The Misperception Of A People, By Uju Obii-Obioha
Most Nigerians are over-achievers in foreign lands and that should be highlighted much more than the bad apples that are spoiling the bunch. It is dangerous and anemic to the progress of all hardworking Nigerians by painting everyone with the same brush.
Nigerians are a strong people with so much vibrancy and excitement about life. We are very driven, passionate, resilient and pretty much have a desire to achieve and enjoy life. As a result of the myriad of challenges we have had as a nation, the country’s economy has not been vibrant enough to sustain its nearly 200 million citizens and as a people that are driven we naturally migrate to other countries in search of greener pastures. After all, one of the primary reasons for immigration for people all over the world is the search for better economic opportunities. The accurate term for a Nigerian migrant is “Economic Migrant”: it refers to someone who migrates for the purposes of seeking employment and a better quality of life. The prime destinations for Nigerians are North America and Europe, which are the focus of this article. According to the 2016 American Community Survey, the estimated number of Nigerians in the United States of America are 380,785. A 2011 Census recorded 191,183 Nigerian-born residents in England and Wales.
The countries we migrate to have different perceptions of us. Nigerian immigrants have been recognised for their impressive educational accomplishments, strong work ethic and doggedness. We excel in all aspects of the American economy, such as medicine, banking, academia, sports and entertainment. The Western world has gained a lot from Nigerian immigrants. We should not see immigration as a zero-sum game, as the host countries and the immigrants actually gain a lot from each other. On the flip side, all immigrants do not always do the right thing; some in their quest for success engage in all manner of illegal activities to get ahead, which soils the good name of the bunch. This is a human issue and not just a Nigerian issue; segments of every immigrant community across the world are all guilty of different kinds of crime. The issue is that most of the time, when Nigerians commit crimes, these are usually financial crimes but other immigrant communities commit crimes as well (and sometimes these are financial in nature). It does not matter if it are not financial, they are crimes, whether theft of other kinds or murder, etc. Therefore it is unfair to label Nigerians as essentially fraudsters. The words “fraudster” or “scammer” are English words which means that Westerners also commit financial crimes. There have been recent arrests of Nigerian scammers all across the United States and I believe it is right to persecute them for their unlawful and cruel acts, however I disagree with the way the media tries to portray Nigeria as the epitome of financial crimes. Let us not forget that the operator of the largest Ponzi scheme in world history is Bernie Madoff! And, Madoff is of Polish and Romanian ancestry; so why are polish and Romanian immigrants not portrayed as evil in the media? A study by The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice research and advocacy group, found that “foreign-born residents of the United States commit crime less often than native-born citizens”.
…the vast majority of Nigerians are high-achievers who hold education to high esteem which leads to remarkable success in academics and the professional world. Most Nigerian immigrants take the safer and more stable route to success, which is through education and professional careers like medicine, pharmacy, engineering etc.
Most Nigerians are over-achievers in foreign lands and that should be highlighted much more than the bad apples that are spoiling the bunch. It is dangerous and anemic to the progress of all hardworking Nigerians by painting everyone with the same brush. The truth is that perception is reality and how we are perceived matters a whole lot. Here is a highlight of some interesting statistics about Nigerians abroad and this is who the majority of us really are:
• According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, Nigerian pupils are among the best performing student groups in the United Kingdom;
• In 2019, out of the 96 graduating medical students at Howard University, USA, 46 are Nigerian and out of the 27 awards given, 16 were given to Nigerian graduates;
• According to a 2006 survey by the U.S Census bureau, a whopping 17 per cent of all Nigerians in America have a Master’s degree, 37 per cent have bachelor’s degrees, while 4 per cent have doctorates. It is obvious that these numbers must have increased exponentially by now;
• Nigerian-Americans have a median household income well above the American average and above the average of many white and Asian groups;
• Nigerian immigrants have the highest levels of education in Houston, Texas. According to Roderick Harrison, demographer at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington D.C Think-Tank that specialises in researching black issues, “There is no doubt that these (referring to Nigerian immigrants in Houston) are highly educated professionals who are probably working in the petrochemical, medical and business sectors in Houston”;
• Kehinde Wiley is the first black artist to paint official portraits of the president or first lady of the United States;
• Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye was recently appointed the surgeon-in-chief at Nationwide Children’s hospital (One of America’s largest not-for-profit pediatric health care systems with a staff of over 13,000);
• Chinedu Echeruo, a Tech entrepreneur, founded hotstop.com and sold it to Apple for close to a billion dollars. He is also a graduate of Harvard Business School.
When you analyse the above achievements I listed about Nigerians in diaspora then it becomes clear that the vast majority of Nigerians are high-achievers who hold education to high esteem which leads to remarkable success in academics and the professional world. Most Nigerian immigrants take the safer and more stable route to success, which is through education and professional careers like medicine, pharmacy, engineering etc. We are gradually making inroads in the world of sports and entertainment as it is getting common to find Nigerians in professional sports like the NFL, UEFA and NBA. This is who we really are and we should not let the minority of Nigerians that commit atrocious financial crimes define us!
Uju Obii-Obioha, a procurement professional and contract specialist, writes from Maryland, USA.