5 business lessons We’ve Learned From Showmax’s Freemen

In Nigeria, entrepreneurship and business enterprises play a pivotal role in the economy, with businesses spread across all corners of the country. However, when seeking advice on business matters, one group stands out – the Igbo people, renowned for their enduring affinity with commerce, notably through the Igbo apprenticeship system.

This system has nurtured numerous millionaires and notable figures in Nigeria’s business landscape. And Showmax’s compelling documentary, Freemen, delves into their journey, showcasing their rise, stories, and the rich culture of the longstanding “Igba Boi” tradition.

From the chairman of Coscharis Group, Dr Cosmas Maduka, to the chairman of Innoson Group of Companies, Chief Innocent Chukwuma, the Founder/Group Executive Chairman, Chicason Group, Sir Alex Chika Okafor and the renowned entrepreneur Obi Cubana, the documentary imparts invaluable lessons from their experiences and successes.

Here are 5 business lessons we’ve learned from Freemen.

1. You Can’t Do It Alone

In the world of business, collaboration is key. Just like in Igbo apprenticeship where a master mentors their apprentice, building a network of support and guidance can significantly enhance chances of success.

Speaking in the first episode of the documentary, the Executive Producer of Freemen, Nigerian rapper, and actor, Tobechukwu ‘Illbliss’ Ejiofor, emphasised the importance of togetherness in building a successful business empire.

He revealed: “When I came into Lagos, I realised that my journey wasn’t going to be complete if I didn’t create an opportunity for others from my own hustle. When you get in, you bring in your brother; it’s a philosophy that we built and ran with. I just know that I need to be able to get in and pull other people in, showing them exactly what it is that needs to be done”.

Obi Cubana captures it all in the same episode: “Never leave a brother behind”, he concluded.

2. Master One Thing; Not All

According to Freemen, rather than spreading yourself too thin by trying to do everything, concentrate on mastering one aspect of your business.

Dr Cosmas Maduka’s story in episode two of the documentary is a prime example. Having begun his apprenticeship as early as the age of seven, even though he absorbed the knowledge of supply management, inventory control, accountancy, and administration which the Igbo apprenticeship system availed him, he focused on “internal combustion engine” under the tutelage of his uncle who had a catalogue for motorcycles. This led him to discover not just the contents but all the working parts of motorcycles and automobiles.

Unsurprisingly, Dr Cosmas’ breakthrough came from selling motorcycle crash bars, a product in scarce supply, at a substantial markup.

For Chief Innocent Chukwuma, one of Nigeria’s most successful car manufacturers, he had to spend seven months studying and mastering motorcycle parts before proceeding to work with his brother under whose auspices he became an apprentice. Before long, he was able to build a motorcycle by himself. In fact, he once brought the price of a motorcycle down from ₦150,000 to ₦60,000 due to his homemade brand.

In the near future, Chief Innocent Chukwuma aims to produce homemade cars that are cheaper than imported cars, in order to make automobiles more affordable.

3. Keep Developing

Continuous learning and improvement are essential for staying ahead in business. Just as apprentices in Igbo culture undergo rigorous training and skill development, entrepreneurs must continually invest in their own growth and development.

Engr Okezie Onyemelukwe, owner of Soundhouse Digital Multimedia, an independently owned and operated full-service event management company based in Enugu, is a testament to how developing one’s skill and talent can be the biggest pathway to success. In the third episode of Freemen, Engr Okezie revealed how he started from his local church, joining the team in charge of sound production. Before long, he joined his uncle’s music outfit which started with only a keyboard and a microphone. However, he honed his skill for years, ensuring that people rely on him before they can get their music production jobs done.

Today, some of the most competent sound engineers and live event professionals in southeast Nigeria have gone through Okezie’s tutelage as apprentices.

 “When people see me driving the cars I drive, they want to be like me,” he said. “But they don’t see all the efforts and discipline that went into getting here. When you want to copy and paste someone’s life, make sure you copy from their past, not only their present”, Okezie said on the importance of discipline and development in running a successful business.

4. Find a Niche, Where There’s a Gap

Identifying an unmet need or underserved market niche is a recipe for success. Similar to how Igbo apprenticeships often specialise in specific trades or crafts, Freemen reveals that entrepreneurs must seek out opportunities where they can fill a gap in the market.

Reflecting on his journey, Dr Cosmas Maduka recalled how he identified a niche market opportunity within Boulos Enterprises. He seized the chance to sell motorcycle crash bars, a product in scarce supply, at a substantial markup. This strategic move propelled his success and layed the foundation for the highly influential business mogul he is today.  By offering unique solutions or products tailored to a specific audience, you can carve out a profitable niche for your business.

5. Be Ready to Serve

At the core of a successful business lies a commitment to serving others. In Igbo apprenticeship, both masters and apprentices understand the importance of service in their relationship.

For Anene Cyril Okeke, CEO of Lastborn Investment Ltd, a business owner who currently has over 14 apprentices working under him and over 20 who have graduated through him, he too had to go through his period of service.

“At a point, I regretted being an apprentice at my brother’s because he was hard on me. I would be the one to go on errands, I would be the one to fetch water, I would be the one to cook”, he said.

“It is now that I know that all of those were trainings that I should have gone through. If not, all the things I know now, I wouldn’t know”.

For Dr Cosmas Maduka, he had to serve and go through the Igbo Apprenticeship System at an early age, leading him to eventually take on the management of automobile branches in Jos, Sokoto, Nnewi, and Lagos.

During his years of service, Dr Maduka was under the guidance of his uncle, who was a motorcycle spare parts trader. However, they lived in humble conditions: “My uncle himself had just started a business and lived in his own uncle’s house in a one-bedroom with his wife. In that bedroom, they used curtains to divide the sitting room from the bedroom. A man that is sleeping in a passage went to get an apprentice so you can know where my bedroom would be,” he said.

That humble beginning of service, which is enclosed in the “Igba Boi” system, not only propelled his success but also enabled him to amass his first million dollars by the age of 24. By 25, his wealth had doubled to more than 2 million dollars.

Freemen is a captivating exploration of the Igbo Apprenticeship System, known locally as “Igba Boi”. Binge all seven episodes of Freemen now on www.showmax.com.


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