Apprenticeship Among the Igbo: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Apprenticeship Among the Igbo: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Apprenticeship Among the Igbo: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Sixteen-year-old Chijioke Ossai from Enugu State was once asked what he intended to do after the completion of his secondary education. He answered: "Trading, of course." When Emeka Uwabuike, a school-leaver of Igbo extraction, was asked the same question, he also gave a similar answer: "I like to further my education, but I will first stay with my uncle who sells electronics in Lagos and learn the trade. I do not want to suffer any unemployment after my tertiary education," he explained.

These two cases aptly exemplify the mindset of an average Igbo boy, as observers note that apprenticeship has become an acceptable tradition among the Igbo people. This is partly responsible for the dominance of the Igbo ethnic group in the country's commerce sector.

Under the apprenticeship culture, teenage boys stay with their rich relations or neighbours under a tutelage arrangement in which they are exposed to the rudiments and practice of a particular trade.

The apprenticeship arrangement, which is usually sealed without any formal agreement, lasts between five years and 10 years, after which the apprentice is settled by his "oga" [boss].

Mr Titus Anyanwu, a school headmaster, says that the apprenticeship system has helped a lot of young people to live a meaningful life.

"Despite being a school administrator, I support this indigenous apprenticeship system.

"It is the custom of our forefathers but it is still relevant in today's Nigeria and the world at large.

"I am saying this because it assures our youths of an independent life after the training. Nowadays, most young people who even attended formal schools are roaming the streets but when you finish from 'igba-boyi' [apprenticeship], you are sure of having an enduring business," he says.

Mr Ugochukwu Ekeleme, the Chairman of the Borga Section of Yaba Central Market, says that the apprenticeship system has assisted a lot of Igbo young men to become independent and successful businessmen.

He explains that the scheme particularly allows those who could not afford formal education to learn a trade and still become useful members of the society.

Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Chidi Iheama, a director at the Centre for Management Development (CMD), Lagos, says that the apprenticeship system has save many Igbo youths men from the pangs of poverty.

"It is a self-help initiative which has really assisted the government in reducing the rate of unemployment in the country.

"The Igbo are used to being independent. The apprenticeship scheme bails over 60 percent of Igbo youths out of joblessness every five years in the eastern part of Nigeria.

"Government cannot provide all the jobs in a country; the private sector, whether formal or informal, needs to offer some support with schemes like this," he says.

However, a legal practitioner, Mr Kelvin Ubani, insists that there is a compelling need to regulate the traditional apprenticeship scheme because it is prone to abuses. Ubani, who is a solicitor with the Legal Aid Council, attributes the abuse to the absence of a formal agreement between the apprentice and his 'oga'.

"Some of the bosses abuse their boys, treating them like domestic slaves. Stories also abound where after many years of service, the apprentices were not settled by their bosses because of one flimsy excuse or the other," he says.

Nevertheless, Mr Adekunle Dada, an educationist, insists that in spite of the perceived shortcomings of the Igbo traditional apprenticeship scheme, it should be encouraged while the government should help to check the abuses.

"However, there is a need to review the time, as some of the apprenticeship could last up to 10 years, which is too long. The federal and state governments can design some kind of enterprise curriculum for such schemes, where the boys can get certification and legal backing after completing their apprenticeship," he says.

Dr Enase Okonedo, the Dean of Lagos Business School, also suggests that the government should regulate the scheme by ensuring that the apprentices get formal education, while learning the trade.

"The rush to go to Idumota or Alaba market to begin apprenticeship, learn a trade and get a shop without at least completing secondary education is not the best. I suggest that the government should find a way to ensure that the apprentices get higher education," she says.

Okonedo insists that education is needed to develop the Nigerian business environment, make the entrepreneurs open to better ideas and equip them to compete with their international counterparts.

Besides, Mr Segun Kuti-George, the Chairman, Lagos chapter of Nigerian Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI), stresses that the trade apprenticeship has, over the years, helped in reducing the rate of unemployment in the country.

He says that it has also helped in boosting the country's economic development.

Kuti-George, however, urges the Federal Government to improve and standardise the apprenticeship scheme.

"Different trades in the scheme should be duly registered with cognate trade associations and given adequate operational guidelines to ensure improved efficiency," he adds.

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