Many have written and asked me why I noted in my Platform speech that the Igbo apprenticeship system is the best business framework in the world. Certainly, I did not have time to explain many elements of my hypothesis on stage.
Simply, under the Igbo apprenticeship system, you attain easily an efficient economic equilibrium where inequality is severely mitigated. Everything the world is complaining about inequality and the rich getting richer, the Igbo apprenticeship system handles optimally.
See it this way, a man goes into a business sector, and wins market share. Then, one day, he decides voluntarily to give out market share and immediately creates competitors for himself. And as he does that, he includes huge obligations to ensure those competitors thrive. So, magically, a system evolves where everyone is just doing well with no distorted imbalance. No one is super-rich but everyone is just fine! And the players just like it that way because “onye aghara nwanne ya” [do not leave your brethren behind] is part of the culture!
The United Nations did confirm in its most recent report that Southeast Nigeria is the most balanced and economically stable part of Nigeria with the least hunger and economic stress on the citizens: “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..” The Igbo apprenticeship is the simple reason for that.
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.
What the world is expecting Amazon, Google and Facebook to do, under the Igbo apprenticeship system, business legends fund competitors and give out market share to build an economic system where everyone participates with no sole dominant player. I have not seen any better business framework in the world if the essence of capitalism is to improve the wellbeing of the citizens and the world through fixing frictions which exist in economies and markets.
Yes, I will prefer a community where everyone has enough to eat (like my Ovim village in Abia State) over one where few have excess with many severely poor. The American capitalism can make the latter happen, but Igbo apprenticeship framework ensures the former is maintained through empowering competitors – and by extension others, at scale.
That’s why anything that is not documented and properly archived is never appreciated. The West keep making us feel like lesser human beings, while many of the things their famed business schools are trying to figure out, we have resolved them with ease here; only that our storytelling skills are more or less abysmal.
What you see play out in the southeastern Nigeria is more ‘balanced capitalism’, far from socialism, because it still rewards those who put in the greatest efforts. The framework has worked magically well, without any super or suffocating legislation guiding its mechanisms. Something to teach others who do not know what to with the super rich, other than entertaining socialism, whose end result certainly leaves everyone poorer.
Amazon, Google or Apple aren’t slowing down anytime soon, neither is it a wise choice to dismantle them, just to ‘level’ the playing field. Now it’s a question of figuring out how these behemoths can cede some market share, without being forced to do so. And if the West wants to figure that out, now they have to come to us, we have a workable framework, which we are willing to share, with some good dollars in return…
As always, wisdom is not taught in the universities.
While I acknowledge the merits of the system, there are some issues to think about.
If businesses keep losing market share through this system, it’s hard to build big business brands that can take advantage of scale and scope economies. This is because market share and operations keep getting fragmented as each new apprentice becomes an “Oga”. Now that’s not quite an efficient system if we agree that cost savings from scale and scope economies are efficiency-enhancing.
The other issue is the link to inequality. It’s not readily the case that the apprenticeship system reduces inequality. Otherwise we could also simply say that education simply eradicates inequality by making everyone capable of earning the returns of education. What’s well known, however, is that inequality largely stems from accumulated wealth which goes on to earn the owner more and more return. Therefore settling an apprentice with, say, 0.01% of one’s wealth will probably help the recipient start a life not solve inequality.
My Response to #2 Comment
Your last sentence makes my point even though you pivoted. If you set anyone with Bill Gates 0.01%, I think he/she will be fine. And if that person sets another, that improves. The key point is that the VENTURE CAPITAL ecosystem which the Igbo apprenticeship system enables drives more people to accumulate capabilities and wealth. You may not notice – Igbo apprenticeship system is a VC fund! As I noted, UN has data that SE does better on human wellbeing and security, I do believe it is this VC that ensures that people have opportunities over just begging.
On building big firms, you have a point. That is where I ask for reform. I do think there is a way out – think of makers of Peak Milk (Friesland Campinas). The company is owned by thousands of dairy farmers. Igbo traders can band together and own a conglomerate which they feed into. Yes, they can build bigger firms. There are ways to deal with that which I have no space to explain here.
The same apprenticeship and market system has ended up undermining improvements in quality and capability. Why do you think it’s very easy for a custom officer or agbero to mess a business owner up here? It’s because most of them lack the capacity to assert their rights, so it becomes convenient to ‘settle’ and move on.
To modernise this framework, I will propose super ownership framework, where every small trader must choose one of the big holding names to trade under. This way, you no longer see one Obi or Kunle importing one container, rather you now have Vector Conglomerate importing thousands of containers, within this conglomerate, the small guys are doing their thing, without molestation. The Vector Conglomerate has billions of naira for legal battle, in case any idiot or authority impedes its operations.
It’s a high level cooperatives, with massive capability to do big things. Now it will be easier to control fake products, pay single tax or duties to the government, and everyone will be happy.
Implement same for truck ownership, then we won’t have any truck without a known label on our roads. It will now be easier to bill the big owners on any reckless driving or negligence.
We can organise Nigeria, if we want!
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