IGBO APPRENTISHIP SYSTEM AS AN AGE LONG TOOL FOR EMPOWERMENTJun 08, 2023 10:00AM ● By Okechukwu Nzeribe
Men doing metalwork. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The aftermath of the 1964 – 1967 Nigerian-Biafra Civil war left a lot of homes, families and lives destroyed in the old eastern region of Nigeria. Despite the no victor, no vanquished statement being espoused by the then Military Head of State, Major General Gowon, the Nigerian government went ahead to punish the citizens of the breakaway Biafran State by issuing a policy that ensured that irrespective of the amount citizens of the eastern region had in their accounts they were only given £20.
Despite this spiteful policy by the then Nigerian Federal Government, the affected people mostly Igbos from the South East Region had to devise a way to survive the harsh ad vindictive policies. This gave birth to the Igbo apprenticeship system or what is locally referred to as “Igba Boi”.
This apprenticeship system is one of the largest business development program in the world. It was designed for young boys to gain practical knowledge of a particular business sector of their interest or for which their parents felt they would be best suited for, under the tutelage of the business owner or who was normally referred to as the master for an agreed number of years which could be between 5-7 years.
The responsibility of the trainee was to learn the dynamics and intricacies of the business, and to contribute positively to its growth. At the end of the agreed internship period the master is required to reward the apprentice with a substantial capital to start off his own business line.
In some instances, the Master would not only provide capital, they would also pay for a business space for upward of a year or two depending on the trainee performance during the learning period, as well as provision of goods on credit to the trainee to help get him on his way to success as a new entrant into the business sector.
Over the years, this simple apprentice system has not only generated several notable Igbo millionaires, it has also ensured that the eastern region has remained amongst the top region in the country with respect to the Human Development Index. This system has also provided a family support structure which ensures that other children especially the girls, not under the apprenticeship system are able to get education up to the university level. Today, the South East region in Nigeria has a large girl child enrolment into tertiary education.
The Apprenticeship system has become so popular that in May 19, 2021 an article titled “A Nigerian Model for Stakeholder Capitalism” by Ndubuisi Ekekwe was published in the Harvard Business Review which focused on the Igbo Apprenticeship System or IAS as described by the author.
Likewise the same system was mentioned by Robert Neuwirth during one of his Ted Talks titled “The age-old sharing economies of Africa and why we should scale them”. Referencing Alaba Market in Lagos which has a huge predominance of Igbo entrepreneurs, he pointed out that “the Igbo apprenticeship system that governs Alaba International Market is the largest Business Incubator platform in the world”. Over the years, this system has been shown to be viable, sustainable and critical in empowering individuals.
The biggest opportunity it presents now especially for the South East Region is the need for influential persons of Igbo origin both at home and in the diaspora including well intentioned international organizations interested in improving the Human Development Indices in the African Continent especially the South East, to partner with organizations back home to fine-tune and expand this system to cover areas that are not restricted to commerce which has remained the core focus of the apprenticeship system.
Like the Technical Vocational Education System, the apprenticeship system is a viable instrument to prepare individuals for the entrepreneurship in other business sectors by providing platform where people can gain knowledge and experience in industries like Tech, Engineering, Food and Service industries etc.
With this Apprenticeship System the South East Region in Nigeria has built economic viability for its people which has helped the region weather many economic storms.
This is a positive system other African Nations can learn from.
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Okechukwu Nzeribe works with the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, in Anambra State, Nigeria, and loves unveiling the richness of African cultures.
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