imu ahia system

Imu Ahia In Igboland – History, Types, Other Facts

by AnaedoOnline

Imu ahia, the Igbo apprentice system is an extension of the entrepreneurial ethos in which young Igbos are introduced into the entrepreneurial establishment by established businessmen locally referred to as Oga (boss).

This establishment can be a trade, an enterprise, or a vocation, and, in some cases helping the domestic front. These Ogas to these inductees are most probably former apprentices that had served their own Ogas and were earned resources to begin their own enterprises.

They are, therefore, in turn, training another apprentice to keep the process going. This system is informal yet not illegal and has unstructured training programs to offer the apprentice who learn and master skills required to embark on their own enterprise.


The Igbo culture of entrepreneurship recognized as the father of Imu ahia (the Igbo apprentice system) can be traced back to the slave trade activities and lucrative business from the 15th century. By that time, in the 1800s about 320,000 Igbos have been sold at Bonny as slaves, as well as 50,000 at Calabar and Elem Kalabari kingdom. The business continued until the abolition of the slave trade in the 1900s.


Different from most African communities, slaves sold from the Igbo ethnic group were exposed to entrepreneurship by their owners who deal in commodities like sugar, tobacco, spices, cotton for export to the Americas, Asia, and Europe. This action stimulated the spirit of entrepreneurship in the Igbo people and triggered them to quickly go into various forms of entrepreneurship during the pre-colonial era.

The colonial-era met the Igbos as the leading exporters of craftsmen, traders, merchants, palm oil and kernel, cottage industrialists, etc. This tradition of entrepreneurship amongst the Igbos has been sustained till the present time through the apprenticeship framework known as Imu ahia.

Types of Imu Ahia

Imu ahia as a singular practice can be recognized in other ways, yet linked with common features. The system therefore has three major types and there includes:

Igba-boi also known as Igba Odibo (become an apprentice),

Imu Oru also known as Imu Oruaka (learn a craft),

Imu Ahia (learn a trade).


While all the above-listed types are geared towards the transfer of knowledge of entrepreneur skills, there differ in approach. Unlike the Igba-boi/Igba Odibo (Become an apprentice) where a mentee will be tutored for a period of pre-agreed years, free of charge, in the Imu Oru/Imu Oruaka (learn a craft) and Imu Ahia (learning trade) types tutorship is paid for by either the mentee, the mentee’s parents/sponsors.

The Culture of Igba Odigbo (Apprenticeship System) In Igboland

The completion of the entire program is determined by attaining the pre-agreed scholarship period. Upon the completiion, the mentor offers the mentee capital for a start-up in accordance to the mentee’s efficiency and commitment during the duration of the scholarship and the financial capacity of the mentor.


During this period, this is usually done in the presence of the mentee’s people who can also host a small ceremony to mark the occasion but that is optional.

This stage of settlement sums the entire learning process and begins the innovation process for the mentee. The essence of settlement is to encourage, attract and initiate potential entrepreneurs into the entrepreneurship journey and enhance their commitment to service.

They establish their venture with the rewards under the guide of their mentor. It is always expected that they must have been familiar with basic processes required to drive requisite skills, innovation, and market linkages for alliances.


Entrepreneurs use the same approach to achieve market penetration, gradually hunt through and diversify their crafty innovations in a structured competitive market. Mentors establish a little innovation sometimes, sort of extension, or another outlet for their business for the mentee to saperately control under a close watch while they operate others.

This is perfectly significant to enterprise growth and expansion. There is also, a mutual benefit to the approach.This is also massively favourable in terms of the mentees, because, they learn skills and benefit from rewards at the end of the contract duration.

On the other hand, the mentor gets to expands its enterprise using their mentees and also getting additional return in investment. The circle of business continues to revolve in view of the fact that the mentees graduate to mentors and take in mentees.

There are also lists of challenges attached to Imu ahia the (Igbo apprentice system)

The system has low age and educational entry barrier and lacks formal training and certifications.


Lack of teaching skills by most masters or “ogas” deter pupils from apprentice training completion

Lack of guaranteed access to start-up funding after apprentice training completion due to general economic conditions.

Lack of written contract to enable legal and regulatory backing by government or its agencies.

Innate interests, ability, and capability of the apprentice are not primary considerations when matching pupils with their masters.


The general belief that apprenticeship is for persons from poor households and unable to cope with formal education.

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