How a Nigerian Scheme Forged in War Creates Billionaires

Twenty eight year-old Onyeka Orie, looks the picture of happiness in his mobile phone accessories shop at the sprawling Computer Village in Nigeria’s main city, Lagos. The shop and everything in it had been given to him by his former boss after Mr. Orie worked for him without payment for several years, learning the trade.

“I served my oga [boss] for eight years. My oga gave me this shop. I had been managing the shop for four years before he gave it to me. I didn’t expect it,” an excited Mr Orie says. Born to farmers in south-eastern Nigeria, he said he had little chance of breaking out of poverty because his family could not afford to give him the education he needed to get a good job in a country where unemployment is rife, even among those with a university degree. So after secondary school he joined the trail of other young Igbo men to learn a trade under the apprentice system known as “Igba Boi” – a practice where young people, mainly boys, leave their family to live with successful businessmen.

At the end of an agreed period, their boss gives them capital to set up their own business. The Igbo apprenticeship system has roots in Nigeria’s post-civil-war years, says Ndubuisi Ekekwe, a Nigerian professor whose article on the apprentice scheme is set to appear in the Harvard Business Review later this month. BBC