In our opinion, it is not a question of “if” but “when”, and perhaps more importantly, “how“?
“If”: it is a virtual certainty that sooner or later, the drivers of growth in the Nigerian economy (innovators, IPR owners and applicants, upstarts, and foreign investment) will succeed in their demands for an antitrust law to be enacted.
“When”: it’s been debated in Nigeria since at least 1988; there was another push in the right direction in 2002; and, since then, at least a steady trickle of intermittent calls for a central antitrust regulator, often coming loudest from the outside (as does this post). This general time line coincides with that of other developing or now emerging competition-law jurisdictions, and we believe it is now a question of years, not decades, until a Nigerian Sherman Act will see the legislative light of day. Our (admittedly unscientific) prediction is that Nigeria will have a competition-law regime prior to 2020. (Note: the latest of up to six bills introduced to date, the Competition and Consumer Protection Bill, has been languishing in the Nigerian Senate since 2009).
“How”: this is the kicker — the most interesting bit of the Groundhog Day story this would otherwise be and remain. The intriguing part about reigniting the discussion surrounding Nigerian antitrust law is that we now live in the age of COMESA and more importantly here, the COMESA CCC (Competition Commission).
This opens up new opportunities that may not have been envisaged by others in the 1990s or 2000s. For example: will the economies of West Africa band together and create a similar organisation, notably with “legal teeth”, which might include provisions for a centralised enforcement of antitrust? Will it be under the auspices of ECOWAS or UEMOA? A monetary union has been known to be an effective driver of ever-increasing competition-law enforcement elsewhere in the world (hint: Brussels)…
If the answer to these crucial questions is “no”, what are the consequences to the Nigerian economy? Will Nigeria continue on its path to outsider status when it comes to healthy economic regulation — despite its powerhouse status in sub-Saharan Africa? Will this add to the disincentive against increased foreign investment, akin to the prevalent oil and diesel-stealing that occurs ’round-the-clock and in the open? Will businesses — other than former state monopolies, now privatised and firmly in the hands of oligarchs, or cartelists — continue to accept being deprived of the economic fruit of their labour, without protection from certifiably anti-competitive behaviour? Will other state agencies continue to step in and act as quasi-enforcers of antitrust, as they have done in the past (the Air Cargo cartel is an example), filling the void of a central competition commission?
We are curious to hear our readers’ opinions.