Brooklyn Naija: Emigrating from Nigeria, Landing in America

By Victoria Ifatusin

The number of Nigerian immigrants to New York City has accelerated, and many are choosing Brooklyn.

Nigerians emigrating from the motherland to the United States primarily are looking for one thing: better opportunities.

In the last two decades, the number of Nigerian immigrants to New York City has accelerated, and many are choosing Brooklyn. From 2011 to 2017, the number of Nigerians immigrating to Brooklyn has steadily grown from an estimated of 4,326 residents to 6,245– a 44 percent increase in just six years, according to the US Census Bureau. And the number is still rising.

Photo: FB Nigerian American Foundation

So what is driving this recent movement of Nigerian people – or “Naija” – to Brooklyn?

As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, I know that my parents came to the U.S. seeking a better life. They had grown tired of the rampant government corruption, tribalism – the culture of sticking close to one’s tribe which often leads to conflict – and the unspeakable crimes that take place, like kidnapping and sex trafficking, including the current acts of Boko Haram, a jihadist terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria.

Still, Nigeria is a vibrant country that people know for many things: Its large production and exportation of oils and petroleum make Nigeria the 12th largest country in the world to produce oils. It is the main source of the economy, as 95 percent of it is from foreign exchange revenue and 70 percent from government revenue.

Along with petroleum and oils, it also includes other natural resources, a highly educated populace, breathtaking landscapes, beautiful people, cultural richness and commercial vibrancy. Plus, Nigeria is growing its reputation globally as a leader in entertainment: From Nollywood – Nigeria’s Hollywood – to Afrobeats, Nigeria is rising.

In fact, by 2050, it is predicted that Nigeria’s population may overtake the US to become the world’s third-largest nation with 387 million people, according to UN projections.

This predicted rise in population hasn’t necessarily been a topic of conversation amongst Americans, particularly Brooklynites. Until now. But no worries; this is something to look forward to: Naija are known to be proud, lively and hardworking people.

Maria Toyin Omolola Photo: Victoria Ifatusin for BK Reader

As of 2017, the neighborhood in Brooklyn with the largest population of Nigerians is Brownsville– an estimated 1,516 residents, followed by East New York with 1,514. Those numbers may sound small now, but considering this demographic’s fast growth, they are a glimpse into what’s sure to come.

Maria Toyin Omolola, founder of DSI International, a non-profit entity located in Queens focused on serving immigrants in all five boroughs of New York. “While we do engage the Nigerian Community in Brooklyn, we still have not been able to reach what we believe is a huge population,” she says.

“Although,” she mentions, “our ‘Know Your Rights’ sessions in Brooklyn alone have recorded a high number of Nigerians who attended.”

Photo: Victoria Ifatusin for BK Reader

Many organizations in New York City, like Nigerian-American Muslim Integrated Community (NAMIC)Nigerian American Community Association (NACA) and AfricanFestalong with DSI International, were created to focus on the well-being of the growing Nigerian community.

Omolola does acknowledge that Brooklyn has become home to several new Nigerian immigrants and their families.

Daniel Anikwue Photo: Victoria Ifatusin for BK Reader

“Brooklyn just seemed like the best idea for them,” said Daniel Anikwue, a recent Baruch College graduate who immigrated from Delta State in Nigeria to Brooklyn in 2001, at the age of six. Currently living in Bed-Stuy, Anikwue vaguely remembers “bits and pieces” from his time in Nigeria. “For me, [Brooklyn] has a lot of history and culture. There’s still always that part of the different communities – different African communities. There’s always something happening.”

Yoruba co-workers of NAMIC John Sholaya Pekun and Abiola Aromashodu also agree. Both work together and share a father-son relationship, as Pekun was a classmate of Aromashodu’s father.

Pekun, 71, from Lagos, is a former Nigerian soldier living in Crown Heights. He escaped the infamous 1983 coup d’etat – an attempt to overthrow the current powers in government – and sought refuge here. To him, there was no better decision than to head straight to Brooklyn, New York.

Pekun, unlike Anikuwe’s parents, “had a lot of family, friends and a big Muslim community here in Brooklyn.”

Aromashodu, 45, was born in the United States but lived most of his life in Lagos, Nigeria– clear from his accent which was still quite strong. He said he moved around a lot during his younger years, but he found he enjoyed Brooklyn the most.

Both co-workers say they see many similarities between Brooklyn and Lagos:

“Lagos style of life,” Pekun begins with a heavy laugh, “is that people learn to mind their business. Just like Brooklyn!”

l to r: Abiola Aromashodun and John Sholaya Pekun both agree that Brooklyn, in many ways, is like Lagos, Nigeria. Photo: Victoria Ifatusin for BK Reader

But ,he states that just like in Lagos, Brooklyn people mind their business, to make business.

“For small businesses, entrepreneurship – it’s an opportunity to grow just like Lagos. You can go to Canal Street and buy some items to come and make some little profit on Fulton, then to Utica, or Nostrand or Flatbush, you see?”

“The same things they do in Lagos is just like how they have it here,” says Aromashodu. “The only difference is the people. Nigeria, just Nigerian people. Brooklyn, everyone from every country.”

Photo: FB Nigerian American Foundation

Also, both agree that everything you need to live in New York is relatively accessible.

Overall, however, the Nigerians I’ve interviewed and the ones that I personally know came for better opportunities, and Brooklyn has become a first choice for many of them.

“Right now,” Aromashodu says, “Too much drama, life issues in Nigeria… I don’t want to go through all that.

“I’m more comfortable here.”

This is the first in a three-part series entitled, “Brooklyn Naija,” exploring the growing Nigerian community in Brooklyn. Part-two will look at Nigerian life and culture in Brooklyn, navigating a foreign landscape.

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