to be a long protracted investigation to ultimately determine what has gone wrong and whether there should be any penalty. If there is sufficient evidence that the entirety of the business is illegal and victimising people, we will have no choice but to seal,” he stated.