• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Learning from Imụ Ahịa


There is hardly anyone that can deny that Nigeria is struggling economically. Mediocre economic policy planning and implementation have copulated with the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and given birth to a monster of an economic problem.

Nigeria now has worrying rises in inflation, taxation, national debt, and unemployment being matched with crippling drops in productivity, a worsening security situation, and foreign investment drops. Bizarre ideas like border closures that cripple land-routed export channels have further hurt businesses and kept the pain and damage growing.

Despite all of this, Nigeria has no choice but to work on a way to grow and develop economic solutions for its teeming youth population, which according to the latest estimates from the CIA factbook is put at just under 34 million people between the ages of 18 and 29. These solutions must cover and integrate a range of angles related to education, social organisation, social mobility, employment, wealth-creation, and capital availability.

Nigeria’s federal and state governments have entire ministries devoted to education, planning, industry, finance, which on the face of it are committed to these issues, but have without a shred of doubt failed woefully at their primary briefs if we are to use our position as the world’s poverty capital and the current widening equality gap as a pointer.

The good news is that there is a unique system that sort of covers this matrix of angles and has been rather successful, at least on a relative basis. This system has developed market-oriented businesses that employ millions of people, creates wealth, and generate billions of dollars in revenue not just in Nigeria but also in other African countries that it has been able to export itself to. If Nigeria is really interested in coming out of the current economic morass, it will pay to look dispassionately at, and formalise this system.

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This unique system is the Igbo Trading Network that has in its DNA an apprenticeship scheme called “ịmụ ahịa”. “Ịmụ ahịa” is an Igbo compound word that literally means “learning about markets”.

The ịmụ ahịa system is basically an apprenticeship scheme that has young people working with a business where they learn the nuances of that business and then leave after a period of apprenticeship to create their own start-ups.

As Nigeria struggles economically and talks a lot about wanting to increase the rate of local manufacturing and production, it would make a lot of sense for the private and public sectors to conduct a deeper study and alignment with this ịmụ ahịa model especially when it is clear from results since the 1970s that it tends to lead to traders becoming manufacturers which is the end-goal. Companies such as Innoson make cars today, but the owner, Innocent Chukwumah, started with trading in much less sophisticated items and spent seven years of his life as a nwa boy, an apprentice in the ịmụ ahịa system.

One largely overlooked aspect of the ịmụ ahịa model is how well it offers a localised and distilled version of an MBA program. The core curriculum of an MBA program offers training in accounting, economics, finance, human and organisational performance, marketing, market research, operations, and strategy.

The ịmụ ahịa system does all this in a ruthlessly distilled way that enables even those with limited formal education to acquire a business education while working in what is effectively a start-up and eventually gets them start-up capital and market placements.

There is also the angle of information on other African Markets that is shared through informal networks. Supply chains that go through entire African regions are developed in the process, and this helps with building informed business models that make for enhanced resilience and profitability in Africa’s harsh and unpredictable business environment. An MBA definitely has instances where what it offers is of more value than the distilled version of the ịmụ ahịa system but for our extant level of development, the ịmụ ahịa system is far more useful for a large majority of our rather indigent population.

There’s no overstating the importance of how it helps redistribute capital and opportunity. The availability of start-up capital and market access that negates the impact of low social standing has a significant impact on social mobility and psychological well-being.

Inequality is a growing source of worry even in the most developed countries in the world as we can see with the increasing calls for socialist and communist systems in the West that come partly from a large portion of the population simply not seeing how they can get enough capital and opportunity to rise up on the socioeconomic ladder.

Looking at Africa and even the world at large today, we can say that the ịmụ ahịa scheme was an idea borne on intelligence that was visionary even though it looked crude in its early stages. Nigeria would likely benefit from aligning with the system in whatever way it can if achieving economic success is truly a goal it’s committed to.