“Igba Boi”: The Igbo Apprenticeship System and the Rise of Nnewi’s Titans


Nnewi, a small town in Southeast Nigeria, has produced some of the country’s most successful businessmen, including Dr. Cosmas Maduka and Dr. Alex Chika Okafor. Both men, born into humble beginnings, began their journeys as apprentices to relatives. Maduka recalls sleeping in his uncle’s shop, devoid of basic amenities, while Okafor’s apprenticeship demanded early mornings and long hours.

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Today, Maduka’s Coscharis Group boasts a net worth of $500 million, while Okafor’s Chicason Group stands at approximately $400 million. What sets Nnewi apart and fosters such remarkable success stories?

Nnewi’s moniker as the “Japan of Africa” stems from its status as the epicenter of automobile spare parts trading. The town, ancestral to Maduka and Okafor, has birthed more naira billionaires than any other in Nigeria. This success is attributed largely to the Igbo Apprenticeship System, locally known as Igba Boi.

Dikanna Okafor, son of Dr. Okafor and deputy group MD of Chicason Group, underscores the comprehensive nature of the apprenticeship system. It not only imparts trade skills but also instills life lessons through hands-on experience in family dynamics and business operations.

Obi Asika, creative entrepreneur and DG of the National Council for Arts & Culture, emphasizes the system’s teaching of resilience and the acceptance of failure as integral to entrepreneurial success.

Dr. Okafor’s journey to multimillion-dollar success epitomizes resilience and adaptability. After setbacks in Ghana, he ventured to Hong Kong and Taiwan, where he struck lucrative deals through sincerity and perseverance.

Maduka’s path to success was equally arduous. Dismissed by his uncle with a mere 200 Naira, he embraced his newfound freedom and ventured into motorcycle spare parts trading. His bold moves eventually led to partnerships with global brands like BMW and Ford.

Similarly, Chief Innocent Ifediaso Chukwuma, CEO of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturers, attributes his success to the lessons learned as an apprentice. From trading in motorcycle spare parts to manufacturing vehicles, Chukwuma’s journey embodies the spirit of enterprise instilled by the apprenticeship system.

Competition, inherent in Nnewi’s business culture, serves as a catalyst for innovation and growth. Prof Ndubisi Ekekwe of the Tekedia Institute underscores the indomitable spirit of Southeastern Nigerian businessmen, who compete not just for profit but as a way of life.

As Nnewi’s titans continue to shape Nigeria’s business landscape, their stories underscore the transformative power of the Igbo Apprenticeship System and the enduring legacy of resilience, hard work, and competition.

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