The moral limits of markets! By Temitope Ajayi

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The simmering crisis of confidence between Tony Elumelu and Femi Otedola, two Nigerian billionaires and market rain makers, brings to the fore the moral limits of markets and financialisation of the economy.

In a press statement released Tuesday morning, Mr. Otedola accused the Chairman of United Bank for Africa and Heirs Holdings of bad faith for backstabbing him in two previous business relationships and betraying his trust.

This came to the public following the move by Otedola to acquire 6.3% shares of Transcorp Plc where Elumelu calls the shot at the supremo. Otedola after few days sold back the Transcorp shares that would have made him tye second-largest shareholder to Heirs Holdings.

In the press statement that has caused a stir within Corporate Nigeria, Otedola gave details of how Elumelu got him to invest $20m in 2005 to enable the then Standard Trust Bank acquire UBA, a move that made him a shareholder in UBA. Otedola also became Chairman of Transcorp with 5% shareholding.

Otedola regaled the public with the story of how he became bankrupt in 2008 and how his friend, Mr. Elumelu did him in by using subterfuge to acquire his UBA, Africa Finance Corporation and Transcorp shares without any consideration to their friendship.

Revealing the real reason for his recent move on Transcorp, Otedola said he made an offer of N250billion to acquire Transcorp Group with a plan to take the company to N2trillion market capitalisation from its current N40billion.

The current face-off between Otedola and Elumelu presents a moral dilemma poignantly addressed by Harvard’s Professor Michael Sandel in his book, ‘What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.’

A major concern of Professor Sandel is how the world has drifted away from what should be a Market Economy to becoming a Market Society due to excessive greed of corporate buccaneers.

Professor Sandel frowns at a human society where every aspect of human existence is commodified as an article of trade that can be bought and sold.

According to Professor Sandel, we are in an era of market triumphalism where all that matters is winning and closing deals at the expense of public morality and material well-being of the larger majority of the people.

Whereas a Market Economy as a tool should be a valuable and effective tool for organising productive activity. What we have currently is a Market Society where market values take up every aspect of human undertakings without any consideration for how social relations are devalued in pursuit of excessive wealth.

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