Business Expert Calls For Institutionalisation Of Igbo Apprenticeship System

Kenechukwu Ofomah

Kenechukwu Ofomah

There is the need to institutionalize and formalize the Igbo Apprenticeship System known as ‘Igba Boi’ by setting standards of practice under the system, for the masters and the apprentices.

The call came to the fore following an incident over the weekend, where traders and apprentices at the International Electrical Market, Onitsha, Anambra state, protested against a supposed ‘Oga’, who could only ‘settle’ his apprentice of nine years, with the sum of one hundred thousand naira only.

The apprenticeship system, is a fascinating model in entrepreneurship development, indigenous to the people of Igbo race in Southeastern Nigeria.

Under the scheme, the master known as Oga, picks up an apprentice otherwise known as ‘Nwa boi’, who he trains in the same line of trade or craft.

After an agreed period of time of service, the master gives some sort of seed money known as settlement to the apprentice or ‘nwa boi’, with which he starts his own business, yielding some sort of competition with the master.

Although there is no recorded history as to how long the scheme has been in practice, it is clear that it dates back to the post-Nigeria Civil war period, when Igbos faced serious hardship due to the ravages of the war, fought mainly on their soil.

Many had left the war-torn region in search of wealth and when they eventually made it, they returned home to pick their kinsmen to train and empower too.

Speaking on the development, a business executive, Dr Uche Nworah said what is fascinating about the apprenticeship model is that the master trains a prospective competitor in the same line of trade or craft.

According to him, this inadvertently distinguishes the Igbo people as lovers of themselves and adherent to the principles of unity and brotherliness.

“This practice defies the normal human mentality and instead posits the Igbo man as one who does not want to leave their brothers behind.
“Over the years, many wealthy Igbo men have been built through this scheme and many are still in the process,” he noted.

Dr Nworah who is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Anambra Broadcasting Service, ABS, however, noted that some violations are presently being observed in the once-revered age-long practice, especially on the part of the masters, who take undue advantage of their apprentices.

According to him, this has resulted in the loss of interest in the scheme and its subsequent abandonment for quick money and often times, ritual money.

“In recent times, we have seen a lot of anomalies in the scheme.
“For instance, a situation where an apprentice will serve the master for nine years in this jet age, is quite inappropriate. Two or three or even four years is enough for anyone to train and master any craft or trade.

“Also, we have seen situations where the said masters, after exploiting their apprentices for years, come up with all manner of lies and allegations, all in a bid to paint them black and as such, not ‘settle’ them,” he noted.

He said all these anomalies pose the greater need for the society to retool the system to address the undue exploitation of the weaker links in the scheme- the apprentices.

Nworah revealed that solutions to the problems of the scheme will form the crux of discussions at the National Summit on Igbo Apprenticeship, which is being organized by the ABS in collaboration with Awka Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture on the 9th of March, 2022, in Awka.

The summit with the theme, “Repositioning The Igbo Apprenticeship Scheme (Igba Boi) For Sustainable Economic Development”, he said, will see keynote speaker, High Chief (Dr.) Obiora Okonkwo, Chairman of United Nigeria Airlines, and the high powered panel of discussants, x-ray the Igbo apprenticeship scheme, bring out the positives while also recommending areas that should be improved upon for the scheme to continue to be relevant in the 21st century.

“Our aim is to bring to the fore at this time, the Igbo apprenticeship scheme.

“We believe that it could be repositioned to help Nigeria as it battles various issues including unemployment, banditry, and ethnic agitations among others.

“Adopting the Igbo apprenticeship scheme by both the federal, states and local councils will help provide economic opportunities for our young men and women.

“We are also hoping to see how perhaps, as part of the repositioning of the scheme, the apprentices could get local higher institutions to validate their apprenticeship as is done in some parts of Europe. The apprentices could be awarded credit hours in areas like Marketing, Business Management, Customer Service, Leadership, Accounting etc for trade apprentices, or similar credit hours for those learning a skill such as mechanical, technical or other skills.

“This is because on a daily basis in their masters’ shop, they are learning the practical aspects of these disciplines.

“We envisage a situation where perhaps, by the time they complete their apprenticeship; the apprentices will receive some certification, a diploma or so. “This will greatly improve their self-esteem and encourage them further along their entrepreneurial journey, as against the situation where many of them go through life with the toga of being illiterate.

“This is despite the life and practical lessons they have learnt as apprentices for several years.

“We are also looking at a situation where there could be a national agency regulating such apprenticeship schemes.

“The agency will be responsible for a national database, and an apprenticeship exchange where aspiring ‘boi-bois’ will register their interest, and prospective ‘Ogas’ will register their willingness to absorb them.

“This will help in standardising the scheme.

“There will also be guarantors etc.

We have also seen the need for an insurance scheme for ‘boi-bois’, to enable them to access start-up grants, should their ‘Ogas’ fail to settle them when they complete their apprenticeship.

The ‘Ogas’ will contribute towards such an insurance scheme and receive a refund of the premium they have contributed if they fulfil the terms of the apprenticeship,” he concluded.

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