What do you get when you put a people with a thirst for education and penchant for success inside a country with a world-class education system and a vibrant economy full of opportunities? Well, Nigerian-Americans.
During a typical family get-together of Nigerian Americans, you can randomly pick out someone from the gathering. The odds are high they have a master’s degree, are a doctor, engineer, professor, a lawyer, a techie, or some other high-demand professional.
For Nigeria-Americans, getting professional qualifications has become a competition among family members. You often find parents and grandparents to boasting about how their child or grandchild has achieved an academic honor, won an athletic title, or came up top of their class.
Outright flaunting of achievements is the norm in Nigerian-American family get-togethers. It’s just a Nigerian thing to do.
This is a community where 29% of individuals aged 25-years and above have at least a graduate degree. While the national standards for adults with graduate degrees in the US stand at 11 percent, according to the Migrations Policy Institute.
37% of the Nigerian population in the US has a bachelor’s degree, and 17% have a master’s degree. Though Nigerian Americans make up less than 1% of the black people in the US, they make up 25% of black students at the Harvard Business School.
The academic achievement of the Nigerian Americans tops that of any other immigrant group to the US. Yes, they have outdone even the Asian-Americans.
If you are not a Doctor, Engineer, Lawyer, or some other professional working in a profitable industry, then you are a disgrace to your Nigerian family…
According to stats by the Migration Policy Institute, the average annual salary in the US is $50,000. However, the median annual income for Nigerian diaspora homes is $52,000. Although 35% of their homes make $90,000 annually.
Nigerians first began coming to America in waves in the 70s, following the Biafra separatist unrests in their home country back in the 60s. The government of Nigeria actively sponsored bright students to pursue higher education in universities across the US and UK.
Although the mission for the sponsorship was for the students to bring back knowledge, most of the students that went abroad for higher studies never returned. They got absorbed in the job markets in their host countries.
The fact that Nigeria was embroiled in political turmoil throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s, and till the late 90s served little to convince Nigerians abroad to come back.
The few that did come back were greeted by few to zero job opportunities, low wages, harsh political climate, a struggling economy, and a chronically corrupt system. Most of those who came back flew out shortly afterward in search of jobs in the U.S.
Dr. Jacqueline Nwando Olayiwola is a first-generation Nigerian-American born to such Nigerian immigrant parents. She was brought up in Columbus, Ohio, by an engineer mother and a professor father, who are now both retired but still engaged in teaching and consultancy careers. Dr. Jacqueline says:
“Education was always a major priority for my parents because it was their ticket out of Nigeria.”
Her parents sparked in her an interest in medicine in Dr. Jacqueline at an early age. They would encourage her to attend summits for minorities interested in joining the health care sector. Most of her years as a kid entailed doing homework, engaging in sports, and participating in biomedical research programs and the National Honor Society.
Dr. Jacqueline says her Nigerian roots meant she was expected to be on an educational path leading to a good career. Right now, she works as a family physician and is the chief clinical transformation officer of RubiconMD. She is also an associate clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco.
The rate at which Nigerians are entering the medical field is fast increasing. A good number of well-trained medical professionals are emigrating from Nigeria to the US, where they find well-paying jobs working with world-class facilities in American hospitals.
One notable medical practitioner, Dr. Bennet Omalu, also from Nigeria and was the first to discover and publish chronic traumatic encephalopathy in American football players.
Another outstanding Nigerian-American is Imelme A. Umana, who became the first Black woman to be elected as the president of the Harvard Law Review. Another milestone achiever was Pearlena Igbokwe, who became the first woman of African descent to be president of Universal Television, a major TV studio in America.
According to a 2016 survey by the American Community Survey, 45% of professionals within the Nigerian-American community work in the education sector. Majority working as professors in some of the top universities in the country.
Though the initial success stories for Nigerian-Americans pursuing the American Dream were through education, lately, they have also started to become trailblazers in sports, entertainment, and culinary arts.
A good example is Chef Tunde Wey from New Orleans, who caught public attention when he used food to highlight wealth inequalities across the different races in America.
There is an interesting story narrated by Joe Carleton on Medium, talking of a young Nigerian international, Chiasoka, who is pursuing a degree in nursing after graduating from engineering.
Chiasoka says that in her family, excellent performance in academics is not something wished for, rather the expected norm. Her achievement was okay, but not good enough to warrant her mother to grace her graduation with her presence as it is just something expected. Please note, she was among the top 10% of her graduating class.
Chiasoka says that until the day she earns a post-graduate degree, her family will see her academic achievements as something normal. Therefore, not impressed enough to attend any of her graduations unless it is for a post-graduate degree.
Most westerners would not take too kindly to such an attitude from a parent towards their child’s impressive achievements.’ However, for Chiasoka, it has become a fuel she uses to work hard to impress her mother. Though weird, this arrangement works for Nigerian parents to push their children as far up the academic ladder they can reach.
The best inheritance that a parent can give to their children is not jewelry nor any other material things, but a good education
Straight A’s and nothing less
Most Nigerians studying across universities in America are among the top of their class. They often bag academic awards and accolades for their performances in school.
A people that know how to sniff out and capitalize on opportunities
Excellence outside of the Class
Not all Nigerian-Americans will pursue academic paths leading to technical fields of work. Though that is the default choice for most Nigerian parents for their children. In recent times, Nigerians have been venturing out into arts, music, and the creative industry in general.
They still show the same zeal, tenacity, and ambition to be the best in the field. A good example is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who is a novelist (Yale graduate) who authored the New York Times Best Seller, Americanah. That book saw Adichie listed among the 2015 Time Magazine’s ‘the 100 Most Influential People.’
Another Nigerian-American who is trailblazing outside the academics field is Chiweteley Ejiofor who is in the movies industry and has featured in 12 Years a Slave as Solomon Northup. A role that got him the Academy Awards nomination for Best Actor in 2014.
The Psychology behind Nigerian-Americans success
According to research by Dr. Meg Griga and Debra Hart from the University of Massachusetts, children in homes and schools where the parents and teachers expect them to go to college often do go to college and other prestigious higher learning institutions.
It is all part of modern-day cognitive psychology that an expectation by a figure of authority to a growing child can subconsciously and ubiquitously control the child’s achievements in life.
With Nigerian parents, excellence is expected, not wished. Hence, Nigerian kids grow up knowing certain milestones must be achieved in life. When those milestones are straight A’s in class, then that is what their school report cards are going to reflect.