Profit and profit making among Onitsha market traders.

Author:Uchendu, Egodi


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.

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.

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 and all efforts invested in making or maximizing profits. This paper examines private sector corruption among Onitsha traders and the factors underpinning it. It argues that the pursuit of profit in a weak economy, like Nigeria's, could lead to unscrupulous acts such as taking unfair advantage of people and defrauding people in order to increase their income.

Methods of Data Collection and Analysis

A qualitative method of data collection was used for this study. The data assortment was derived from two major sources--written and oral sources. The foundational parts of this article are based on written documents by scholars from diverse fields of study. The section dealing with corruption among Onitsha market traders is based on oral interviews conducted in September 2012. A total of twenty-two traders were interviewed and their opinions recorded. Two of them were university-educated. Seventeen had secondary educations and the remaining three had only primary educations. Over 60% of the interviewees were under the age of forty (40) at the time of the study. Three markets were chosen for the study: Onitsha Main Market, Ochanja Market, and Ose Market. The choice of these markets as case studies for this research was informed by the fact that, out of the thirteen major markets in Onitsha, these markets accommodate traders who deal in virtually all articles of trade, which could be found in the remaining ten markets. The markets, therefore, represent a repertoire of the daily needs of both the inhabitants of Onitsha and visitors to Onitsha. A large percentage of traders who visit Onitsha for bulk buying patronize traders in these markets especially, Onitsha Main Market and Ochanja Market. Ose Market, on the other hand, is the major depot for food items for Onitsha's teaming population. The traders featured in the study traded in clothings, shoes, drugs and electronics. Samples of foodstuffs provided by traders were also taken into consideration and made reference to in this paper. These lines of trade were chosen for this study because, like foodstuffs, these articles of trade are mostly patronized by the inhabitants of Onitsha.

Visiting traders, who come from all parts of Nigeria and beyond, were also found to be patronizing Onitsha traders dealing in these commodities more than other commodities. Traders of the selected commodities are mostly male. The few women among them are either sales girls or wives of the male traders and almost all of them were indisposed to grant interviews during field trips. While the sales girls were afraid to disclose any information about the business for fear of losing their jobs, the wives of the traders did not appear to be very knowledgeable about their husbands' businesses and were also not willing to share the little they knew. Thus, only two interviewees were women. A minimum of five persons were interviewed in each of the four lines of trade chosen for this study. English or Igbo languages were used for the interviews. Data presentation and analysis was done according to the lines of trade chosen for the study. In between the presentations and analysis are discussions of emerging themes from the study that buttress the research findings. Where necessary, excerpts from interviews, the line of business notwithstanding, are used to support the arguments. Towards the end of the article, scholarly works are also used to reinforce the major outcomes of the study.

The Land and People of Onitsha

The name Onicha (anglicized Onitsha) refers to a town and its people. Other names used for the town are Onicha Ado n'Idu (Onicha of Edo origin) and Onicha Mmili (riverine Onicha). These distinguish it from a welter of other communities in the Igbo culture area, east and west of the Niger, which bear the same name, such as Onitsha Ugbo, Onitsha Olona, and Onitsha Ukwu, among others. Onitsha is situated on latitude 6[degrees] 09'N and longitude 6[degrees] 47'E in the vegetational zone conventionally designated the tropical rain forest belt of West Africa. It lies at the western terminus of the famous Niger Bridge roughly mid-way from the northernmost fringes of the river's coastal outlets to the confluence town of Lokoja, where the River Niger joins the River Benue. Onitsha has a mean optimum temperature of about 87.7 degrees centigrade and an annual rainfall of between 152cm and 203cm, most of which is seasonal, falling between May and October of each year. The total land area of the town is 36.19[km.sup.2]. Onitsha's neighbors are Nkwele Ezunaka on the north, Odekpe on the south, Ogidi, Nkpor and Oba on the east, and the Niger River on the west. Apart from the rivers Niger and Nkisi and the Otumoye and Nwangene creeks, Onitsha is devoid of other natural bodies of water. The Niger overflows its banks during rainy seasons, thereby making the land fertile for human settlement. (10)


Just before 1880, Adolph Burdo...

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