Nigerians in America Are Not There Yet

Tunde Odediran writes on the need for Nigerians living in the United States to stop living in half-way houses and become fully American.

The Statue of Liberty / nationsonline.org
The Statue of Liberty / nationsonline.org

A narrative has been floating about the level of achievement of Nigerians in America and our emergence in the centre of the American dream.

The story is largely positive, and Nigerians can use a lot of that, but we have to try harder because we are not yet where we think we are. Nigerians have made great strides in the United States but are still far behind other nationals.

I would be the happiest if the story is true that Nigerians are the most college educated among all US immigrants and that we are exceeding others in business, academics, arts and other key sectors of American life.

The story is just in the right direction, rather than being true.

Nigerians are doing better, much better than most other African countries with high concentration, including Ethiopians, Kenyans, Egyptians, Zimbabweans, South Africans and Ghanaians.

However, there are immigrants from other countries that are doing exceedingly better, far better to disprove any assertion that we stand out.

The story that is told among Nigerians is that Nigerian-Americans have more college educated persons, especially with graduate degrees, than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.

The story goes on to claim that Nigerians, who represent a minutia portion of the US population, have a higher percentage of successful citizens than any other.

But that has not happened yet. The road to stardom is long and far. Nigerians have a long distance yet to travel before we can claim a solid stake in the American society.

Some accounts make bolder assertions, such as portraying Nigerian-Americans as becoming big entrepreneurs, CEOs and founders of tech companies across the US and abroad.

The narrative also makes specific contention, such as a claim that while people of Nigerian ancestry are less than one per cent of the black population in the United States, they make up nearly 25 per cent of all black students in Ivy League universities.

We are made to accept that Nigerian-Americans now have more education than Asian-Americans and Europeans.

There is another report claiming that a growing number of Nigerian-Americans are entrepreneurs, CEOs and founders of tech companies across the US and abroad.

These fallacies are painted all over the web and social media and as every Nigerian is likely to have read a version of it.

These claims are bogus and are neither supported by evidence nor daily experience. If it is true, I must have been living in another world, rather than the United States, which I have made home for 23 years.

I would not make an argument that can convey the impression that Nigerians are not doing really well because tens of thousands of Nigerians have crossed into to the middle class in the last decade and are now living the American dream. Stories about fraudulent activities of Nigerians aside, we are among the hardest working and ambitious groups of immigrants in America.

Most Nigerians are employees – employers and entrepreneurs are few and small. Our entrepreneurs are the small-time individuals sending used cars to Nigeria or importing stock fish and garri. The narrative of Nigerians starting tech companies is a figment of someone’s imagination

Many of us have moved from the cities to the suburbs, giving access to better education for our children. We are buying up properties in respectable neighbourhoods. Some have investments in stocks and 401k retirement plans. We are even taking good vacations.

Many of us are upwardly mobile, and the second generation are definitely doing better than their parents. The future is bright, the potential to make an impression on American life is strong.

But that has not happened yet. The road to stardom is long and far. Nigerians have a long distance yet to travel before we can claim a solid stake in the American society.

This is the not-so-rosy truth – most of us are still at the periphery of the centre.

Most Nigerians are employees – employers and entrepreneurs are few and small.

Our entrepreneurs are the small-time individuals sending used cars to Nigeria or importing stock fish and garri. The narrative of Nigerians starting tech companies is a figment of someone’s imagination.

Most of us lack economic empowerment, and you can probably count the number of those able to employ up to 100 on your fingers, wherever they may exist.

Most of us also lack political clout. There is no Nigerian member of the US Congress, and if there are mayors or local assemblymen at all, they are in the single digits. We lack power and are absent where influence matters.

There are no popular Nigerian restaurants, and the few that exist are in the low-income neighbourhood serving mostly Nigerians.

Ethiopians can point to mainstream restaurants across America unlike us. There is hardly any claim at all to achievement in the culinary arts as opposed to the stories we read.

The measure of success in the US is location – that is, where you live. Your zip code determines what you have achieved and where you are going.

Your location tells most of your story. It says what opportunities are available to your children, how far you have come and what weight you carry. It conveys the fatness of your wallet.

In the best communities to live in, you will find many immigrant populations that are prosperous. And very few are Nigerians.

Too many of us live where opportunities are lacking. The hard truth is that more than half our population here are trapped in the inner cities, struggling to cope with the demands of American life and family in Nigeria.

Most of us also lack political clout. There is no Nigerian member of the US Congress, and if there are mayors or local assemblymen at all, they are in the single digits. We lack power and are absent where influence matters
The inner cities are the toughest places to live and home to the poorest

This is where opportunities are rarest. You will find fewer of the immigrants from the top successful countries living where opportunities are scarce, although it is where most Nigerians live.

I arrived the US in a tough neighbourhood. In the building where a friend from the university and I lived, someone died, and it took nearly a month to know.

The stench of human decay was what eventually got everyone’s attention. Rats were all over the place, drug dealers hid their stuff on our window sills, and my brother-in-law was only lucky that a piece of metal stopped a gunshot on the street that shattered the window in our apartment.

Far too many Nigerians still live in these places. The 8-year-old son of my friend told me while his dad was distracted, “I want to get away from here.

I hate this neighborhood.” Her mum is a registered nurse, but they chose to ride the storm in an unsafe neighbourhood for the love of dollars.

Even with education, many continue to camp outside of the mainstream.

According to the US Census Bureau, the countries producing immigrants with the most education and economic attainment are not Nigerians.

Ranked in order, they are India, Taiwan, France, Russia, Bulgaria, Spain, Turkey, China, Malaysia and Iran. Nigeria comes eleventh.

And this is evidently true. Everywhere you go, you can see these nationalities are doing well; whether it is on the university campus, Google campus, Microsoft campus, best rated school districts, best cities to live in, Wall Street or Disneyworld, you will see more of these immigrants than Nigerians.

In fact, you will rarely bump into Nigerians at the best places. You are more likely to meet a Rajesh or Yang Ming than an Emeka or Kolawole.

What makes it more difficult for Nigerians to achieve the rapid rate of success we aspire to is that most live a double life.

Many have one leg in America and another in Nigeria. Instead of fully investing in their progress in America, they divert resources to Nigeria.

They try to build mansions in Nigeria to show the people at home how much they have achieved, while sending their children to bad schools, failing to take annual vacations and become engaged by the American culture.

They would rather suffer, than invest some of their income in themselves. I have friends who cannot comfortably order food on the menu in an American restaurant.

This is where other immigrants are different. They are not living in half-way houses. They are fully American.
Nigerians in America need to aspire for more and integrate.

The next level of achievement is to move into the mainstream because that is where the meat is. To be successful in America, you have to live the American dream.

Written by Tunde Chris Odediran

Tunde Chris Odediran studied and practiced journalism in Nigeria. He is now a Technical Communications and Information Technology professional in the United States.

  1. This story is definitely true. It portrays a little bit of what is going on with most immigrants.

  2. In many aspects, this article is correct. One of the main reasons why Nigerians have such a hard time to integrate into the American society and live the American dream is due to the fact that most Nigerians do not have successful mentors to show them the ropes when they land on American soil. Unlike other Immigrants who before they get here would have mapped a road to success for their relatives from the moment they arrive, most Nigerians fail to prepare a 5/10 years growth projection for themselves . Nigerians do not understand what the building blocks to success are and the few who get the equation right horse that information and fail to impart their knowledge to their fellow Nationals. Nigerians will not let each other know how important it is to build up one’s credit record and the importance of acquiring the skills necessary to build a strong Resume for a Career instead of jumping from job to job. A lot of Nigerians come and work hard at menial jobs or kill themselves acquiring the education to become Registered Nurses instead of looking at becoming Nurse Anesthetists. Nigerians live from paycheck to paycheck and will shop, shop and shop till they drop to impress their neighbor and the friends and family back home. Success is measured by the car you drive, the mansion you live in and how flamboyant a home you can build in the village not to mention how much money you can flash around to impress when you go back to Nigeria on vacation. It is sad but many Nigerian who live in The US are clueless of what it takes to be successful and Know very little of the opportunities available to them as immigrants. We see too many associations that are ethnic based and Nigerians as a group have no representation to forge the future of their youth. The Nigerian have become masters of social media interactions and even as they break ethnic barriers, lack the leadership from their elders to take them to the next level. In most cases they stand on the verge of these Nigerian parties as they find these boring and the focus remains on the not so enlightened elders who continue to do things in the same old outdated way.

Femi Falana / Photo credit: dnlegalandstyle

Falana Writes Malami, Demands Elzakzaky’s Release

Hillary Clinton received an honorary doctorate from Queen’s in 2018 / Photo credit: vox.com

Hillary Clinton Becomes Queen’s University First Female Chancellor