Imu Ahia /Ímù Ólú/Oru
How the Igbo Apprenticeship helped heal the wounds of Biafra.
In 1967 Nigeria declared war on the secessionist state of Biafra (formally Eastern Nigeria predominantly of the Igbo ethnic group, alongside many of their neighbours like the Ibibio, Efik and Ekoi).
What followed was one of Africa’s most brutal and genocidal conflicts where an estimated 1-3 million Biafrans died.
The carnage of the Biafran war left Igbo people socially and economically devastated whilst simultaneously fueling ethnic tensions which still plague Nigeria till this day.
Despite these major setbacks if you visit Nigeria today Igbo people are the economic heartbeat of Nigeria and are a visible (often dominating) presence in every major trading hub in Nigeria.
But how have Igbo people recovered from the devastation of Biafra in order to impose such an economic presence in modern Nigeria?
One of the answers is… Imu Ahia (The Igbo Apprenticeship system).
The Igbo apprenticeship system is a practice where an established Igbo businessman (occasionally women) foster a young person (often from a less privileged family) in order to train and rear them in the practical and economic elements of their trade.
In addition to their vocational education, the apprentice is expected to aid with domestic chores like ironing, washing and cleaning.
The apprentice is not only judged on their work ethic, they are also evaluated on their development of key social skills and non-business related behaviour, this includes how well they respect the master’s spouse/family.
Apprentices are not usually paid, however, part of the agreement is that the business person hosting the apprentice will cover the young person’s accommodation, transport, food and clothing.
Imu Ahia lasts between 5 – years, during this period the child will grow into adulthood and become a competent practitioner of their master’s trade.
At the end of the training years, apprentices are compensated with a take-off fund to go forward and establish their own business. The money allows the apprentice to pay for their own shop, equipment and accommodation.
‘Imu-Ahia’, which literally means “to learn a trade” in Igbo is considered as one of the primary reasons why most Igbo families were able to lift themselves out of absolute poverty in the years after the Nigerian civil war.