The Igbo entrepreneural system has been hailed as one of the best in the world, and this was recognized in a Ted Talk. It goes like this: Mr. A who is a businessman in Lagos, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, Aba, or any of the other cities in Nigeria seeks out a young[er] man who is recently out of [High] School and who wants to make the way forward for himself in life.

The young man becomes indentured to the business man for an agreed period of time [generally, a specified number of years and usually one additional year as is the current practice in Onitsha]. He serves the businessman in his business concerns for the said number of years, then he’s “settled”. This settlement generally comes in the form of a lump sum of payment to the apprentice; business contacts [home and abroad] , and in some cases, goods on credit, all so that the young man can stand on his [financial] feet.

The Advantages of the Igbo Apprenticeship System

This process has been instrumental towards producing several millionaires from the Igbo system. Many young men who should have gone to the University [and, in many cases, as is increasingly the case, come out and start searching for a job] go into business and birth their own entrepreneurial empire rather than either languish at home or proceed further to tertiary institutions of higher learning.

Happily, the cycle continues. More made businessmen are created. More jobs are created. Funny enough, all these happen in an informal setting, outside the rigidly controlled institutional system.

My brother is a product of this. He learned the Cosmetics trade [wholesale and retail] from a known Cosmetics vendor in Onitsha and was “settled” to go and start up his own business. He’s doing that business. And this contributes to growth and long-term regional growth.

The Interesting Part

What makes this entrepreneurial endeavor so interesting is the fact that it creates made men faster than the School system does. My brother became indentured shortly after our Secondary School days; by the time he was in his second year with his “Oga”, I was in my first year in the University. By the time I came out of the University to proceed to Law School, he was done and he helped see me through Law School. Such a thing would never have happened if he had joined me in School.

Because of this, many people opt for the indenture for the requisite number of years to go and become a “Boy” to a Big Man and become settled later so he can start his own business. In most cases, it works.

This entrepreneurial system works in Igbo Land and amongst Igbo people living across the different parts of Nigeria.

The Pitfalls.

Many Ogas are unscrupulous. Please note that I write this from first-hand encounter with Igbo entrepreneurs. I have also been in the business setting in Onitsha and so I understand the mechanics. I have interacted with and stayed among these “Boys” for years.

Many of these Ogas can be unscrupulous. In some cases, many young men are sent away during [and especially during!] their last year with their masters due to one reason or the other. The main Oga can cite different issues.

A young man who’s dear to me, Onyema [real name withheld] was sent away during his last year with his master because of . . .well, no reason. He woke one early morning and greeted his oga and the man ordered him to pack his stuffs and get out of his house. The intermediary who’d linked the two together tried everything possible to settle these differences between them but the Oga was adamant; he wanted the young Onyema to stay off because “Onyema didn’t perform well”. Onyema is a very hardworking chap; industrious, driven. . .and just sent away as if he’d done something wrong.

Many young men go through the same process. Many of them serve their masters for five years, six years, seven years, or whenever, and they end up with nothing. These are the bad few, anyhow.

The Igbo System

The Igbo people have their time-honored system of doing things. We are people who are driven against all odds to aggressively push and succeed. That is the typical mindset of the Igbo man or woman: “I must succeed!” And this aggressive determination is seen in everything they do; it’s seen in our handwork at individual and societal levels.

The time-honored system of doing things by the Igbos provides an insight as to why young men go to be indentured to masters for a certain period of time in servitude so they can learn the business ropes and come out businessmen themselves, with their own empires. It works. So, in spite of the few bad eggs we’ve seen along the way; in spite of the occasional “bad luck” which may mean that a young man will live with and work with an Oga for years and not get settled, young men still key into that entrepreneurial system so they can groom and born their own empire.

In today’s times, it works. It’s what’s kept many young men out of vises and into great ventures. It’s what’s kept the informal business ecosystem in Igbo land going. I’ve seen people who were products of this system go big and build mouth-watering business empires. My elder brother is a product of this system; many other people I know were made out of this system into becoming something bigger for themselves.

All these contribute to growth. I am studying this system intensively and I hope to understand the underlying mechanics of time apart from honor.

All Together.

We Igbos are a strong lot. We are business men and women. I use this term loosely. Lawyers drive their practice as a business. We love moving forward. We love setting up systems. These systems work for us. We just have to make this system perfect.The Igbo entrepreneural system has been hailed as one of the best in the world. It goes like this: Mr. A who is a businessman in Lagos, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, Aba, or any of the other cities in Nigeria seeks out a young[er] man who is recently out of [High] School and who wants to make the way forward for himself in life.

The young man becomes indentured to the business man for an agreed period of time [generally, a specified number of years and usually one additional year as is the current practice in Onitsha]. He serves the businessman in his business concerns for the said number of years, then he’s “settled”. This settlement generally comes in the form of a lump sum of payment to the apprentice; business contacts [home and abroad] , and in some cases, goods on credit, all so that the young man can stand on his [financial] feet.

 

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