The microeconomics of BUA v. Dangote price fixing conflict

In October 1929, values of stocks in the New York Stock Exchange (NSE) market dropped to an unprecedented record level. Within three days, many lost about $5 billion. Towards the end of the year, major banks and companies lost about $11 billion. That loss, led to closing of factories and laying off their workers, as economists forecasted more hard times ahead. But, in places like Iowa and Midwestern states, economic hard times were already in place 10 years earlier. During the World War, the central government (US) guaranteed farmers of high prices for their crops and let. Farmers took advantage of that and increased their agricultural output, and also, expanded their herds. The farmers gained a lot from that favour.

In the early 1930s, the world witnessed the aftermath of the World War I, which was known as “THE GREAT DEPRESSION “. During that period, the world witnessed a drastic fall in all economic activities. Factories were closed and many economic entities collapsed. Prices of goods and services skyrocketed, unemployment was high due to loss of jobs. During that period, classical economists were the theorists that authorities resorted to for economic advice and plans. As such, they were of the idea that the would move back to equilibrium even without government’s intervention by what they term as “INVISIBLE HANDS”-FORCES OF DEMAND AND SUPPLY.
John Maynard Keynes was a radical economist that did not subscribe to that idea of the classical economists. He guided the then U.S government out of that great economic depression. In his response to the idea of self adjustment of the in the long run, he opined that “in the long run, we’re all dead” as such, he wanted the authorities to do away with ideas of the free market advocates, and intervene to stabilize prices and supplies from disequillibrium and correct the economic abnormalities. Fortunately, the authorities heeded his advice and acted accordingly. With his advice, they successfully overcame the great depression.

In Nigeria, we’re operating oligopoly where few firms produce for millions. They dominate the market, determine the supplies in low quantity and also determine the prices above margin, which in itself is abnormal. In real monopolies, monopolists control only one tool, ether price or supply, but here they control both. And this is as a result of huge FAVOURs they enjoy from the authorities through policies they lobbied. That’s why we are in a perpetual inflation as huge amount of money is chasing few goods produced by these oligopolistic firms.
Economics is divided into two categories – microeconomics and macroeconomics.Microeconomis studies individual households, and business decisions. It also focuses on demand and supply, and other variables that determine price levels. In a nutshell, microeconomics tries to analyze human choice, and the allocation of resources. On the other hand, macroeconomics studies the made by government as a whole, such as of a government with regards to inflation, price stability, unemployment and so on. Macroeconomics takes into account the as a whole. As such, it takes a bottom line approach to determine the cause and nature of an economic phenomenon. 

Recently, a competitive war broke out between the two dominant producers in the Nigeria sugar industry – Dangote and BUA. In microeconomics, the war is known as “Price War”. It is a situation where two rival firms reduce the price of their commodity in order to increase their revenue and market share. Normally, they do that for a short run. Whenever the war is intense, a rival firm usually reacts by setting a price lower than the price set by the other rival firm. They’ll keep on with that until they reach a point known as ‘PERFECT COMPETITIVE PRICE’, where none could either reduce or increase his price. And if one increases his price, he will lose his customers to his rival and if he reduces his price, he will surely incur losses.

So, no matter what transpires, the consumers are the gainers. Surely, they will only go for a commodity with a lower price, since the commodities are identical and serve the same purpose. But, did the action of BUA emanate from his empathy for the poor? Probably, and from the microeconomic point of view, no. It was only a strategy employed to gain more dominance in the industry, and to increase revenues and market share. Adam Smith, who is known as the father of modern capitalism, lived all his life on a philosophy known as “SELF LOVE”. With this, he meant that, man is naturally selfish. He loves himself more than anyone else. In his quest to better himself, he extend to benefit others. But his intention is to better himself not them. And in the course of that, he’ll count his gain from the people he improved.
For instance, when a private school is established, the school contributes in three ways – providing employment, imparting knowledge, and above all, serves as a means of income generation to the proprietor. So, here, the proprietor brought what will better his society, but his intention is to MAXIMIZE HIS PROFIT. That is why the SCHOOL FEES usually vary from time to time. This is a typical example of our modern capitalist. They go the extra mile to better themselves at the expense of the poor masses. And they usually hide in the veil of welfarism, while in reality, maximization of their profit is what matters to them, not the of the society.

Adam Smith, in his Capitalist Bible, “The wealth of a nation”, gave the best description of a capitalist. He said, “It is not from the benevolence (kindness) of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest”. So, with the action of BUA, he will reap at least three things -increase his revenue and market share, attract the customers of his rival and gain a big place in the heart of his customers. In every game, there are two players. One may be smarter or wiser than the other. In this saga, BUA is smarter than his rival. For his single statement made to his dealers is capable of destroying his rival in the industry. His statement, “HIKE PRICE AND LOSE YOUR LICENSE” portrays his rival as a WICKED being. In reality, he was only employing market politics to do away with his rival in either way.
But if we are little bit away from looking at the action of BUA from a face , we agree that, he did the right thing by choosing to go for a small profit and increase his sales, and also put smiles on the faces of his final consumers. And he’s smarter than his rival. Dangote Group, in their quest to retaliate the action of their rival, petitioned the minister of industry, accusing their rival with operating in impunity, acting contrary to laws laid by the National Sugar Policy by selling their products locally instead of otherwise. As such, they want government to close down the firms of their rival!
This is purely a case of dominance. And it is in nature of human beings that they don’t want to be in competition in whatever they do. But, to be frank, Dangote exhibited what could be simply termed as “selfishness”. Instead of seeking government assistance to defeat his rival, he should’ve reacted with pity and a sense of sacrificing some of his profits to retain his customers, thereby reducing his price lower than the price set by his rival! As such, his customers would be retained, and he will have surely boxed his rival out of the market. But calling for government to shut down his rival’s industry will do more harm than good to his market in the eyes of their customers; people always choose to side with the oppressed. 
In this saga, people view BUA as a hero and Dangote as a villain. So, if he truly wants to retain his hard earned reputation as business-philantropist magnet in order not to lose his customers, he must act wisely. For a mistake at this stage will surely hunt him in the future. Price war is nothing new in free market . It is just a strategy employed for industry dominance. At the end, government must come in, to address the in contention, in order to safeguard its national development, which is correcting inflation, generating employment and stabilizing the market/, thereby, creating an enabling environment for other in the sector and to facilitate more competition in the Industry. By doing this, it will create more jobs and stabilize the price of commodities since each of the firms will be wary of increasing their price to avoid losing their customers to their rival.
Ibrahim is a student of economics in University, Gadau. He writes via [email protected], 07019718681.

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