Igbo Apprenticeship System As A Boost To The Economy


The Igbo Apprenticeship System (IAS) is a business model also known as “Igba Boi” in Igbo language. It has a long history across the Igbo nation. IAS cuts across different businesses from buying and selling to practical skills like mechanic, tailoring and so on.

To be candid, it has helped the Igbo tribe to survive the aftermaths of the Nigerian-Biafrian war tremendously. After the Brafran war, the South Eastern Nigerians were left in abject poverty and so impoverished with hunger as they lost all they laboured for as a result of the war. Gradually, a considerable number of people, through IAS scheme, were helped, relieved and removed from the incessant high poverty rate in Igboland by producing wealthy Igbo entrepreneurs and businessmen.

The Igbo Apprenticeship System being a business between two parties, the boss and the master (Oga) and the Trainee (boi). The boss takes the Trainee under his tutelage so as to teach him business skills for an agreed number of years. It may be 5, 6 or 7 years of training. The trainees are often much younger and expected to be, at least, say 10, 12 to 14 years before embarking on this informal business.

As the years go by, the trainee (boi) acquires the skill and is settled by his boss. The journey of IAS is not always a sweet one. It’s quite challenging but the success of the business determines the amount of money with which the boss settles the boi at the expiration of the agreed number of years. After a period of time, when these trainees may have been financially set them up in their own businesses, their masters are expected to guide them until they can stand on their own thereafter.

For instance, let’s say the boss’ business is worth 5 million naira, then at the end of the agreed years of settlement, the boi is expected to be settled with #500.000 thousand naira. After the settlement, the newly freed Boi becomes an Oga and will with time become an oga to another boi. The cycle keeps going on and on. More often these trainees become richer than their masters in that the customers or clients sometimes shift to the boi, reason being that he brings down the prices of his goods and services and cannot be in competition with his master thereafter.

It’s no more news that Harvard Business Review has approved and adopted the ‘Igba boi’ System as a training model in the Ivy League Institution. According to Professor Ekekwe, the founder and president of the African Institute of Technology said that the Igbo Apprenticeship System is the best business framework in the world”. He further explained that “under the Igbo Apprenticeship System, one can attain easily an efficient economic equilibrium where inequality is severely mitigated.” This in simple terms means that there are global concerns on the saying that ‘the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer’ and considering the margin of economic inequality, it gets wider every other day.

IAS is the most successful informal business model in the world as well as the most prolific venture capitalist scheme ever. It produces more multi millionaires. This is seen among the Igbo traders and merchants whose wealths were recreated as a result of their resilient efforts in acquiring apprenticeship skills first. Even though it’s an unpaid interns or venture whereby they study their masters’ day-to-day business techniques, they help them run their shops, markets and businesses. Oftentimes, these masters are relatives who are either maternal or paternal uncles.

The system has become so popular globally that Harvard Business Review has defined Igbo Apprenticeship System as a ‘stakeholder capitalism.’ This system has produced many billionaires in the Southeast, Igbo billionaires to be precise. I am proud to mention Innocent Chukwuma, the Chairman of Innoson Motors, Cosmas Maduka, the CEO of Coscharis , Cletus Madubugwu Ibeto, the CEO of Ibeto Group of Company , Chief Okafor the CEO of Chikason Group, Chief Alexander Chika Okafor, Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, Chairman of Capital Oil and others. I will take on Cosmas Maduka, the CEO of Coscharis Group whom Igbo boi or apprenticeship helped make a billionaire.

Cosmas Maduka is a product of Igbo Apprenticeship System. He was born in 1958, in Jos, Nigeria to Mr and Mrs Peter and Rose Maduka. In 1962, at the tender age of four (4). He lost his father and was left with his poor mother and other siblings. Life became so difficult that the family could hardly feed. At the age of seven (7), the mother could not pay his primary tuition. As a result, he was withdrawn from primary school at elementary 3 and he had no option but to assist his poor mother in hawking bean cakes, locally called ‘akara’ on the streets of Jos in Plateau State.

In 1970, when Cosmas Maduka was just twelve years old, his uncle who lived in Lagos took him to Lagos to serve as an automobile apprentice in a shop he owned alongside with a business partner of his. Even his uncle had no apartment of his own but slept at his friend’s house. Cosmas had no option but to sleep in the shop every other day.

Young Cosmas’ dedication to work and, most importantly, his honest nature earned him trust and endeared more love from his uncle who now made him in charge of some of the sensitive parts of the business like traveling alone to purchase goods from Nnewi and also to oversee his other branches at Sokoto and Nnewi respectively.

As we all know, Igbo business men do not joke with their business and time to them is very precious. They value it a lot. One fateful day, during his informal interns as a apprentice, young Cosmas absented himself from work for a church camp programme without his uncle’s permission. That singular incident act almost cost him his opportunity. It made him have an ugly issue with his uncle which resulted in his untimely settlement. His uncle settled him before the agreed time. He was given the sum of 200 naira. Of course, its value then was worth a lot of money to its today’s equivalent.

With his settlement, he founded an auto spare parts business called ‘Maduka Brothers’ with his brother which eventually shut down and parted ways thereafter due to some irreconcilable and ideological differences. This separation left Cosmas with an additional 100 naira and a total of 300 Naira as working capital.

Here comes his highs and lows in business and with the resilience IAS inculcated inside him, he was able excel and overcome challenges and hurdles in business.

Recall he had a total sum of 300 naira after he parted ways with his brothers. With that 300 naira, he ventured into another business as a sole proprietor. He began by buying and selling motorcycle spare parts from Boulos Industries, which was the major product that was a new innovation motorcycle business then. Cosmas would buy many and remove the address of the Boulos from the carton so that people would not find out where he bought them from. What a marketing! This semi-business monopoly skyrocketed his capital to 3000 naira within a short period of one week. Obviously, a business man with this whooping capital must be a wealthy man then.

Gradually, success started smiling at Cosmos Maduka and this propelled him to get married at the age of 19. He married Charity, a beautiful and industrious woman who later joined him in the business. No wonder there’s a saying that ‘behind every successful man, there’s a woman.’

Shortly after he got married, he started importing products, but was struck with a great misfortune when he received the wrong consignment which incurred him several debts. To make matters worse, his landlord nearly ejected him out because he was unable to renew his rent. The ugly situation left him with nothing. At this juncture, Cosmas Maduka started all over again. With nothing in hand, Cosmas had to start all over again.

IAS again came to his rescue. How? He went into another business. This one was checking of people’s weight for just 10k charges. Gradually, it became a life of grass to grace. From this another phase of humble beginning, many doors of bigger and mightier business opened.

The initiative now is going down the drain in that the Igbo youths these days want to be well educated and search for greener pastures either here or abroad. “After a period of time, their masters are required to financially set them up in their own businesses and guide them until they can stand on their own two feet”. Yemi Osinbajo, former Vice President of Nigeria, spoke virtually to participants of a National Summit organized in Awka. A programme convened to understudy the Igbo Apprenticeship model which is said to have produced several multi millionaires in the South Eastern region.

He made some salient points while speaking on the model popularly known as ‘Igba boi’ in Igbo language, Osinbajo stressed on the need to encourage the system for a better wealth creation. IAS has become the most popular indigenous informal economic institution recognised globally.

The Former Vice President gave more meaningful appraisal on the scheme’s full potential and its benefit for the Nigerian economy. The IAS has what similar apprenticeship schemes in many parts of the world like Germany and India have.

My take:

The IAS model is now slowly going down the drain in that the Igbo youths these days wants to be well educated and to search for greener pastures either here or abroad. Some have taken the dreaded path of social vices making quick money through fraud, cybercrime and others. They no longer want to emulate their founding masters who have become billionaires.

With Igbo apprenticeship system, you can agree with me that efficient economic equilibrium where inequalities are severely mitigated. Everything the world is complaining about inequality and the rich getting richer, the Igbo apprenticeship system handles it well. Whatever an Igbo man sells, be it water, sand or faeces, he makes money out of it diligently.

Take it or argue it. The Igbo man’s native land remains the best place to be. Aku ha kpatara na-eru uno (Whatever they make in the city gets home). That’s why every other festive period, Christmas precisely, they all travel to their native lands to celebrate with their loved ones and relatives, do some catch-ups for business come the following new year. As the cycle goes for igba boi, they as well look for the next person to take to the city and train.

Hospitality business booms and most times the owners are product of IAS. Except these days of insecurity in the southeastern States, most people seldom travel to their native homes for fear of being kidnapped. Kidnapping recently has been the social bug biting everybody badly including businesses.

I ask? What’s the cause of this incessant societal vice?

Could it be traced to bad economy or unemployment of youths? Greed or tough times and hunger?

IAS contributes largely to the economy. Igbos are only in strange land referred to as “abroad.” Anywhere outside their native lands is tagged abroad by an Igbo man in the village. They are only there for greener pastures and to boost economy. For real, Igbo man is not selective of what job to do inasmuch as it puts food on the table, he is healthy and sane to do it. He makes money from whatever legitimate business he does.

I just like the Igbo saying “Onye ndidi na-eri azu okpo” meaning a patient man eats the fastest fish “. This describes how patient and strong-willed an Igbo man is. When it comes to being industrious, you can’t take it from them throughout their years as apprentices. In the long run, they strive to become great and with the virtue, patience and perseverance, they succeed.

Give an Igbo man ten thousand naira for a startup in business, in ten years he will turn that money to ten million naira.

An Igbo man is simply described as ” Egbe belu , Ugo belu, Onye si ibe ya ebela nku kwa ya” literally means ” Live and let live. This propels peace amongst them.

For me I strongly believe that the Igbo Apprenticeship System is the best business framework in the world at large and Nigeria particular. If only the trainee can get some formal education so as to be able to tackle the bookkeeping aspect of it. It takes intelligence to acquire informal business interns. If it’s been implemented by all, it will definitely reduce unemployment among the teeming youths. A model that gives fund at the end of the training is a very good one.

I will forever say that IAS is a gain to the economy in that the Igbo Apprenticeship System has had significant positive impact on the economic, social and environmental development of South Eastern Nigeria. When it comes to individual infrastructural development, I give it to Igbo multi billionaires whom IAS has given solace to attain enviable economic heights. How about their conglomerate businesses clustered all over the globe ranging from manufacturing, services and imports?

All kudos to Igbo Apprenticeship system.