- Profit and Profit Making Among Onitsha Market Traders
As Frantz Fanon observed in 1961 regarding African nations, “scandals are numerous, ministers grow rich, their wives doll themselves up; the members of parliament feather their nests and there is not a sail down to the simple policeman or customs officer who does not join in the great procession of corruption. In time, bribery and corruption became ‘a way of life,’ a means of getting by, earning a living, obtaining a service or avoiding a hassle.”1 Nigeria mirrors this description: A country where the siphoning of public funds long became the norm among public office holders and where it is also seen as good for people to amass wealth illegally without considering the de-humanizing situation to which they subject their fellow human beings. A common saying among the Igbo, which developed recently, goes thus: “kama onu n’eri ga erikata kwusi, nke n’adigh eri erikwala chaa” (instead of the mouth that eats to stop eating, let the one that does not eat not eat at all). Corruption among political office holders has received some academic attention though with little or no result. This article represents a shift away from public office holders to corruption in the private sector (the self-employed) using Onitsha market traders as a point of focus. It examines the motivation(s) behind profit and profit making among some traders to see how pervasive corrupt practices are in the country. [End Page 219]
Understanding Corruption, Profit and Profit Making
Corruption has become an increasingly interesting topic among scholars. This is mainly because of variations in social setting and historical period. Incidentally, it has no general definition because what is considered corrupt is determined by a people’s belief system, cultural values, social setting, financial position, geographical location and historical period, among other factors. However, for a clearer understanding of this topic, various scholars’ views on corruption should be highlighted. To Klitgaard, “corruption is like a disease pandemic. It is a problem in every country and especially prevalent and damaging in a few. The social consequences are at many levels, including economic. Finally, the contagious disease is difficult to combat, and it may adapt itself to efforts to defeat it.”2 For Uche T. Agburuga, corruption is “the abuse of office for private gains.”3 He also tells us thus: “corruption in whatever form it manifests itself leads to compromises of operating and ethical standards of behaviour and hence sub-optimality: corruption cannot allow any system to grow to its full potentials.”4
M. A. O. Aluko believes corruption to be a social problem. He asserts that “corruption should be seen largely as a social problem and not as emanating from individual dispositions.” As a social problem, therefore, it deserves societal attention and collective solutions.5 Quoting Akindele, Aluko records that the concept has long been ideologically, morally, culturally, politically and intellectually elusive to the point of losing sight of its detrimental and parasitic impacts on people and society at large.6 Dwivendi argues that “corruption includes nepotism, favoritism, bribery, graft and other unfair means adopted by government employees and the public alike to extract some socially and equally prohibited favors.”7 Gibbons considers corruption largely as a political action. Hence, he sees corruption as “the use of a public office in a way that forsakes the public interest … in order that some form of personal advantage may be achieved at the expense of that public interest.”8 Yusuf Bala Usman notes that “…corruption can also mean deliberate violations for gainful ends, the standards of conduct legally, professionally or ethically established in private and public affairs.”9 From the above analytical dispositions, therefore, we argue that corruption is any act or practice by an individual or organization aimed at gaining what may be considered an unfair advantage over others; or exploiting or defrauding the state and/or its institutions. [End Page 220]
The next word to consider is profit. Profit is regarded here as the difference between the amount earned and the amount spent. It is the excess of income over expenditure. Profit making; therefore, connotes the act, practice...