Learning a trade has always been the norm with the Igbo people of South-East Nigeria. An Igbo person believes in controlling his financial ‘destiny’ and the best way to guarantee this was through commerce and venture into business.
This led to the birthing of the Igbo Apprenticeship system popularly called ‘Imu-Ahia’, which literally translates to ‘to learn market/trade’.
This system dates back to the European colonial era when the Igbo ethnic group native to southeastern Nigeria started to gain a reputation as highly skilled traders and merchants.
Today, the apprenticeship model has been widely adopted across the country. Most apprentices-to-be meet their “boss” — someone who is already well-established in a trade — through a family member or close contact.
Reasons for why one might become an apprentice include wanting to be master of a trade, so becoming an apprentice becomes the strategy employed. For others, however, apprenticeship was merely a last resort as a result of financial constraints.
The Imu-Ahia model has been considered as perhaps, one of the major factors that helped pull the majority of South-Eastern families out of poverty within 30 months of the Biafran civil war.
It is seen as a way to spread wealth among kinsmen. This tradition requires that a young boy/man leaves his family home with an older, rich relative or family friend (who is usually an established businessperson) for “training”.
During this training, the apprentice is entrusted with various tasks ranging from mundane errands to coordination and supervision, and they are exposed to the world of business transactions.
The training can range anywhere between three and seven years, apprentices observe and take notes on the tricks of the trade. They are assigned a variety of responsibilities, and eventually, they’re charged with promoting sales and store management.
Although most apprentices aren’t paid, they are afforded accommodation, transportation costs, food, and clothing. Oftentimes, valuables are put in his care. At the end of his training, he is given his “freedom”—a tidy sum to start a business and sustain himself and his family.