Education, not Trade will save the Igbo.


This subject is a rather sensitive one. Emotions and false revisionism have gotten in the way of making progressive conversations and consequently, development of their polity. This Nigerian subset arguably has the most cultural institutions adaptive for easy development but unfortunately that has not been the case.

There has been a reversal of the virtue of process. A reversal of ideals. And this lot can be traced to the civil war.

Before the war, it was spoken of the Igbo as scampering like ants towards classrooms. And the effects of the pursuit of education incited the national envy that equally called for their heads. As a coping mechanism with the hand dealt them, they resorted to trading. Educated people were not left out. They had to sell wares to feed. This was a contrast to an instance in the 1960s- a visit by the renowned Mathematician, Chike Obi to Onitsha market. Traders closed their shops to herald this genius of a man. Soon after the war, if the great Cyprian Ekwensi sold plastic in Ogbete market, of what use was education again?

The contrast is still palpable today.

Individuals who rose to great heights in trade became those given front row seats. They soon had the ears of everyone and they influenced the society. It became worse when the end was more important than the means. Money was what mattered and fewer people cared if it was got through drugs dealing or theft. The base logic was survival. And “process”, the most valuable and sustainable means of development was jettisoned. The premium on money would not be a problem in a setting like Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’. But sadly, it is a new era dependent on the mental skills that unfortunately can only be developed through education. The evidence is the stagnation the Igbo nation has faced as a society for years now.

Trade was a means out of poverty. But if wealth creation and societal development are options on the table, then quality education must be prioritized at the basics.

The only cultural institution that has adopted the law of exponents is the “Igba boi”- the Igbo apprenticeship system. In its primal use, it has lifted generations out of poverty. Today, it is dissipating because they have failed to scale it as a modern social technology for development.

The Awka blacksmiths, the Orodo bone setters, the Lejja Ironsmiths and many other indigenous knowledge models barely influenced its surrounding community because of a strict and ignorant hold of its knowledge. They protected this family trade secret to the disadvantage of the community. Most of the knowledge went to the grave with those who practiced it out of fear and suspicions of imitation by others. This monopolistic trait denied the society of documented indigenous knowledge and practices and the society continues to pay for it in diverse forms.

The same can be said of modern Igbo traders who would rather see their business die than share ownership in the form of shares or equity. The downside is also them willing to throw spare cash into pedestrian businesses like filling stations, sub-par hotels or poorly managed restaurants, as long as they can solely manage and take the profits, no matter how little. Unfortunately, these businesses die before their owners.

On the contrast, traders like Cosmas Maduka painfully adopted this modern “educated”approach. He learned that for modern businesses to scale, he would be required to part with some equity to shareholders in exchange for their expertise, capital and risks burden. Managers outside family were also sourced to manage operations. The surplus is currently being diverted to investments in agriculture. This is how wealth is generated. It will not be surprising to see Coscharis outlive the founder and many more years after.

My campaign is that education must be prioritized amongst the Igbo again. Education must be the most important and venerated asset again.

For new industries, new ideas, new cultural institutions, they must embrace quality education for all. To re-engage old and new industries like Nollywood, Manufacturing industries, Arts & Entertainment, Technology, they must be done with the finesse from modern education and exposure.

The Igbo touted as “Africa’s Japan” is false because as primitive-trading Japan was forced to engage with the world by 1815, they embraced education. They spent resources to educate every single Japanese so that ideas and the peoples’ cognitive power would be in sync. Little wonder, they shortly became a global threat by the First World War. Currently, their per capita income stands at $35,000. The contrast is the whole of Nigeria’s South East as less than $2,000.

The Igbo needs to re-build its identity and brand. Reject in words and action, the tag “the trading people”and take the position as “the producing people”. But first, quality education.