Surprise as American media celebrates Nigeria-Americans

Black VC in America 2By Uche Onyebadi

IT is not often that Nigeria or indeed any developing nation gets applauded in the Western media. The issue has to be undeniably and incredibly worthy of celebration for it to be given space or airtime in the press. Such is the case of Kenya’s Lupita Amondi Nyong’o whose sterling performance in 12 Years a Slave earned her an Oscar. Same with Nigeria’s Okey Ndibe whose latest novel, Foreign Gods Inc., has been receiving some acclaim in the U.S. press.

 You can imagine my refreshing experience when I tuned to CNN a few weeks ago and saw a news anchor and his guests mentioning Nigeria in a positive manner and saluting the achievements of her citizens in the U.S. At about the same time, several newspapers and other media outlets in the country did the same thing. And for once, the heinous activities of the sadistic Boko Haram faceless militants took the back seat in news reports about Nigeria.

Here is the issue that made my day. Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld are husband and wife. Both are Americans and professors at the prestigious Harvard University. Recently, they conducted a study and came out with a book titled The Triple Package: What really determines success. The couple was on CNN to explain their work and book. And their main argument is that some ethnic and religious groups in America are remarkably more enterprising and disproportionately more achievement-oriented than the rest of the populace.

Sense of achievement.

The ethnic groups are members of the immigrant communities in the U.S. which they boldly asserted, include Nigerians. In short, the authors claim that the groups are imbued with some internal psychological zest and sense of achievement which propels them to achieve, achieve and over-achieve success.

Of course, the book has been generating a great deal of controversy. But, here are some of the claims they put forward to substantiate their claims, in reference to Nigeria. This is how a New York Times article reported the story: “Nigerians make up less than one percent of the black population in the United States, yet in 2013 nearly one-quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School were of Nigerian ancestry; over a fourth of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional degree, as compared with only about 11 percent of whites…” Another article in the Miami Herald put it this way: “Nigerian-American students attend elite U.S. universities at a rate about 10 times their percentage of the population. About 25 percent of Nigerian-American households make more than $100,000 a year, compared to less than 11 percent of black households as a whole…… Many Nigerians come to the United States on student visas, which means they’re far more likely to have college degrees.”

Truth told, you really don’t need to read any book to tell you about the good work people of Nigerian origin are doing in the U.S. and other countries around the world. You can hardly visit any metropolitan area in the U.S. without getting to know about the phenomenal works of Nigerians dwelling there. And, you cannot but wonder: why this phenomenon? I can’t claim to have the answers. But, one thing is clear: the Nigerians who are performing at their optimum here in the U.S. simply have the opportunity to do so. The system provides them with the wherewithal to excel, and taps their productive capacities to make the U.S. a great country. For instance, while our government is using its sledgehammer to whip university lecturers into line and diminishing their potential in the process, the U.S. environment does the opposite and reaps huge rewards on their investment.

I was once at a swearing-in ceremony for immigrants who had just acquired U.S. citizenship, and was astonished at the array of professional integrity of the people being sworn-in. In other words, the U.S. government actively welcomes citizens of other nations with impeccable credentials to come in and contribute towards making the U.S. greater than it is. Yet, successive governments in Nigeria have done the opposite! Don’t we call it the brain-drain? How does a country make significant progress when its corporate brain is being drained?

Just a few weeks ago, the New York-based Carnegie Institute came up with a brilliant plan to reverse the brain-drain that is adversely afflicting Africa. The plan is to send African intellectuals and academicians in the U.S. and Canada for fairly short-term professional work in universities in their mother continent. That way, the brain-drain is turned into brain-circulation.

African governments, Nigeria leading the way, should adopt this type of measure. But first, they should empower the “brains” at home so that they can maximize their productivity for the benefit of the countries. If some researchers at Harvard University have proof that Nigerians in the U.S. rank among the most success-driven groups in the country, is it not a shame that those Nigerians had to leave in the first place due to an inclement environment that chokes human productivity?

I even wonder if anyone near (not to talk of inside) Aso Rock has heard of this study that demonstrates and celebrates the potentials in Nigerians in the U.S. They are probably busy dividing the spoils of office and sharpening how to edge their opponents out of power, to notice that Nigerians in the U.S. are being praised for their sense of hard work and sterling performance in their various walks of life.



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