Immigration in Past and Modern-Day Nigeria
Millions of people that are a part of the United States population are foreign-born, or immigrants. The family on my mother’s side is included in those millions of people. They are of Creole descent, meaning that her family has cultural ties with African-Americans who speak Louisiana Creole, or Cajun, a dialect of the French language heritage. Many of my relatives immigrated to different cities in Louisiana from different countries in Western Africa. For one of my uncles, Daniel Jason specifically, he migrated from Nigeria. He comes from a tribe that is “well to do and has money in Nigeria” (Dan Jason), so his story of immigrating to America is slightly different from most. He came to the states to reside in the houses his family owned in New Orleans, Louisiana, as well as study law at the Southern University of New Orleans. My uncle was one of the “luckier immigrants who happened to have no problem coming into the United States because his family had the money and means to easily send him over” (Daniel Jason). There was no four-year waiting period for his green card or visa, nor did he make any life-threatening journeys and sacrifices to reach the states. Today, it is common knowledge that my uncle’s easy way of immigrating into America is rarely received by other immigrants, whether they’re from Nigeria, Iran, or anywhere. My Uncle Dan currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where ironically enough has its own Consulate General of Nigeria that allows Nigerian immigrants to apply for visas and renew their passports. He also owns a law firm along with his wife, my Aunt Claire Jason, and they have a son, and a daughter going to universities to study criminal justice and computer science/engineering. It is nice to see that an immigrant like my uncle can live in the states and have the “American Dream” lifestyle, but for many Nigerian immigrants or immigrants of any country, it is a nearly unattainable goal.
The Federal Republic of Nigeria, commonly referred to as Nigeria, is located in West Africa along the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria is home to many successful and wealthy kingdoms and tribes, but Nigeria had to battle many hardships to land where their they presently are. Their hardships began in the 16th century, when Spanish and Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to begin direct trade with some peoples of modern-day Nigeria, which unfortunately also marked the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. “Slavery existed in most modern-day territories of Nigeria, but with rising anti-slavery sentiment throughout the country, Great Britain outlawed the international slave trade in 1807…Following the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain established West Africa in an attempt to halt the international traffic in slaves. They even stopped ships of other nations that were leaving the African coast with slaves…In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the independent kingdoms of what would become Nigeria fought several conflicts against the British Empire’s efforts to expand its territory” (Curry). From obvious facts, the British held colonial power over the Nigerians’ land for some time, with the country being a creation of European imperialism. It wasn’t until 1914 when the British strengthened their power that Nigeria became a democratic secular country with its large population and growing economy. “Following World War II, in response to the growth of Nigerian nationalism and demands for complete independence, the British government moved Nigeria toward self-government on a representative and increasingly federal basis. By the middle of the 20th century, a great wave for complete independence was sweeping across Africa” (Curry). Nigeria finally achieved their freedom in 1960.
Nigeria still struggled, even with this independence, but during one particular regime Nigerians truly began realizing they needed to immigrate out of their country to escape the oppression they were facing. In 1993, under the rule of dictator Sani Abacha, Nigeria experienced its “most horrific period of human rights abuses and corruption, leading to domestic and international uproar…he was heavily criticized of human rights violations” (Oyibode). Even with his “unprecedented economic achievements” (Oyibode), overall, his abuses against the human rights of the people is what caused Nigeria and the world to uproar. Basic human needs like food and shelter were not seen as basic needs under Abacha. Nigeria’s citizens were without the ability to provide for themselves and maintain a healthy, successful, and happy lifestyle. “Poverty was at an all-time high, with more than half of Nigerians living on less than $1.25 per day…His regime gave him the right to detain anyone for up to three months without trial…Killings were committed by the corrupt police force, murdering those who refused to pay what was asked of them refused to pay or bribe their way into the clear” (Oyibode). It’s problems like the slavery, and wars, and corrupt politicians that Nigeria have had to face that leads to their citizens wanting to immigrate.
Since the mid-20th century and the reign of Sani Abacha, after Nigeria gained independence, many modern Nigerian immigrants have come to the United States to “not just escape economic crisis and political turmoil, but to pursue educational opportunities in undergraduate and post-graduate institutions” (Migration Policy Institute, MPI). In the 1960s and 1970s Nigeria’s government funded scholarships for Nigerian students, and many of them were admitted to American universities. Nigerians simply wanted to escape the unjust circumstances in their country and take advantage of America’s resources for education, employment, and even marriage, for themselves and their families. To achieve these “better circumstances” however, they must go through various embassies in order to obtain a visa to enter America. If they’re able to arrive in America, how well they are received tends to depend upon the color of their skin as well as where they immigrated from. Although America is seen as the “most accepting nation” of the world, for Nigerians, it has proven to be the exact opposite. Despite immigrating to the United States since the twentieth century, Nigerians still find it difficult to blend in American society” (MPI). We accept Irish, German, French, and Italian immigrants with open arms, but when it happens to be a person of color, say someone from Nigeria, we’re hesitant. Why is that? Is it because Europeans have more similar skin colors and seem to have similar habits? “Stereotypes have acted as a tool in hindering the assimilation of Nigerians. The media often portrays Nigerians as poor, uneducated people that cannot do things themselves. Statistics show that there are approximately 376,000 Nigerian immigrants and their children living in the United States, with the largest number of Nigerians residing in Texas, Maryland, and New York…Members of the Nigerian diaspora are more likely than the general U.S. population to be in the labor force and to work in professional or managerial occupations…with a large proportion of Nigerian diaspora members holding bachelor’s or advanced degrees” (MPI). If we look at all these example, as well as use my Uncle Dan, a Nigerian immigrant, as one, we can easily see that these immigrants are just as successful and beneficial to American society as the rest of us American born and raised citizens are. Our assumptions are the opposite of the truth and that’s why in modern society there are so many problems with the treatment of immigrants.
These stereotypes and struggles are what Nigerians go through assuming they’re granted access into this country. As mentioned earlier, one must go through various embassies and examinations in order to get a visa that allows you to enter into America. While the United States wants to be known as the nation that “welcomes all,” our immigration system isn’t caught up with present day situations. This country needs immigrants to replace those who are retiring, to positively contribute to our economy, spawn innovation, etc. They aren’t a burden and they don’t steal our jobs; they make this country diverse and allow it to prosper. It simply isn’t fair to the Nigerians or any immigrants who could become doctors curing diseases or entrepreneurs founding the next major American companies that they must be an immediate relative and pay insane amounts of money to have to wait months to possibly years to get a card that allows them to enter the United States. With wars and terrorism becoming more prominent and threatening in countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, and the entire world, we can’t afford to wait any longer to fix this immigration problem. “With meaningful immigration reforms, we can promote both national security and economic growth and solve problems that the American public has long asked for their leaders to address” (Hackbarth). Hopefully then society will see an even more diverse community in the United States of America, and Nigerians and all immigrants like my uncle can be given the chance to become equal, hardworking, American citizens.
Curry, Tim. “Nigeria.” Countries and their Cultures, Apr. 2006, www.everyculture.com/Ma-Ni/Nigeria.htmlHackbarth, Sean. “How America’s Immigration System Failed and Why We Need to Fix It.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 30 Sept. 2016, www.uschamber.com/series/above-the-fold/how-america-s-immigration-system-failed-and-why-we-need-to-fix-it
Jason, Daniel. Personal Email Interview, March 2018.
Oyibode, Austin. “How General Sani Abacha transformed Nigeria’s economy, allegedly looted billions, and died mysteriously in 1998.” Naij.com, July 2017, www.naija.ng/1112751-how-general-abacha-transformed-nigerias-ecoonmy-allegedly-looted-billion.html#1112751Policy Institute for Migration (MPI). “The Nigerian Diaspora in the United States.” Rockefeller Foundation-Aspen (RAD) Institute Diaspora Profile, July 2015, Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe/TempState/Download/RAD-Nigeria%20(1).pdf