The Nigerian presence in America goes back to the earliest periods in American history. Recent genetic studies have confirmed that Nigerian heritage is extensive in the gene pool of African Americans whose ancestors were brought during the Transatlantic slave trade in the 1700s and 1800s.
Over the last hundred years, the Nigerian presence in America has been driven by two immigration waves – the first was a quest for educational attainment which brought Nigerians like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first President, to study in the early to mid-1900s, and a later massive upsurge of migration driven by Nigeria’s economic and democratic decline that started during the dark days of military rule in the early 1980s.
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There are hundreds of thousands of Nigerians who now call America home. According to official records, over 300,000 Nigerians are naturalized US citizens. The Nigerian presence in the United States is obviously much larger, with additional numbers comprising mainly of those with permanent residency and thousands more on student visas.
A TRACK RECORD OF ACHIEVEMENT
Nigerian immigrants have done reasonably well as a community. Nigerian Americans are one of the most educationally accomplished ethnic communities in the USA. 4% of Nigerians hold PhDs compared to 1% in the average US population, 17% hold Master’s degrees and about 37% have a Bachelor’s degree. According to the Migration Policy Institute 59% of people with Nigerian ancestry age 25 and over, had a bachelor’s degree or higher – twice the US average of 28.5%. Fareed Zakaria’s Feb 17th 2020 GPS program on CNN brought the immense contributions and achievements of Nigerian Immigrants in Americas to the attention of the world. Nigerians in America contribute over 25% of the $25 billion in diaspora remittances to Nigeria.
While our educational attainment levels are high, our political voice in America is muted. Our political influence in America is tiny, and as a community, we are punching far below our abilities. And for all the talk about leading the US in the number of PhDs and other advanced degrees, our community’s economic outcomes are only slightly above average – $52,000 vs $50,000 for all US Households. As the recent immigration ban crisis demonstrated, educational attainment or not, a community that is not at the table to advocate for its rights, will find itself on the menu.
WHY WE MUST ENGAGE POLITICALLY IN AMERICA
- AMERICA IS A SECOND HOME
Home is where the heart is. It is where your bread is buttered, where your children are raised, where your core is centered. Home is all these things and more. For far too long, Nigerian Americans have ignored their civic responsibilities here in the United States. We are more likely to be participating in elections in Abuja, Lagos, Enugu and Katsina – where we make periodic annual appearances, rather than the boroughs of New York, or the Counties of Maryland and Texas, where we live, earn our wages and pay our taxes. We are more likely to stay up all night to find out what the results are in an election 6,000 miles away in Edo State, while ignoring the school board, municipal, judicial, or legislative elections taking place 5 blocks from where we live. The fact is, that for many first-generation Nigerians in America, many of whom have now lived in the US, almost as long as they lived in Nigeria, this is home. For our second-generation children who have known no other nation but America, this is home. We need to start thinking and acting the way people do, when they are at home. Acknowledging that the US is home does not mean that we are rejecting the reality that Nigeria is our homeland. We must embrace the duality of home – one that allows us to be both Nigerian and American, at the same time.
- PARTICIPATING POLITICALLY IN AMERICA CAN ENHANCE NIGERIA’S DEMOCRACY AND STRENGTHEN THE RULE OF LAW
A week ago, the PDP candidate won the Edo gubernatorial elections. Why didn’t the APC government that controls INEC and the security forces not force themselves on the people in Edo State and rig the elections, as they have done in countless other races and elections? It was the US (and UK) Visa ban on riggers that tilted the scale and prevented the APC from rigging that election. According to Nyesom Wike, the PDP Governor of Rivers State, “threatening to place a visa ban on anyone found guilty of rigging [in the Edo elections], forced people to act appropriately. ” Wike should know. He is himself well versed in election rigging. External pressure is the only thing that works on Nigerian politicians. We have seen this movie before – literally. In March 2015, President Obama delivered a video to the Nigerian people about the upcoming elections. That video scared the ruling PDP party, forcing a largely free and fair election to be conducted. The result was the first ever loss by an incumbent president in Nigeria’s history. Nigeria’s sons and daughters in the US can continue to leverage the strong influence that this nation wields to force good conduct among Nigeria’s political class. While Nigeria’s politicians might not fear the Nigerian people, or respect the rule of law, they understand what it means to have their visas revoked, their corruption investigated by the FBI, their bank accounts frozen, and their misdeeds tried in jurisdictions where they cannot bribe judges or subvert justice. We can make this happen in every single election that takes place in Nigeria from here on out, by ensuring that we stay engaged in America’s politics and helping US agencies shine the light of probity into the darkest recesses of Nigeria’s political system.
- WE MUST DO IT FOR OUR CHILDREN
While the world remembers George Floyd and his brutal killing, few people know the names of Emmanuel Okutuga, Mathew Ajibade, or Chinedu Okobi – young Nigerians who died tragically at the hands of the police. Racism affects all people of color, whether they are originally from Lagos or Los Angeles, Philadelphia or Potiskum, Enugu or Elkridge, Warri or Washington DC. Thankfully, second generation Nigerians are starting to speak up and stand out in the cause for racial justice. One of the founders of the BLM movement is a Nigerian American. As part of the American family, we must get involved in efforts to ensure racial justice and equity for all persons. The badge of educational attainment we so proudly wear and the opportunities available to us in the American economy was made possible by battles fought during the civil rights struggle by our African American brethren. We cannot leave the battle for racial justice to them alone. We must march with them, we must organize alongside them. Our voice must be loud and clear. That fight is not for them alone, but for us and our children – not as an act of charity, but as an obligation and a duty. Thankfully, that journey has started. In the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) triangle, Nigerian Americans were active participants in the August 28th March for Racial Justice in Washington DC that commemorated the 57th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jnr’s “I have a Dream” Speech and all around the US, Nigerian American voices are becoming louder and more strident.
- BECAUSE WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN DETERMINING AMERICA’S FUTURE DIRECTION
America is at a crossroads, and the Nigerian American community can make an immense difference in determining America’s future direction. Historically, our community has not participated actively in American elections. Our engagement this time around can make a major difference. In 2016, the Presidential election was decided by about 80,000 votes in a handful of swing states. Nigerian Americans tend to live in large numbers in the swing states, so we have an opportunity to make an outsized impact on the outcome of the November 2020 elections, if we get engaged. This year, States like Texas, which is home to the largest contingent of Nigerians in the US, are in play.
We are just 40 days to the elections. Please sign up to be a part of this historical effort and participate in this survey to establish the priorities of Nigerians and Nigerian Americans, with regards to US policy as it affects the Nigerian American community.
Dr Malcolm Fabiyi is based in Maryland, USA and leads the Government Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (GAIN) . He is a co-organizer of the Nigerian American Community Movement, that is comprised of members drawn from Nigerian American community groups, professional associations, political organizations and religious bodies dedicated to enhancing the interest of Nigerians in America.