Scaling the Entrepreneurial Culture that Sustains Nigeria's Southeast Region (PART II)
Nonso Echeta stands in his shop at Intercontinental Plaza in Wuse Zone 3, Abuja. Photo credit: Progress Clock
By Richard Abam
This is the last article in a two-part series exploring the Igbo apprenticeship system. The Part I can be found here.
While the Igbo apprenticeship system continues to be a source of job creation and economic sustainability for the southeast region, economic fortunes in the broader Nigeria had continued to fall since 2014 when the prices of the country's primary export product, oil, began descending.
This price drop coupled with poor economic handling has plunged Africa's most populous country into two economic recessions just within five years: 2016-2020.
Nigeria needs to scale the system
Some experts now feel formalising and scaling the Igbo apprenticeship system to the national level could help boost the economy in the immediate and long terms.
"[The] apprenticeship system is what I feel the present government can study and use it in creating jobs," Grace Nzelibe, a professor of business administration in Abuja, told PROGRESS CLOCK.
The apprenticeship system could help Nigeria deal with its massive unemployment problem, adds Umar Danladi Muhammad, a public administration professor, also in Abuja.
"This system is working, so why can't we replicate it? At the end of the day, you will discover that every man is skilled, every man is knowledgeable, every man is employed. This is the final point, [the point] where every man is employed, and we can comfortably say he is valuable to the society wherever he is," Mohammed said.
In the past, the country has tried unsuccessfully to get more Nigerians interested in entrepreneurship. This included adding entrepreneurship studies in universities' curriculum and making vocational skill acquisition compulsory for recent graduates undertaking the mandatory one-year national service.
But neither of these approaches has succeeded meaningfully. In universities, students end up with theoretical knowledge. And for graduates undertaking the compulsory national service, vocational training is often rushed during the three-week orientation in camps, and there's barely enough time to grasp the skills firmly before they are deployed to public agencies or private firms.
Nzelibe, who doubles as director of the University of Abuja Business School, argues that the government and universities' approaches do not provide students and graduates with enough practical learning to translate into real-time entrepreneurial endeavors.
"We teach entrepreneurship in the universities, [but] it is not the same [as practical on-the-business learning]," she said.
"The entrepreneurship we teach should go further than that [to] a system where [when] you graduate, you [should] get a place you can stay for a year or more and learn a trade because the [National] Youth Service [as it currently works] is not serving that purpose. It is a jamboree or less."
Mohammed believes that if the one-year compulsory national service revolves only around pure and practical entrepreneurship training with less emphasis on getting work experience to become employable, it will instill the needed capitalist instincts to launch as entrepreneurs and job creators.
The government could take a step further by initiating policies that make it easy for those trained to access loans and grants to start their businesses while providing incentives like tax deductions or exemptions to registered private organisations accepting on-the-job entrepreneurial training to recent graduates for one year, Mohammed said.
He further explained: "So if (all) business people would do the same thing irrespective of the tribe, it would go a long way. Suppose I have a computer shop, a furniture shop, or whatever shop I have.
"In that case, I can do what the Igbo man is doing, maybe adding small colour to it, taking into cognizance the culture, religion, and the environmental factors around that area. Put [them] together, and see how it suits your tribe or that your village or community or state.
"You can do it anywhere. If the government is willing, their own is just to create an enabling environment. Don't bring in the issues of tax and tribe [like] 'you can't stay here because you are not from this place, you can't stay here because you are not an Igbo man, you can't stay there because you are a Muslim or you are a Christian."
To motivate apprentices to commit to learning, Mohammed said apprentices can be paid a stipend and said this can be achieved if the government sets aside a budget for it at the beginning of every year.
A common challenge with the Igbo apprenticeship system is that the start-up capital an apprentice is settled with is usually not stated in the initial agreement. Some masters end up giving what might not be enough for the apprentice to start off on their own. Some could even avoid the payment.
"If the master is a hard man, he looks for excuses to avoid settlement," said Maduabuchi Adiukwu, a Lagos-based multi-million naira electronics shop owner.
Nzelibe and Mohammed say efforts to replicate the system nationwide should target university and tertiary college graduates while creating a special policy that would make it easy for primary and secondary school leavers in business to gain admission into part-time educational programmes to improve their knowledge.
Knowledge gained through such part-time programmes is known to have helped students grow more productive at work and in business. A research conducted by UK-based Higher Education Career Services Unit in 2012 confirmed that 69% of all part-time students developed more confidence and increased performance. It proves that a specially-designed part-time programme for in-business people in Nigeria might increase productivity among young school leavers in business.
For Nonso Echeta, the former apprentice in Abuja who grew his musical instruments-selling shop to the worth of N30 million or $73,000 just two years after he was given N1million or $2,439 as start-up capital, he is not waiting for any specially designed educational programme.
That is because he is already planning to run a part-time programme in business administration at the National Open University which mainly provides distance learning.
He believes the knowledge he would gain will help him understand how to grow his business to the point that it could someday be listed in Nigerian's Stock Exchange market.
"I want to take my business further; I don't want to end it here," he said.
"There is this idea with [some] Africans that I have observed; when they are no more, you find out that their business is no more. But when you look at the western world, even after they leave this earth, their businesses continue. I want to be like that; that is why I want to further my education in business administration," he said.