Nigerian Immigrants

by E. Terfa Ula-Lisa Esq

As a Nigerian missionary on furlough I attend this Nigerian church. I watch people and I feel deeply for them as I interact with them. I listen to their concerns and their prayer topics. They have been through a lot to be in the United States of America. Most have sold all they had to afford a ticket to ‘God’s own country’. Many are disillusioned by the lack of fulfillment of their promise. Many would even quit, but are too ashamed to say they never realized the promise of the Golden Fleece in the land of opportunity. Many a doctor has been seen doing janitorial work. I have seen accountants of yore driving cabs. The more perplexing are even those who went to school in the US but have not found useful employment or are under-employed. I once went to court with a lawyer, who after the court session, took off his lawyer suits to go to his regular job that did not need a suit.

At night vigils in the churches you may hear the congregants say a resounding amen when the ‘evil’ holding unto their immigration papers is being bound in the name of Jesus. In some may be the face of desperation to escape poverty, but in all is a resolute determination to hang in there until the prayers are answered and their immigration status cleared. The concerns are never strictly personal because families, even extended families, are involved. There are siblings, nieces, cousins and parents awaiting the success of the one immigrant to the land of opportunity. Sad, but, one cannot help but notice a superiority air among the holders of the blue passport vis-a-vis their green passport Brethren. The mid-way parties, are the green-card holders because they can travel in and out of the country.

I attend Monday night prayers and about half of the serious prayer concerns are to God for help in an immigration situation. During the monthly Thanksgiving Service, the loudest ‘Alleluia’ is uttered when a testimony arrives that against all odds a brother or sister has been given that magical ‘Green Card’ or had graduated from a non-person to a ‘citizen’. There is dancing and felicitation in the hope that, if it happened to Bimbo it could also happen to Jimoh. In all, the Nigerians Iencounter are determined, clean, upright and resolute in contributing to this society. They often have a first degree, speak very good English and have impeccable manners when they are not too excited. When they are excited, they may be a bit loud and boisterous. No harm, they are just enjoying fellowship in God’s own country. The question is, does God not answer the prayers of His Children who are aliens in God’s Own Country? Of course, God answers prayers, but through the agency of human reasoning and acts. Even the illegal aliens are steadfast in the belief that God has promised that He would set free the lawful captive according to his word.

In writing about Nigerians in the US, one must concede to the negative dent occasioned by the scams that have come to be known as 419. While the desperation of poverty and unemployment may have pushed some to crime, the issue of collusion of the parties to reap where they did not sow could be cured by education and the good work of law enforcement on both continents. The EFCC in working with the FBI have sent almost all but the criminal die-hards scampering. Hardwork being a national ethic of the Nigerian, the lure of easy money is lure for the unemployed or the few with criminogenic tendencies; nothing good law-enforcement cannot cure. While not excusing this crime-wave, some young persons one encounteredare of the view that it may be a way to show their disenchantment with the multinational companies that dominate the oil industry in Nigeria without a resultant effect on their daily lives.

Immigration Reform

For a very long time the issue of immigration Reform has been on the front burner in the policies of this present government. Right from the beginning of the present government of George W. Bush, there was talk of Immigration Reform. Most of the Nigerian Immigrant population welcomed it and looked forward to regularizing their stay. Most Nigerian Immigrants with a very religious background are naturally socially conservative, so when the present US government tagged itself as ‘Compassionate Conservatives’ they thought they could align with that. The ‘No Child Left Behind’ educational policy also resonated well with them, seeing as they love children as well as education for themselves and their children. The Nigerian immigrant community is therefore confused as to why a self-described ‘Compassionate Conservative’ cannot pass an immigration law that would reflect those good values after many attempts. Since most Africans still perceive issues in black/white or up/down, they are perplexed as to why the socially conservative politicians would be the ones hardest to convince regarding the plight of the immigrants whether legal or illegal. Regarding the role of the organized church or Christians as individuals, I wish to quote the words of Amy (a real or cyber personality) as follows:

“the church ought to be more engaging in their denunciation of injustice, exploitation and oppressive regimes. Christ, for one, spoke out against Herod’s illegitimate government and had no soft words for those that oppressed the poor and needy for personal gain. During the civil rights movement in the States, black churches contributed immensely to the dismantling of institutionalized racism in America.”

I don’t think surrendering to the will of God translates to uncritically accepting prevalent socio-political realities as our lot without a struggle. If Christians, for instance, are admonished to be the salt of the earth, it follows from that logic that they should forcefully denounce illegalities, injustice and the political stagnation”.

The time to tackle such bi-partisan issue of Immigration would be now. This is because the Congress has reverted to the Democratic Party who although more liberal, have a history of being more disposed to immigrants. Nigerian Christians especially wonder how a party whose policy is dominated by the Christian Right would take a harder line posture regarding immigration issues. Could their acts of kindness whilst abroad as missionaries not extend to the homeland? is the unasked question on the expectant faces of the Brethren; more so, as the good book enjoins all to be kind to the Alien in your midst. Also in view of the bilateral relationship between the two countries working especially regarding the African diplomacy and peace keeping efforts, the two nations should find it easy to collaborate. It would be easier too to convince Nigerian governments to a mutual beneficial relationship in the Gulf of Guinea if their nationals have easy access to and from the US. The US government too gains from the immigration of Nigerians because of the already trained workforce as well as the natural work-ethic of the average Nigerian who is forever upward-mobile, besides contribution to the social security net of the economy by a younger workforce.

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Chris September 3, 2010 - 8:12 pm

Africa does not need mercy but creativity and innovation. The African system of education which emphasizes memorization over innovation is problematic and erases economic and political gains in the continent. It is unpardonable that Africa with all her human capital and resources remains poor. Therefore, migration to developed nations provide only short and not long term solutions and cannot in the foreseeable future solve the problems of the continent.


Chris September 3, 2010 - 7:43 pm

The article stated “Hello. I am an African American woman who recently married a Nigerian man.”

What point did the writer attempt to underscore? What was the intended target audience? What source of reference or studies back up purported claims? I sense an air of cultural superiority on display from the writer. Evidenced was the poor narrative of visit to Nigeria which I deemed subjective. That said African-Americans are in no better shape than poorer Africans living on the continent. For a minute the post appeared condescending and subjective. Correction; The writer does Africa no favors by marrying a Nigerian and may not possess the set of skills, body of knowledge and cognitive capacity to defend Nigerians or Africans in any quantifiable scope.


Chris September 3, 2010 - 7:09 pm

The response was well articulated and showed why those variables had no relationships.

Cillaty Daboh April 20, 2010 - 5:28 pm


I am a Daboh but from Sierra Leone. While I agree with most of what you have said, I completly disagree with you on the educational standard visa vis USA and Nigeria or Sierra Leone. The reason why it owuld take four years in America vs three years in Nigeria to get an RN degree is not about quality but quantity as in the case of the US.

In the uS a nursing student is asked to take classes that are not only not remotely connected to nursing but something he/she will never remember the day after he/she takes exams in that subject.

The fact remains that theses usless calsses which keeps you in school for four years vs three years are there not not for intallectual enrichment but for one thing only- to make money. Period.

You’ll agree with me that the real nursing classes taught here takes no more than two and half years. I know this because I have paid for two.

olu soji May 23, 2008 - 9:25 pm


I remember you from activism at the Lagos Bar!Surprised you left for the States without telling anyone!Hope they are no longer harrasing you.If you ever wish to get back to practice in Lagos ,you are most Welcome as a talented Son of Nigeria.

Reply May 21, 2007 - 6:26 am

Thank you very much, Patricia Daboh for that reassurance.Your letter is like a cold water on dry throat. I had wanted to stop filing an admission form to Indiana University for an M F A in creative writing after going the scary letter from that lawyer.I think I will continue with the form now.This place suffocating.Thanks again.

E.Terfa Ula-Lisa May 15, 2007 - 10:09 am

Patricia Daboh:

Would you by any chance be marrying from the famous Daboh of Godwin Daboh? (Just an aside).

Thanks for contributing. It was not my thesis that a Nigerian thinks his problems would be obliterated once in American soil. I reiterate that it would pay both nations to make for an easy way of passage for their citizens because they profess such strategic partnership…British citizens for instance did not need a visa for a 90 day visit to the USA…because of their relationship. I understand that if you are ten years resident in England, you have an automatic path to citizenship all other things considered.

GW's GOP government had both the Houses of Congress as well as the White House and claimed to be compasionate in words but not in deeds…someone needs to tell them that…and I just did.

Africans are poor…etc, should bring out the compassion in one who wants to help them, not scorn and rebuff…When Nigeria was good, many did not want to travel, if they did, they just shopped and came back home…

Have mercy on the poor immigrants like the Bible says is my call to the GOP.

Reply May 14, 2007 - 8:52 pm

Hello. I am an African American woman who recently married a Nigerian man. He and my stepson will be joining me in the states shortly (prayerfully next month). You know, no one said that merely by coming to the United States all your problems would disappear, and one would walk on the "streets of gold" for the rest of their life. The United States, along with countries, have good and bad aspects about them. Now I was in Lagos, Nigeria and its surrounding countryside for two weeks. And I will tell you that the level of poverty that I saw with my eyes was shocking! I did not know that people live like that in 2007. Yes, we have poverty in the United States, but not the degree and not in such large numbers as I saw in Lagos, Nigeria. When people live like that from day to day, they will pray to God to allow them to get a Visa and come to a land that has much more opportunity (presently) than their poverty situation that they contend with daily. I was born in America, and my doctor is from Nigeria. I have Nigerian friends (Yoruba), who hold very good jobs at the local hospital. Why do some Nigerians come to America and cannot obtain jobs that match their degrees, talents, and skills? Perhaps it is because they do not come with their degrees in hand. In addition, perhaps the credits that were earned from colleges or universities there do not match the required credits that we have here for the same Associate, Bachelor, or Doctorate degree. My Nigerian niece is a nurse, and when I asked her how long did it take her to go to college to get her nursing degree, she said three years. In America, it takes on average four years to become a registered nurse. If one is a LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) that degree takes two years. We do not have a nursing degree that is equivalent to three years. So there may be a problem of matching up credits to give proper credit. Even Americans have this problem (not years difference but credit difference depending on the course taken) when they change from one college to another. The United States will not solve anyone's problem, but from looking at the poverty level, lack of free education opportunities for ALL Nigerian children, open corruption (I say open, for we have corruption here too, but no practiced that openly); and violence (as was evidenced during the recent elections), no wonder Christians, and non-Christian Nigerians alike cry out during church services asking God to bless them with a Visa. I would too if I were Nigerian and felt that my life was not changing or would not change if I lived it out in that country.

I told my husband do not think that America will solve all your problems, for it will not. One thing that I tell him continually is that he will have more opportunities in America, and have the "potential" to earn more money than he does now.

I am a teacher; therefore, I am very aware of the "No Child Left Behind", I wish that would be adopted by Nigeria, for I saw many children whose parents/guardians could not afford school fees and resorted to begging on a daily basis. That, to me, is very sad when education and the opportunity for a successful future go hand-in-hand.

As far as passing laws, the battle is always going on whether it is a law dealing with Immigration or something else. All I know is that I think it is good to allow Nigerians, and anybody else the opportunity to come to the United States to at least try to pursue a dream in a place where they feel will potentially help them have a better future.

I must admit that I did notice the superior attitude of those (such as myself but not me in particular) casrrying blue Visas as compared to those who carried a green one. I wish that was not the case, but I can only keep my heart filled with love for all people, for I cannot control the way some blue carrying Visa holders look down on the green Visa holders. I wish that was not the case (after all my husband and stepson will carry a green Visa).

I am very protective of Nigeria and Nigerians in particular. I have fought many battles about the decision I made to marry a Nigerian man from family and friends. No one approved at first . and others are still waiting to see if it will fail . . I feel as though I am part American and part Nigerian, for the love of Nigeria does flow through my heart . . . .

Anonymous May 14, 2007 - 7:56 am



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