igba boy igbo apprenticeship system

The Igbo Apprenticeship System (Igba Boy)

by Ginigaeme Emeka

The Igbo apprenticeship system is a common form of labor, taking on various traditional forms. Among the Igbo community, a parent or guardian would choose a trade or profession for their child or ward and take them to a master of that trade for training. The terms of the apprenticeship were agreed upon orally.

There are two ways in which the Igbo apprenticeship system is practiced. The first was called “Igba odibo” or “Igba Boy”, in which the apprentice would live with the master for 3-7 years, and at the end of that time, the master would give them a settlement to enable them to establish their trade. In this case, the apprentice’s family did not pay the master any money for the training.

The second way was through “Imu oru aka”. In this arrangement, the apprentice was given to a master craftsman to be trained, and the apprentice’s family paid a lump sum of money to the master as a tuition fee. This payment was usually accompanied by some drinks, meant for the entertainment of witnesses, who were usually tradesmen in the same field.

igbo apprenticeship

The Igbo Apprenticeship Model

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The Igbo customary apprenticeship is a practice that is commonly observed in towns such as Aba, Onitsha, and Nnewi in the South-East part of Nigeria. This apprenticeship is usually completed within a time frame of 2-5 years, although it may vary depending on the master and the apprentice. In some cases, it may last for a period of 5 to 10 years, and the age of an apprentice is typically between 8 to 12 years.

The master is responsible for training the apprentice and only honors them at the end of the successful completion of the training. If the family of the apprentice is not financially stable to establish him immediately, the master may hire the apprentice. This practice has made it possible for business strategies to run through families, across towns, and communities from one generation to another.

Due to the Igbo belief in an extended family and the induction of/introduction of family members into their line of businesses, “Igba odibo” and “Imu-ahia’ techniques have been developed. In earlier years, various communities in Igbo dominated particular lines of products or businesses. For instance, the Akokwa indigenous entrepreneurs dominated the line of kitchen utensils and household equipment while Nando indigenous traders dominated the pharmaceutical drugs business. The Egwu, Ogbu, Ogunji, Oselebe & Unauthenticated, Nnewi indigenous entrepreneurs dominated the motor parts and transportation business, which was traced back to Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, whom the British and the allied forces used to transport soldiers and ammunitions across Africa during the Second World War.

louis ojukwu 1956

Louis Ojukwu’s Rolls Royce: Transporting Queen Elizabeth during her 1956 visit to Nigeria.

In the spirit of communalism, he employed most of his kinsmen as drivers, out of which Ekene dili Chukwu Nigeria Ltd, a famous transport company of our days emerged. Abiriba indigenous traders deal with “Okirika” (second-hand materials), Ebonyi indigenous traders are known for petty businesses, and they are also very good at farming. Awka-Etiti people dominate the cosmetics line of business, Uke people are known for tobacco stuff and articles, Nsukka entrepreneurs have one of the best palm wine, and Awka indigenous traders are known for blacksmithing, etc.


This results from indoctrination in business lines found in those places and being handed down from one generation to another.
However, the challenges of the Igbo apprenticeship scheme in its early practice are the absence of classroom work and reading, as well as not issuing certificates after completion of the training.


The customary apprenticeship is however fraught with problems leading to abuse and shirking of duties by masters and this demonstrates a lack of adequate legal protection for young apprentices. This becomes the basis for the legal framework that will adequately protect the master and the apprentice in their contract.

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