The boys are expected to “serve” their boss, doing everything for him – including washing his cars and running his domestic errands. In exchange, the boys pick up life skills and are taught how to run a business. They are also given food and somewhere to live.
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 Ndubisi Ekekwe, a Nigerian professor whose article on the apprentice scheme is set to appear in the Harvard Business Review later this month.
The Igbos, emerging from defeat following the 1967-70 civil war, managed to recover a significant portion of their pre-war economic status within just two years.
This was despite the Nigerian government confiscating bank accounts belonging to many Igbos. It then gave them just £20 ($28) to start anew, while others saw their property seized by neighbours in some parts of the country.