History, Opinion

The Igbo Aprentiship Story – Ever heard of ‘ Igba boi’? 

Nmesoma Okwudili


April 24, 2024

To be Igbo is commonly associated with being industrious, a perception deeply ingrained about the people of southeastern Nigeria. Before colonization, historical records show that the Igbo were heavily involved in trade and agriculture. However, the Nigerian Civil War (1967–1970) significantly impacted the economic endeavors and accomplishments of the Igbo.

The story of the Igbo apprentice has gained prominence thanks to the latest Kayode Kasum film on Netflix. It highlights their reputation for entrepreneurship while presenting their history and cultural values. The narrative explores the route taken by Igbo boys who use apprenticeships to become economically independent. It displays their goals, the hardships they endured to achieve success, and the inevitable betrayals they experienced when interacting with influential people in Odogwu’s business community, including Afam, Paulo, Obum, Chike, and their friends.

The tradition of ‘Nwa Boy’ perfectly reflects the enduring culture of entrepreneurship ingrained in nearly every Igbo household. Known locally as ‘Igba-Odibo/Igba-Boi/Imu-Ahia/Imu-Oru’ or simply referred to as “Apprenticeship” in English, this practice involves integrating young Igbo individuals into a specific entrepreneurial pursuit under the guidance of a mentor, known as Oga or Madam, in various trades, skills, enterprises, or vocations.

Following a comprehensive period of immersive business education and apprenticeship, the mentor initiates the “settlement” phase, wherein they provide financial and other forms of support to assist the apprentice in establishing their own enterprise. Once settled, the apprentice, now referred to as Boyi, achieves independence from their mentor.

Over time, the former apprentice takes on their own Boyi, passing down the acquired skills and knowledge, ultimately culminating in a settlement agreement after the agreed-upon period. This cyclical process perpetuates, with each new Boyi evolving into an independent practitioner of this tradition.

The essence of Igbo entrepreneurial heritage is vividly captured in Kayode Kasum’s movie, portrayed by a stellar cast including Kanayo O. Kanayo, Stan Nze, Alexx Ekubo, Atlanta Bridget Johnson, Chuks Joseph, Segun Arinze, Jide Kene Achufusi, and Noble Igwe, showcasing the depth and complexity of this cultural phenomenon.

Kanayo’s portrayal of Odogwu in the film reflects deeply on the trajectory of Igbo entrepreneurship. A particularly memorable moment in the movie comes from Odogwu’s poignant monologue: “The Igbo business empire is founded on diligent labor and camaraderie. But the aftermath of war shattered our prosperity. Afamefuna, war wrought havoc upon us. War is a scourge; it is not in the Igbo nature to steal or beg.” This resonant speech not only explores the repercussions of conflict but also underscores the core values of hard work and solidarity within Igbo society.

The story takes place against the tragic backdrop of the Nigerian Civil War, popularly referred to as the Biafra War. The movie emphasizes how important the Igbo apprenticeship program was in turning around the economic situation of the Igbo people. The war, which raged between Nigeria and Biafra for two dreadful years, ended on January 13, 1970, after lasting from July 6, 1967. The death toll was startling; it is estimated that one to three million people died, mostly from the Igbo population in the east, and there was significant interruption to corporate operations in southeast Nigeria.

The Biafran secessionist movement comprised largely of Igbo individuals who had achieved significant economic prosperity, educational advancement, industrial development, and social sophistication prior to the eruption of the civil war in Nigeria.

Following the defeat of Biafra, one of the measures implemented to facilitate the reunification of the Igbo people within Nigeria, under the programs initiated by General Yakubu Gowon, was the government’s policy regarding currency exchange. Initially, Gowon had maintained a rigid stance post-war, offering a mere twenty pounds (£20) to individuals regardless of the amount of Biafran currency they had deposited.

In response to this disparity, the Igbo community devised a solution by establishing an apprenticeship trade program aimed at economic and urban reconstruction. This innovative initiative provided a platform for those affected by the conflict, predominantly the Igbo population, to acquire new skills and knowledge essential for rebuilding their lives. The primary goal was to offer a pathway to a brighter future for those who had endured the hardships of war.

As part of the rebuilding process after the Nigeria-Biafra War, many children found themselves unable to return to formal education due to the war’s aftermath. Instead, they were enrolled in apprenticeships under local masters, as the financial strain on families made it difficult to support their schooling. Each family had to navigate ways to alleviate poverty during this challenging period of post-war recovery. This grassroots approach to skill development and economic empowerment played a crucial role in the gradual restoration of livelihoods and community resilience.

The Igba Boi apprenticeship program is proof of the Igbo people’s adaptation and resilience in the face of hardship, especially in the years following the Nigeria-Biafra War. This custom is a potent instrument for social and economic empowerment that goes beyond its historical foundations. Its potential for the future remains bright because it can contribute to Igbo society’s socioeconomic progress, entrepreneurship, and skill development.

The Igba Boi model has the capacity to flourish and evolve with globalization, encouraging innovation and nurturing a new generation of business leaders. Consequently, its ongoing relevance serves as a pillar of Igbo prosperity and identity.


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