Major Minority

by Sola Osofisan

How many Nigerians are in America? Okay, I’ll cut short your stress. You’re probably never going to get a realistic figure. You and I know some have naturalized. Some are here under pressing conditions and wisely refuse to be counted. A handful of people are just plain paranoid about anything that has to do with governments and technology and databases and you can’t get away from that in America. Ask the Luddites.

As it is with other groups in America, Nigerians go through the daily grind of survival. Predictably, some of us have concluded there is no future in the 9-to-5 existence here (or anywhere for that matter!). The system is not designed to let most people (and the immigrant specifically) advance beyond a particular level within the corporate realm. The exception is what you call the Nigerian you see at (near?) the top of a Fortune 1000 company.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not implying Nigerians lack the acumen to excel at these levels of human endeavor. No, the exact opposite is the case. We just have to admit there are unwritten codes and invisible structures laid down to keep certain people below a certain level within the corporate corridors of America. We don’t have to belabor this point. It’s almost obvious for everyone to see. We have had stories told of some who qualify and are in line to take certain positions, but are by-passed for seemingly inexplicable reasons. These things do happen.

The immigrant in America, in spite of what we say about the opportunities abounding in this country, can only go so far collecting the usual paychecks that quickly get sucked up by mortgage, insurance, credit card payments, utilities… Why would any one want to work through the system until he qualifies for Social Security at the half-dead age of 65? Yet, this is the sort of prison-like predictability that makes America attractive. It puts food on the table. You can get your hands dirty making a living. You willingly enter the lock-up called “workforce” as soon as you graduate school to make the most of the 40-year sentence, occasionally visiting Disneyland to keep a rein on your sanity.

But there is another class of people who take their destiny by the hand and walk boldly through the dark tunnels of unpredictability. These are the enterprising Nigerians in America who launch businesses and private practices big and small, in the hope that they will one day find independence from the work-a-day existence that characterizes many American cities. They have the courage to hew out a path in the thorny jungle that is America. You know them. Doctors, lawyers, CPAs, Fashion designers, hairdressers, IT professionals, merchandisers, importers and exporters running home based businesses… You see their ads in the occasional publication. You visit their simple websites. But…do you patronize them? Are you helping keeping their dreams alive?

Personally, I tend to look for a Nigerian in any line of interest before I try others. My people are still seeking a foothold in this diverse country and lack the numbers to muster political clout. But they run little ventures all over the place. By patronizing them, I help their business grow and fortify them – by extension, strengthening the community…my community away from home.

Am I being racist? NO! Discriminatory? Maybe. That’s what every group in America does, believe me. The Whites buy from other Whites before they consider the Hispanics or Chinese or Blacks. It isn’t something people do consciously or out of conspiracy. They merely drift to their kind. Like attracts like is what they say, right? Money gets redistributed like this all the time. Consciously done or not, spreading your income among your people first will ensure their businesses see progress and expansion which will have the long-term effect of making them viable and able to promote activities and ventures that will benefit the larger community in the Diaspora someday. If that’s racism, then I stand accused.

Studies have shown that ethnic minority businesses face more obstacles than those owned by Whites. It is more difficult to penetrate long established networks that sustain other small ventures. The Nigerian’s so-called “accent” instantly makes him suspect, a victim of discrimination and stereotypes. They need all the help they can get to keep their dreams alive.

An edition of Success Magazine did an expansive story on companies servicing ethnic groups, exploring how they do it and still make money. Many, the story reveals, capitalize on the sheer communal spirit that flows sometimes within these ethnic groups. Are the businesses owned by Nigerians in America taking advantage of these feelings? Do the feelings even exist among Nigerians in America?

I have friends who insist vehemently that any business in America depending on Nigerians to survive is doomed to fail. Some of these people have been here for upward of 10 years and so have seen efforts come and go, so they probably know what they’re talking about. According to them, Nigerians don’t support anything Nigerian. We avoid one another mostly, gathering only at the occasional function. They even argue we go out of our way to promote the downfall of our kind, rubbishing any enterprise that did not expressly seek our “god fatherly” blessings before startup.

Scary territory? Well, I am a gullible one, so I continue to hope for more positive revelations someday. Truth be told, any company that places it’s fortunes in the shaky hands of any one niche group is not going to get far. No shrewd businessman anywhere should start a business solely targeting a small and widely scattered group of people anyhow. That’s just common sense. The companies don’t have to depend on the Nigerian community to survive, but the income from the community will go a long way in keeping them afloat. It makes sense for the owner of the business to look beyond Nigerians in America. But should Nigerians in America look beyond his business? Shouldn’t they take their children to the Daycare Center run by the Nigerian lady? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know some of the $3000 you just paid for the Oracle Programming classes may one day become part of the donations for a Nigerian Community Center that your children can visit to learn more about their culture and traditions ? Ah, you see my meaning?

80% of the small companies in America make less than a million dollars annually. The entrepreneurs who take their businesses to the next level stay informed. They get educated, attend workshops and market themselves at relevant events. The Nigerian business owner in America must go the extra mile, work harder and think smarter. There is no excuse for sloppy work. Impatience, greed, corner cutting… It makes sense to explore available programs, policies and funds from agencies like the Small Business Administration. Above all, a reputation for consistent quality is the way to transform today’s small business into tomorrow’s Fortune 500.

As critical as it is that we support our own, we should be selective. We shouldn’t support those who thrive on ruining others. Stay far away from Nigerians who are obviously into illegal activities. You don’t want to promote the people damaging whatever little reputation we have left in this country. I’m not asking you to judge them, but it makes sense to avoid businesses that the police could raid without warning. Take some of the Nigerian Video clubs in America for example – pirates that they are, they sell our movies here in America without remitting the producers’ share of the money to them in Nigeria. Back home, the producers wonder why they’re not making money. Out here, these pirates grow big bellies!

Number is a good thing in America. The Hispanics are suddenly commanding more attention from businesses and politicians because they are about to eclipse the reign of the Blacks in America as the most populous minority in the US. Nigerians are still far from that sort of favorable impact. We are “Black not American”, so it makes good business sense to rally around our own banks, realtors, grocery stores, car dealerships and fast food chains. As we gather to mark the coming of a new year, let’s promise to spend as much as we can of our money within our own community here in America too. It will contribute to the elevation of the Nigerian presence in America.

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Judith Jack April 6, 2011 - 7:40 pm

God will help us with a little more compassionate heart, especially towards our brethren. Personaly, I’ve never had any problem dealing with honest Nigerians.

Sabella Ogbobode Abidde March 1, 2005 - 5:02 am

No one has the exact count of Nigerians living legally, or illegally in the United States. Still, it is safe to say that if Nigerians were to congregate in a city like Minneapolis, or Seattle — that we would dominate the city in the same manner the Cubans have taken over Miami. As an aside, Nigerians now attend village meetings, instead of Nigerian-national meetings.


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