“Too huge to be monopolised”? — Orkeh cites business need for Nigerian competition law
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of African Cable Television, Mr. Godfrey Orkeh, was interviewed recently in Lagos, Nigeria, and discussed a topic we at AAT have previously addressed: The need for Africa’s largest economy to enact antitrust laws. ACTV (pronounced “active”) began its service in December 2014 and has faced an uphill battle in entering the pay-TV marketplace.
As John Oxenham, a founding director of Pr1merio, the Africa-focussed legal advisory firm and business consultancy, points out: “In April of 2014, Nigeria surpassed South Africa as the continent’s largest economy, yet it still lacks any enforceable antitrust provision in its statutes.” (See Economist Apr. 12, 2014: “Africa’s New Number One“).
Even prior to Nigeria’s rise to become the continent’s premier economy in terms of GDP, we published several calls for a Nigerian competition law. For example, in our article “Another call for Competition Law in Nigeria: Privatization of Electricity,” AAT contributor Chinwe Chiwete wrote:
The way forward still remains for Nigeria to have a Competition Law as the basic legal framework upon which other sector regulations can build upon.
Chilufya Sampa, a former COMESA Competition Commissioner and currently the Executive Director of the Zambian Competition & Consumer Protection Commission, said that antitrust law in Africa’s largest economy “would be great indeed,” noting the “many benefits in having a competition law.”
Pr1merio director Andreas Stargard likewise promoted the idea of establishing an antitrust regime in West Africa’s dominant economy. He wrote in an article aptly entitled “Nigerian antitrust?“:
Today, AfricanAntitrust adds its voice to the steady, though infrequent, discussion surrounding the possibility of a Nigerian competition-law regime. 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?
Below, we excerpt a few of Mr. Orkeh’s pertinent comments on the issue, in which he discusses the lack of any monopolisation offence under Nigerian law and the high barriers of entry in the television and media sector he and his company have faced while challenging the incumbent domestic TV provider.
The number one challenge in the industry is that there is no regulation, NBC is doing its best but there is no act of law that backs the activities up. Before the last government handed over, there was a bill that was being pushed, [competition-law] bill like what we find in Europe that nobody can own 100 per cent of an industry, if you grow beyond a particular size, for instance when Microsoft, Google among others grew beyond a certain size, they were stopped to allow room for other players. There is no such law right now in Nigeria so it is a big barrier; it is only legislature that can change that. … This is good for the economy and the customers.
We knew there is a monopolistic tendency in the market, the existing structure in the legislature of Nigeria allows a dominant player to take advantage of the environment, before we came to the market. There was no pay TV offering PVR for the middle class and for you to get decoder with PVR you have to cough out about N70, 000 but we are saying with N15, 000 you can have a PVR. And content-wise there was a lot of exclusivity which is going to be difficult for one person to break. Beyond this, we will develop the market for our self, develop a niche for our self because right now the tendency is also thriving in the industry, Nigeria with a population of about 170 million, 26 million households with television, but the market is so huge. There is still a huge market that is not being addressed, we are here to capture that niche market and grow it. …  Nigerians are the only ones that can take a stand as far as monopoly is concerned, and we have started seeing that in recent social media reactions about what is happening in the industry. If we don’t have a choice there will always be a monopoly even if it is only a player that is that market, but you’ve created an avenue for two to three players to play in the market, there would be options like what we see in the telecoms sector, where I can port my number, which I believe has taken efficiency to another level. So we are getting to a point where with digitisation every Nigerian would be exposed to as many channels as possible. But the fact remains that the market is a huge segment. It is too huge to be monopolised.
Outside of AAT’s own resources on the prospect of a future Nigerian antitrust law, we refer our readers to the following resources for further reading on this topic: