Let’s shame the shops selling hand sanitizers at impossible prices because of Coronavirus [Opinion]

I won't buy a bottle of hand sanitizer for 20k. You shouldn't as well.

Lagos state Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu visited the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba where the Coronavirus index patient is being managed. [Twitter/@jidesanwoolu]

I immediately suspected foul play when a colleague hobbled into the supermarket near my office on the morning Nigeria confirmed its first case of coronavirus (COVID-19), only to find out that hand sanitizers were completely off the shelf.

We are talking 8am here. The news of the virus landing in Nigeria broke at 2am. The supermarket opens at 8am. Who were the people who visited this outlet to purchase all the hand sanitizers between 2am and 8am when the shop was closed?

Whether the sanitizers had been sold out that fast or someone was hoarding them, is anyone’s guess.

Soon after, however, most Nigerians couldn’t find hand sanitizers to buy off the shelves anymore. The few outlets that had them, quickly inflated the prices.

A bottle of hand sanitizer that usually went for N700 was selling for N4,000. By close of business on Friday, February 28, a bottle of sanitizer which went for N950 was being sold by pharmacies for N19,950.

Almost everyone on my Twitter timeline became a hand sanitizer vendor overnight. I joked with a friend about how it now appears as though Nigerians had taken to drinking hand sanitizers given how magically they were being wiped off the shelves.

Chief Executive Officer of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Babatunde Irukere, issued a statement to say hand sanitizer vendors and shops dispensing the product are guilty of ‘price gouging.’

“The unusual and and inordinate practice of unreasonably increasing the prices of basic safety and protective apparel such as face masks and latex gloves, as well as personal hygiene products like hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes because these products are relevant and necessary in preventing infection or spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), violates both moral codes and extant law,” Ikrukera wrote in a strongly worded statement for the CPC.

“Abusing citizens’ sensitivity, apprehension, anxiety and vulnerability, especially during emergencies that could adversely affect national security is a violation of law. Specifically, S.17(s) of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (FCCPA) prohibits “obnoxious trade practices” or the “unscrupulous exploitation of consumers.”

Irukera called what is going on a “criminal offence,” before asking consumers to report exploitative retailers or wholesalers through the following phone numbers: 08056002020 and 08056003030.

“Taking advantage of the possibility of infection by a dangerous communicable disease to control supply, or unilaterally increase prices is predatory as it preys on the desperation of citizens,” the statement from the CPC added.

I agree with those who have used the terms ‘market forces’ or ‘demand and supply’ to justify the actions of the sanitizer sellers or dealers at a time like this. However, a more than 400 percent increase in the price of a product just because demand has surpassed supply? Haba Mana!! How cruel can people get? How criminally exploitative can people get? Which kind of profit margin is that one?

I understand that capitalism and morality can be parallel lines that do not meet and that you have to be mindless sometimes to make money. What I do not understand is how people can take advantage of a panicky moment to inflate the price of a product from N950 to N19,950. Nah, I’d never understand this one.

What I see here is greed and the predisposition of the average Nigerian to milk a situation so criminally or to mindlessly take advantage of a situation--no matter how fatal this situation may be. And I do not find this funny one bit. It's man's inhumanity to man and no less.

I commend Irukera and his consumer protection council for their timely intervention in situations like this and for their prompt engagement on social media. I expect that they go after these greedy retailers or wholesalers and hand them sanctions in accordance with the laws of the land. Businesses who do this should be aware that there are consequences for their actions.

On a final note, I’m a hand sanitizer guy. Been using the stuff long before Ebola hit our shores in 2014. Colleagues would tell you that I always have a small bottle with me and I drive around town with one. However, I’m not going to buy a hand sanitizer for N4,000 or N19,950 because of coronavirus. No be me kill Jesus.

I’d invest that money in plenty of soap and water instead. Be like me and shame these hand sanitizer greed merchants for good and put them out of business.

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