The world at large has been affected immensely by the excellence of Africans, and stories still resound of the many exploits of Nigerians scattered across the globe in their different endeavours. A close look at their exploits however makes us see how responsible Education is for the brilliance of Nigerians in diaspora.
With special mention to the likes of Akinwunmi Adeshina (current president of African Development Bank) and Arunma Oteh (Current Vice President, Treasurer of the World Bank) in the Banking sector; Philip Emmanuel Emeagwali (Mathematician/Computer Scientist/Geologist and Winner of the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize) and Emmanual Ohuabunwa (Neuroscientist, First Best Graduating Student from Johns Hopkins University) in the Sciences; Hakeem Kae- Kazim and Chiwetel Ejiofor (both Hollywood Stars) in the film Industry, it must also be stated that there are hundreds more doing Nigeria proud in diaspora whose stories are not as prominent.
According to ozy.com, you can’t throw a stone at an Onyejekwe family get-together without hitting someone with a master’s degree. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors — every family member is highly educated and professionally successful, and many have a lucrative side gig to boot. Parents and grandparents share stories of whose kid just won an academic honor, achieved an athletic title or performed in the school play. Aunts, uncles, and cousins celebrate one another’s job promotions or the new non-profit one of them just started. And about the Ohio-based Onyejekwes, this level of achievement is normal. They’re Nigerian-American — it’s just what they do.
Today, 29 percent of Nigerian-Americans over the age of 25 hold a graduate degree, compared to 11 percent of the overall U.S. population, according to the Migrations Policy Institute. Among Nigerian-American professionals, 45% work in education services, the 2016 American Community Survey found, and many are professors at top universities. Nigerians are entering the medical field in the U.S. at an increased rate, leaving their home country to work in American hospitals, where they can earn more and work in better facilities. A growing number of Nigerian-Americans are becoming entrepreneurs and CEOs, building tech companies in the U.S. to help people back home.
“I think Nigerian-Americans offer a unique, flashy style and flavor that people like,” says Chukwuemeka Onyejekwe, who goes by his rap name Mekka Don. He points to Nigerian cuisine like jollof rice that’s gaining popularity in the U.S. But more importantly, Mekka says, Nigerians bring a “connectivity and understanding of Africa” to the U.S. “Many [Americans] get their understanding of ’the motherland’ through our experiences and stories,” he adds.
In the case of forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, he was the first to discover and publish on chronic traumatic encephalopathy in American football players (Will Smith played him in the 2015 film Concussion).
ImeIme A. Umana, the first Black woman elected president of the Harvard Law Review last year, is Nigerian-American. In 2016, Nigerian-born Pearlena Igbokwe became president of Universal Television, making her the first woman of African descent to head a major U.S. TV studio according to ozy.com. And the community has expanded rapidly, up from just 25,000 people in 1980.
Traditionally, education has been at the heart of the community’s success. But success isn’t so easily defined within the culture anymore. Nigerian-Americans are beginning to make a mark in sports, entertainment and the culinary arts too — like Nigerian chef, Tunde Wey in New Orleans, who recently made headlines for using food to highlight racial wealth inequality in America.
It was education that brought an early wave of Nigerians to the U.S. in the 1970s. After the war against Biafra separatists in the ’60s, the Nigerian government-sponsored scholarships for students to pursue higher education abroad. English-speaking Nigerian students excelled at universities in the U.S. and U.K., often finding opportunities to continue their education or begin their professional career in their host country. That emphasis on education has since filtered through to their children’s generation.
As an undergraduate student in Nigeria, Jacob Olupona, now a professor of African religious traditions at Harvard Divinity School, was a well-known activist in his community. He considered a career in politics, but a mentor changed his mind. The mentor told Olupona: “Don’t go into politics because you’re too honest and don’t join the military because you’re too smart.” So Olupona headed to Boston University instead, to study the history of religions — a subject he had always found fascinating as the son of a priest. Like Olayiwola, the importance of education was instilled in him from a young age but so too was the importance of spreading knowledge. “When you educate one person, you educate the whole community,” Olupona says. That belief is what translated into his career as a teacher.
Olupona stresses that Nigerians have also achieved a lot in their country of origin. Moving to the U.S. isn’t the only route to success, he says. Still, he believes the many academic opportunities in the U.S. have benefited Nigerians. Marry those American opportunities with an upbringing that emphasizes education, a drive to serve the U.S. while not forgetting their roots, and a growing penchant for success, and you have a unique cocktail that is the Nigerian-American community today.
Nigeria celebrates these patriots who have remained unflinching in their ambassadorial obligations to their fatherland. Their strides will continue to justify Government’s efforts to boost education within the country and lead sponsorships for further studies beyond its borders.
Feature Image from: YouTube.com