I did not witness the Nigerian Civil war (1968-1970) because I was not born by that time, but I have read a lot about it in addition to listening to eye witness accounts from those who were there and even fought on different sides.
The Igbos lost almost everything during the war. They abandoned their businesses and properties outside Igbo land and moved home for safety reasons as they became easy targets for mischief makers. These assets were mostly forfeited, confiscated or hijacked. This was the era when the term “Abandoned Property” became popular and real.
After the war, they were subjected to further financial and economic hardship, as their bank accounts were credited with a flat rate of 20 pounds irrespective of the volume of Biafra pounds in those accounts, effectively rendering them penniless.
This happened almost fifty years ago, as today the Igbos have moved on with their lives conquering the Nigerian business environment and building large business empires for themselves. Everywhere in Nigeria today, you will find very successful Igbo business men and women making the country proud in their various entrepreneurial pursuits.
How did they do it despite all the setback and challenges?. These should be some of the reasons why they have become a phenomenon in entrepreneurship.
1. Courage: The average Igbo is very courageous and ready to surmount every challenge in the pursuit of anything he sets out to accomplish. They are also very adventurous and ready to relocate to new places despite the inherent risks, as long as they can see opportunities. There is probably at least one Igbo man or woman in every country in the world.
2. Resilience: They focus on opportunities and ignore challenges, this makes them very tough and flexible. The Igbo man will nurture his small business painstakingly taking risks and experimenting and innovating with different strategies until the business begins to boom and flourish.
3. Creativity: I read accounts of how the Igbos improvised and created their tanks and refineries during the civil war. Today the likes of Innocent Chukwuma of Innoson Industries are building cars and fabricating spare parts for the Nigerian Air force. If you still have doubts about the Igboman’s creativity then visit Nnewi and Aba to see how all types of machinery are fabricated.
4. Support system: The have a way of rallying round each other to ensure that their successes are multiplied. You will find all types of Igbo unions, clubs and associations in every city in this country; and even in most countries of the world. They have gone a step further to install Igbo traditional rulers outside their ancestral homes (eg. Eze Ndigbo of Lagos), who will govern their affairs and mediate in crises situations.
5. Apprentice System: Success in Entrepreneurship requires knowledge, mentorship and capital. The Igbos developed their own home grown system of entrepreneurship. This unique form of apprenticeship allows a male family member or community member to spend time and work with another family. During this period, the apprentice will learn the trade of his master and would also receive mentorship. At the end of the agreed period, the master will establish his apprentice; either by setting up a separate business for him, or giving him money or tools to earn a living. This system has helped to spread wealth from the rich to poor in Igbo communities; and many of the big Igbo business men of today went through this system. The likes of Mr Innocent Chukwumma of Innoson Motors, Mr Cosmas Maduka of Coscharis Motors and Chief Alex Chika Okafor of A-Z petroleum are all beneficiaries of this system.