American Blues, Globalisation And The Fate Of Nigerians In The Diaspora

by Femi Olawole

The man was alone. With head bowed over a glass of brandy, he was talking to himself. I searched the Jazz club for a seat in a safe distance and was about to walk past him when I heard him utter some Yoruba words. Actually, he was cursing! Every one of our past leaders, from Alhaji Tafawa Balewa to Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi and even our beloved Gen. Murtala Mohammed were all being cursed out.

The obviously bitter man was however startled when I turned in his direction to say hello in Yoruba. Suddenly, a smile lit his once angry face as he invited me to join his table. Henry (not real name) and his family of four came to the United States in 1993. Since then, he and his wife had tried almost every “career” in God’s own country. And so, in addition to their Nigerian degrees, they had acquired so many diplomas in fields that varied from CNA to taxi cab driving, truck driving, computer courses etc that two boxes would be needed to load those “pali”. It’s been a decade since the couple arrived here and yet, they neither pass nor fail and get no promotion from their poverty-stricken class. All they have to show for ten years in God’s own country were debts, anger, frustrations, grey hairs, high blood pressure and a bundle of other problems.

Whereas, back home in Nigeria, Henry was a management staff in the Central Bank of Nigeria while his wife was working in a commercial bank. They were doing very fine as a family until the man won a visa lottery. The view of the family was like, “God don really butter our bread.” Before anyone could say “Yankee”, both husband and wife resigned from their jobs, sold their properties and relocated to America with their children.

On arrival in the land flowing with “milk and honey”, their ordeal started when it appeared that no employer of labor would reckon with their “foreign” degrees. Henry swore that no Jupiter could have made him work even as a Manager in “Mr. Biggs” back home in Nigeria. Yet, in America, he and his wife were glad to be employed to flip burgers in “McDonald” where, according to him, their “Manager” did not even have a High School diploma.

Sadly, there are many Nigerians Henrys all over America, Europe, Asia and even Iceland. While some came in search of some glorious dreams, others were inspired to “check-out” for economic reasons by foreign-based friends, siblings and relations who gave the impression that the strange lands were paved with gold. And there are others who simply suffered from nationality inferiority complex. They are so ashamed of their country that they chose to “fly out” to the nearest foreign country they could “perch” on.

Incidentally, many of these people never had any orientation programme to equip them with the natural problems that come with living in a foreign country. In fact, they arrived abroad with hopes that were as high as the famous Idanre hills. One could understand the jobless but many who left good jobs or (and) great prospects were never told that they would come abroad to start afresh. Worse still, those who “sweet-tongued” these people to “fly out” never bother to prepare their minds for the insults, prejudices, anger, frustrations and many other problems that are the daily experiences of many of our citizens in foreign lands.

And when they arrive to face the stark reality on the ground, these people including the likes of Henry who left very good jobs to “check-out” would turn “our government” into the whipping boy. One can only wonder what “our government” had to do with a man leaving the certainty in his country for the American uncertainty? It is people like Henry who, instead of admitting the arrant folly of their actions, would go on the Internet to vent anger and frustrations on Obasanjo and “our government”.

These days, Americans don’t really have to rely on the usual press releases of their State Department on travel advices to Nigeria. There is, for instance, a “vibrant” Nigerian-oriented website that has virtually turned itself into a mouthpiece for the State Department. On that website are some “energetic” Nigerian Internet columnists who are falling over themselves to outshine biased commentators in Western media in casting aspersions on Nigeria. Any interested foreigner can log on to this website to read about a country that is described as being comparable only to hell and a people whose president is described as a bastard, a moron and a crazy man fit only for a mental hospital—all in the name of criticism.

It will be unreasonable to go into denial over the dire economic condition that obtains in our country. And neither will it make sense to make any pretense over the spate of insecurity, political upheavals and many other developmental problems that naturally afflicts a young, evolving nation such as ours. But the bitter fact is that our nation has not got a monopoly of these problems. They are all over the Third world.

It is often laughable when you ask many of the Nigerians in Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia and other numerous countries including those that are on the high risk list of the American State Department and they will tell you one of the major reasons why they “checked-out” of Nigeria was “insecurity.” So, how secure are their host countries?

So far, America is the most famous country that many Nigerians will most often use statistically to compare our nation with. Never mind the gross unfairness of comparing a 43-year-old nation with another one that is over 200 years old. Even then, these Nigerians will reel out to you a litany of woes such as inept political leadership, corruption, insecurity, unemployment, poverty and others that project Nigeria as a hell fire beside the paradise that America is.

Incidentally, America is neither a paradise nor a State of Utopia. The Americans have their own inept, corrupt politicians that take their people on a roller coaster of lies and deceit. And in spite of it’s being the most policed state in the world, America still has a high record of insecurity. There are home invasions by armed bandits, burglaries, kidnapping, car snatching, street muggings—all in broad daylight. The only good thing here is the prompt and efficient investigation by the security agencies—usually after the deed is done.

In many American cities, there are drive-by shootings where anyone can be a victim from stray bullets. Lurking in high schools are the dangers of kids getting shot by some other kids from dysfunctional homes. Parents also have to worry about their kids getting drawn into drug addiction and teenage pregnancies. And before going to a place like McDonald, one has to pray seriously that no crazy, nut case will come by to spray everyone with bullets. So much for security!

As for financial crimes, all the 419ers in Nigeria are operating at an elementary level when compared with the real smooth operators in the United States. There are so many scams in almost every transaction in God’s own country that one doesn’t really know who or what to believe any more. And what about the cases of Enron, WorldCom and other corporate 419?

According to a recent report, the poverty level in America is 34%. Add this to the number of those who are victims of the rising unemployment rate and then subtract it from the population, which is about 281 million. Yet, this is the richest and most powerful nation on earth!

In view of these situations, what then is the attraction to America? For those Nigerians with specific objectives to achieve in the academic, professional, Arts, sports and other areas of human endeavors, America offers a unique, enabling environment. Having a goal to focus upon can be a very good shock absorber in God’s own country.

But to leave Nigeria for America simply because of winning a visa lottery or on aimless pursuits of a mere “gburu” is an invitation to a very harrowing experience. It is tantamount to jumping from frying pan into fire. This therefore explains the preponderance of many Nigerians who have been “based in America” for 20 or 30 years with nothing to write home about.

In the United States, there are Nigerian-trained medical doctors who are working as “auxiliary” nurses, auto engineers working as “vulcanizers”, and accountants working as taxi cab drivers. It is only in our country that pride is the major content of the air we breathe. When a banker loses his job in Nigeria and he is lucky to be offered a teaching job, he sneers contemptuously at the offer. But when the same man breathes the America air, he realizes that he has to make do with the job of a houseboy (Americans call it housekeeper). In our country, certain jobs are considered “beneath” of an individual. In fact, a university graduate that “descends so low” as to drive a taxicab will surely get a front-page mention in some national newspapers.

I once met a young Nigerian who was jobless for two years after his university education. He did get some job offers but he felt those jobs were not “commensurate” with his Business Administration degree. He therefore raised about half a million Naira from among family and relations to travel to the United States. Several years later, he wished he had gone into some business venture with the raised capital. Why? Because he has been too busy running from pillar to post since his arrival about 6 years ago to achieve anything. And as the young man wanted to hide his shame, he cut off all contacts with his people back home.

There are many great American-based Nigerians holding wonderful positions in professional fields such as medicine, academic, banking, engineering, consulting and I.T. They are a world apart from the con artists, drug pushers and others in criminal enterprise. While the criminal elements are giving our country a bad name, these other accomplished individuals are making one proud to be a Nigerian.

It is however pertinent to state here that even in spite of their dual citizenship and professional achievements, these Nigerians still have some depressing tales to tell about their sojourn in a foreign land. Apart from the usual exposure to prejudices and stereotypes that every Black person has to face in God’s own country, these Nigerian-Americans also have the daunting task of raising their children in a land well known for its absolute freedom and liberty.

I was surprised the other time when a successful Nigerian doctor in Delaware informed me that he and his wife had to resolve to send their children to high schools in Nigeria. Indeed, their first son is in Adesoye College (one of the best in the world) in Offa, Kwara State. According to him, the decision was worth it. The American kid has since imbibed the Yoruba traditional manners such as respect for elders, respect for constituted authorities and others that are lacking in most of the American high school kids.

Personally, America nay, the Western world generally, are the last places I would advise Nigerian parents to nurture their children. The Yoruba, for instance, are well known for the strict discipline and domestic regimentations they impose on their children. Until some of us grew up to appreciate the sterling qualities that have been impacted in us, back then as teenagers, we thought our parents hated us. That is to underscore the Yoruba’s strict home training.

Sadly however, any attempt by American-based Nigerian parents to instill similar discipline in their children may earn such parents some jail terms for what the American authorities brand as child abuses. Ironically, there are many Nigerian families who migrated to the U.S. because of the perceived opportunities that “abound” for their children. But there is a problem rearing its ugly head in the present scheme of things. It concerns those Nigerians and their future plans for those same children in the America of say, the next 10 to 20 years.

Just like their Nigerian counterparts, there were many Asians who went through thick and thin to relocate to the U.S. in a bid to provide a better future for their children. Paradoxically, many of the same Asians are now thinking seriously about returning to their ancestral homelands. This is one of the consequences of the wind of globalization that is blowing all over the world.

Suddenly, almost every American company is realizing the astronomical cost of sourcing labor locally. Therefore all these companies, from info tech industry to manufacturing and even the service-oriented industries are now outsourcing skilled labor in Third world countries such as India, China, Philippine, Pakistan and others.

The effect of this trend on the one hand is the increased and maximized profits for the corporate America. On the other hand however, the many ongoing downsizing in the country has turned the lives of many American white-collar workers into a bitter nightmare.

According to Business week, the job of an American Aerospace engineer that used to fetch $6000 a month in the U.S. is now outsourced in Russia where $650 is paid per month. The job of an architect which was attracting $3000 in the U.S. is now taken to Philippine where the employee is paid a mere $250 per month and he is grateful. As for I.T. jobs, they are now 2 for a penny in India.

And to ensure a continuous flow of these cheap labor, many of the affected American companies have been earmarking and investing a percentage of their earnings for the improvement of universities in their host countries. Bill Gates was reported a few days ago to have personally donated several million dollars to some Chinese universities towards their upgrading to international status.

What does all these portend for those Nigerians who have shipped their families here in the hope of pursuing an American dream for their children? Right now, the hitherto lucrative white-collar jobs in the U.S. are not only fast becoming endangered species but also are fast becoming nonexistent.

In view of these developments, very soon, there would be no menial jobs for immigrants to do in the United States. Unlike Nigerians, Americans are not too proud to “descend low” to do certain menial jobs right on the soil of their country. Already, we have been reading and hearing of some individual Americans who used to earn over $100,000 per year on their former white-collar jobs but are now working in Wal-Mart and other retail stores to earn as low as $16,000 per year.

The Yoruba have a proverb that says, “A wise lame can never be a victim of a known impending war.” As these scary developmental effects of globalization unfold on the American horizon, one can only hope that some American-based Nigerians will be wise enough to return to the drawing board to chat an appropriate future for themselves and, more importantly, their children.

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Akinremi March 27, 2006 - 5:14 pm

i feel really positive about this article. this is a pefect picture of a Nigerian's view of the United states. On a more serious note, i think every Nigerian most expecially the ones at home(Nigeria) should read this article.

Anonymous February 2, 2006 - 3:22 pm

I agree with about 75% of your comments, also I think it is good to realize that it is not only the "yoruba" that have strict disciplined regiments for their children. As Nigerians we should learn that it is definately not helpful to separate ourselves tribally…(anyways perhaps that's another war on words for another time)

I am from a very well respectable family and was brought up in Nigerian and America. My intentions upon starting my own family is to continue in my nigerian way of life. My children will not only understand about their nigerian culture, but they will most definately spend time there and appreciate their heritage.

Anonymous September 18, 2005 - 10:00 am

…A very true picture of things in general…I'm one of those after 16 years wishing I'd never left Nigeria….I've just been thinking of returning even if only partially…rather than growing old miserably in London.

Lekan August 16, 2005 - 1:28 pm

Wow! This is absolutely EXCELLENT! Where was I when this article was published

It paints a perfect picture of the situation abroad. How I wish copies of this article could be made and distributed to Nigerians at home and abroad!

Anonymous June 3, 2005 - 5:45 am

so realistic about the nigeria act


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