After the desolation of the Civil War and its terrible legacy of scattered grounds in Eastern Nigeria, the Igbo couldn’t return to their homes or schools, thus they turned to the alternative — business.
For Stears Business on June 11, 2018, Tosin Adeshokan states that, “By the end of the War in 1970, the region was so devastated that money and human capital were scarce.”
He continues, “Thousands of people were unable to return to homes they previously owned in other parts of Nigeria. Not only was the hope of Biafra lost, but livelihoods were also halted. Petty trade became one of the few ways money could be made.”
Before the war, the Igbo were largely in their third generation of foreign-trained professionals, at least a step ahead of the Yoruba. The war meant any chances of such continuance was ruined. An October, 2015 article in The Nation newspaper titled 'People and Politics' by Muhammed Haruna, stated that “by 1963, the Igbo were producing their second generation in Law, Medicine and Engineering.”
The initial idea was petty business for the average man as a means to survive combined with what Ejike, a 36 year old Iron rod merchant calls “zero toleration for idleness in youth”, the Igbo forged a reputation as business savvy people from would be ruins.
Asides that, they created a sustainable and enviably rawinitiation-incubation/training-investmentsystem that continues to soar as a means of livelihood and create sustainable wealth in the South Eastern part of Nigeria.
Though the Igbo were monetarily not able to continue their legacy of staying at the forefront of education, they turned their troubles into a model, worthy of adoption.
Today, Nigerians say “Igbo like money” because of their positive idea to business. Their tough choice became a positive lifestyle.
Imu-Ahia or Ímù Ólú
It is simply the Igbo name for their apprenticeship system that purports a responsibility established businessmen [the nurturer] in a town, street or locale to pick up teenagers-young adults [the apprentice] from their homes and give them an informally formal, but raw and practical, cutthroat business education.
Though these apprentices are not paid, they are afforded accommodation, transportation costs [where necessary], feeding and clothing. It also takes roughly 5–7 years.
The idea centres around taking them off the streets and the perilous tendencies of a idle mind to give them a purpose, worthy of emulation, so they can also continue the trend when they are established.
The contemporary style of nurturing tech companies by incubation hubs has long been Igbo Culture. What we went to Europe to adopt was right under our noses.
Like anything, the West has taken this glory.
After recruitment of “Chinedu, you are following me to Lagos, Aba or Onitsha”, and ingratiation, the incubation/training and funding ends the process.
Companies like WeWork or CCHub who take in worthy projects with potential the Igbo apprenticeship system also aims to take on human-projects.
The difference is that, the Igbo Apprenticeship System sometimes takes in mavericks and rejects, hoping to give them a future. Modern incubation systems are very sensitive and generally risk averse with a few exceptions.
Even when businesses have potential, they might get cut for little as a poor business model. The Igbo apprenticeship system is mostly about giving chances, without core evaluation, although some apprentices get rejected for character issues.
The ingratiation process basically is targeted at introducing apprentices to the system, their duties, roles and overall workings of the system.
It also involves the entire orientation process.
Like modern incubation platforms that offer businesses spaces for learning, co-creation, trainings and cultivation of business models, the Igbo apprenticeship system offers same, in the raw, cutthroat world of high stakes business where profits and loss hold a premium.
Both are preparation grounds for some higher purposes, but the Igbo apprenticeship system offers more risky and practical platform, training and nurturing.
While some apprentices start at low risk points of stall managers or in heavy lifting for example, there is a worthy responsibility that matters to the overall conduction of the businesses they are in.
Some of these apprentices are even in charge of sales and store management where honesty, accountability and work ethic are core principles.
The differences is that in modern incubation spaces, business owners participate and pay rent, while in Igbo apprenticeship system, apprentices are just employees saddled with high responsibilities in the practical world.
Usually, apprentices do not pay rent, but as Ejike, further states, “some masters might decide to keep apprentices grounded by ensuring they earn their keep.”
Upon ingratiation and incubation period that usually takes 5–8 years, asides exceptional cases, the Igbo apprenticeship system system frees its trainees and establishes them.
Writing for YNaija on July 13, 2017, Ezinne says, “when the treats are over, and the boy is as good as his master the master sets him up with some cash — and goods — to start his own shop.”
He continues, “Sometimes, in order to prevent the apprentice-graduate from squandering all that capital at once, the master tells him that at the end of one year, a certain percentage should be returned. The apprentice graduate also gets his own boys who learn at his feet and on and on it goes.”
Modern incubation spaces also graduate businesses — not just individuals, but the difference is that, Igbo Apprenticeship System does not have equity shareholding or return on investment [ROI] as fundamental principle to apprentices and their businesses.
For context on how much some masters give their apprentices, Chiagoziem, a 34 year old Marble Store Owner in Dei-Dei, Abuja says, “My Oga gave me N12 million after 9 years. I joined him at 16 and 30 percent of that N12 million is a loan to be repaid over my first 5 years. I finished paying 9 years ago, but he gave it all back to me.”
In the end, the Igbo apprenticeship system is more gratuitous that the strict business of modern incubation. The Igbo have always stayed ahead of the business curve, in a ideal that originates from their struggles. If this trend continues and Nigeria somehow finds a way to monetize Aba and other Igbo business hubs, Igbo might taken absolute control of national wealth.
Nigerian venture capitalists should also look to modernize the Igbo apprenticeship system.