Nigeria Should Explore Igboland’s Incubation System to fix Youth Unemployment

Nigeria Should Explore Igboland’s Incubation System to fix Youth Unemployment

I wrote in Forum that it was a bad idea for our government to share cash with (poor) citizens. My concern is the near-impossibility of knowing who is absolutely poor in Nigeria at scale. Yes, there are farmers who are classified as being poor, before government, but check well some control hectares of lands which they inherited.  Seasonally, those farmers collect lease fees from people.  The same applies to herdsmen:  some are poor before government even when they have 20 cattle. So, if government wants to support our poorer citizens without solid data, it may just be pure waste of the commonwealth to middlemen. Sure, supporting the poor is noble if we indeed have solid data to execute it. (The government has a policy to share some of the recovered looted funds with poor Nigerians.)

Nigeria is interesting. You recover stolen money; you share the money among the poorest citizens in the nation.  Who is poor in Nigeria? In my works I have seen men with hundreds of acres of land, collecting lease fees annually and yet called poor because their assets are wholly informal.

The Ancient Incubation System

There is something that has worked in Nigeria. It is the Igbo apprenticeship system. It is the reason why the southeastern Nigeria is considered the region in Nigeria with the highest level of human wellbeing (not necessarily education attainment which is not exclusive) by the United Nations’  “Human Security and Human Development” report.

The report further highlights the existing gap in human security across the geo-political zones of the country; – the most human security secure geo-political zone is the South-East while the North-West and the North-East geopolitical zones are the least human security secured, with residents of the Federal Capital Territory being the worst in most realms of the Human Security Index. The North-East region of the country has been the most affected by the more than 5 yearlong military insurgency. It also remains among the least developed parts of the country.

So, through this system you can see a boy who never entered primary school controlling empires of companies. He did not attend school but he was trained in the art of his trade: he was tutored under a living legend and made a man from a boy. Nigeria needs to formalize and scale that system as we battle youth unemployment.

Spend time with an Arochukwu/Ohafia (Abia) or Nnewi (Anambra) boy under apprenticeship and see the level of dedication. They build their masters and their masters make them.


If you can, attend an Nnewi gathering and watch protocols. You may have made more money than your master, but he remains one to grave. In some parts of Ohafia, you cannot speak in the village square unless boys that served you are progressing. To be recognized, you MUST make them men.

Africa has many tools to deal with our unemployment [outside govt]. Some of those should be institutionalized and modernized.

That is the outcome of a celebrated system which has been perfected in Igbo land for generations. It is called Imu-Ahia or Ímù Ólú. It was not invented by World Bank but it works.

It is simply the Igbo name for their apprenticeship system that purports a responsibility established businessmen [the nurturer] in a town, street or locale to pick up teenagers-young adults [the apprentice] from their homes and give them an informally formal, but raw and practical, cutthroat business education.

Though these apprentices are not paid, they are afforded accommodation, transportation costs [where necessary], feeding and clothing. It also takes roughly 5–7 years.

The idea centres around taking them off the streets and the perilous tendencies of a idle mind to give them a purpose, worthy of emulation, so they can also continue the trend when they are established.

The contemporary style of nurturing tech companies by incubation hubs has long been Igbo Culture. What we went to Europe to adopt was right under our noses.

Like anything, the West has taken this glory.

Yes before incubation centers or accelerators like Y Combinator, and CC-Hub, we had Igbos doing just that. Nigeria should invest on formalizing the Igbo system because that one does not require tons of capital and fancy offices.

All Together

The Igboland incubation system does not take equity. It does not require raising huge capital. It is driven by human-platform and it works. Nigeria needs to deepen this system even as we celebrate the modern forms of incubation. If government can find human-platforms to work with the youth, we can comfortably fix unemployment. With minor checks and balances, we will provide opportunities to young people.

The Nnewi Case Study

This is from LinkedIn on this piece’s feed.

An interesting take, Ndubuisi. But as an indigene of Nnewi, I will argue that government should actually not get involved or in anyway interfere in the Nnewi apprentice model. It has worked for decades and we really do not need government to come tell us how to run it. If it’s not broken don’t fix it, they say.

Innoson, Cocharis, Ibeto, Chikason, Ekenedilichukwu, are all from our great city of Nnewi. None of these may ventured anywhere near the gates of a secondary school, some didn’t even finish primary school, but control multi billion dollar empires. It’s starts with an apprentice system where a master takes a young boy of about 10 years, the boy serves his master for about 7 years. At the end of the 7 years, the master settles the boy with some capital. Most times depending on their relationship, the boy remains in the master’s house even though he is now free, eats there and sleeps there for the next 2 years or so, to save money. In addition to the capital, the master also extends credit facilities to the boy and gives him goods on credit to sell.

The interesting thing is that nothing is in writing, it’s all done on trust and credibility. The boy’s family would usually come together and meet with the master at the commencement of the arrangement. And at the end of the apprentice period, the master will also bring the boy home and settle him in the presence of his family. Government can not replicate that. They can only complicate it.

Of course Nnewi is not just about trading but also boasts of many educated people, like Dr. Chu okongwu, Kingsley Moghalu, Prof. Edwin Nwogwugwu, Hon. Justice Ubezonu, to mention just a few I can remember now.

The first black African billionaire Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu (Ojukwu’s) was also from Nnewi. He never had any formal education.


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