United Nigeria Airlines chairman, attributes success to Igbo apprenticeship
By Nwafor Okafor
The Chairman of United Nigeria Airlines, Dr Obiora Okonkwo, has attributed his success in life to Igbo apprenticeship( Igba Boyi)
Okonkwo stated this in his Keynote address delivered at the National Summit on Igbo Apprenticeship with the theme ‘Repositioning the Igbo Apprenticeship Scheme for Sustainable Economic Development’ held in Awka, the Anambra State capital on Thursday.
He said, ” I am sure some of you may have been wondering why I was chosen to deliver the keynote at this event. The simple answer is that the apprenticeship scheme and the Onitsha Main Market hold a very special place in my heart as that was where I had my first stint in business.
“I was born in Gombe and was a baby in arms when my family, like all Igbos, fled the north as a result of the pogrom that ultimately led to the civil war.
“Following the war, my father, like every Igbo male, picked up the pieces and re-stablished himself at the Onitsha Main Market, specifically, at the Fancy Line, dealing in imported clothing materials like scarfs and George wrappers, and later moved to the Provision Line on Sokoto Street.
” Unfortunately, some years later when I was 14 years old, he took ill forcing me to combine my secondary school education with managing the business and his apprentices. That meant I went to school in the morning and continued at the Main Market in the afternoon. That basic trading experience, in many respects, helped hone my business instincts and also instilled in me a deep sense of industry and hard work that have defined my life’s journey to date.
Okonkwo said because of the experience, when the Nnamdi Azikwe University Business School in July 2019 honoured him with the ‘Philanthropist of the Year Award’, it was only natural for him to try to give back by endowing a major research project on the future of Igbo entrepreneurship, drawing primarily from the role the iconic Onitsha Markets had played in the socio-economic transformation of the Igbo nation, particularly since the civil war; a phenomenon he said was best underscored the globally acclaimed ingenuity and indomitable spirit of our people.
He continued, ” The research project, among other things, critically interrogated Igbo entrepreneurship culture and the apprenticeship system around which it is historically built, with a view to reinventing it in the light of emerging realities.
” It may interest you to know that in 2017, the popular American Online media organization TED Talk hailed the Igbo business apprenticeship system as one of the greatest and most innovative Venture Capital schemes in the world.
Okonkwo added,” The apprenticeship scheme in its original model has, undoubtedly, served us well up to this point. However, the world of Commerce is drastically changing and we must reinvent the apprenticeship system to be responsive to the business and industrial needs of today, along with the skills acquisition and value chain such new processes require.
Okonkwo said what was required was taking actions to change the narrative on traditional Igbo apprenticeship scheme, adding “I say this because, already, a study has been concluded. The report has been launched. It is ready and it is accessible. What is left to do, to my mind, is to take action on the recommendations and begin to put into practice what the research team led by Prof. Nonyelu has proposed.
“I therefore implore each of us and all state governments in our region, to get copies of the report, study them, and seek ways to implement them. I will also implore all development agencies and partners, international and local, to do the same. That is the surest way to begin our quest to reinvigorate and transform the apprenticeship system in Igbo land to live up to its new promise of Nkwado Ogaranya( wealth creation). We must prepare our youths for greatness through the new “Apprenticepreneurship” programme. We must prepare them to become self-reliant. We must prepare them to become independent and we must prepare them to become job and wealth creators in line with government emphasis on entrepreneurship in our educational curriculum.
“This is a most urgent clarion call for to do otherwise is to watch painfully as our society gradually slide into anarchy as a result of the restlessness of our youths. As I have always said, the surest way to win back our youths from the crime world is to empower them with jobs which offers them hope and creates a new vista for their future. I am confident that a hopeful future will bring many youths back from the brink of criminality and with that a return to traditional values that many of us grew up with