Immigration, Diaspora, and Transnational Communities.

A Detailed Analysis on Political Economy of Nigeria and Nigerians Immigration to the West


There is no incontrovertible evidence/data for pre-20th Century Nigerian immigration to the USA since undocumented alien information cannot be fully captured.  Nigeria was not a clearly identifiable nation until 1914 when the Northern and Southern Protectorates of the Niger, created by the British in 1900, were amalgamated with the colony (created in the late 19th Century).  Previously, many of the territories’ peoples were enslaved and transported to the “New World”.  

During British colonization of Nigeria (1914-1960), since education was unavailable in the colony, a few Nigerians sought education in Great Britain, fewer to America.  This depended on family wealth, information and/or donations from extended families and/or villages, with expectations that those educated would help others do likewise.  The trickle of students to America increased, intensifying after the Second World War. Changes in immigration laws in 1965 caused increased immigration. Nigerians flowed into America for education and refuge during the civil war (1967-70); and during the military dictatorships in the 1980s-90s.  More now migrate for education, and employment. Today, the number of Nigerian immigrants to America is high compared with other Africans, but minuscule as a percentage of total immigration.  

Most Nigerian immigrants could be considered economic “refugees” from the mid 1980s, when the economic downturn was compounded by the non-effectiveness of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) devised as a solution.  Unlike previously, many entertained permanent immigration, entering immigration lotteries; leaving “by any means necessary” for informal economy work either temporarily, or permanently, and being trafficked. Some took menial jobs while others combined their studies with work.  Nigeria has contributed skilled technical and professional experts, clergy, and service sector workers to the American labor force.   


17th Century to 1900: West and Central African peoples (including today’s Nigeria) transported to the New World in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. 

1900:  Informal British colonization began.  

1914: Formal colonization began.  Nigeria was named by Flora Shaw, future wife of first Governor General.  A few people came to America for education. Most returned home upon completion. 

1945-1965:  The end of the Second World War and intensified nationalism caused more Nigerians to seek higher education abroad.  Most returned home to participate in anti-colonial struggle.

1965-1970:  Biafran War.  Refugee settlement throughout America; Scholarship students during oil boom years, (1960s -1970s).

1970-1985:  More sought higher education but not permanent immigration returned home to good jobs. Those fleeing coups d’etat and political turmoil stayed temporarily. 

1985-1999 Some sought refugee status to escape persecution under military regimes. Intensified economic crisis meant more stayed after education and sought permanent immigration.

1985-present:  Increased desire for out-migration for economic and political reasons.   More sought American citizenship. 


Geography of Nigeria

Nigeria has a huge population, valuable natural resources, fertile land, and few natural disasters (Okome 2006).  Nigeria’s population is 148 million (2008). The 2007 population growth rate was 2.2%. The country has over 400 ethnic groups.  The numerically largest are the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, and Kanuri. The land area is 923.8 thousand sq. km. (356,700 sq. mi.).  Nigeria is divided into three natural parts by the Niger and Benue rivers, which meet in its center and flow into the Atlantic, through a delta, the source of most of the petroleum and gas.  Nigeria has 36 states, a Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) It is divided into six geopolitical zones, and 774 Local Government Areas.  

On December 12, 1991, Abuja, (estimated population: 452,000) became the capital, replacing overcrowded Lagos (capital from 1914 amalgamation, estimated population, 9.01m).  Other major Nigerian cities include Kano in the North, (population 9.3 million), Ibadan in the Southwest, (estimated population: 5 million), and Enugu in the Southeast (population approximately 500,000).  Average life expectancy in 2006 was approximately 47 years.

Nigeria’s terrain is diversified.  The southern coastal zone has mangrove swamps, changing in the hinterland, into tropical forests, open woodlands, grasslands, and arid semi-desert zone in the north.  Highlands include Jos Plateau, (1,200-2,400 meters above sea level) and mountains on the Cameroonian border. Annual rainfall ranges from 381 cm. in the coast to 64 cm. or less in the north (U.S. Department of State n.d.)  

History of Nigeria 

Nigeria was described by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a nationalist leader, as “a mere geographical expression.”  This is apt, given the extraordinary ethnic, regional, and religious diversity of its peoples, and their non-consultation before the British forced them together.  Conflicts were almost inevitable, particularly given the great inequality between the north and south in economic and educational development and the great urban-rural disparity.  

Nigeria’s history is rich.  It was named on January 8, 1897, when Flora Shaw, future wife of Frederick Lugard, Nigeria’s first governor general under British colonization, suggested this derivative from River Niger.  To the north, Kano and Katsina existed before 1000 CE. Hausa City States and the Bornu Empire, were trans-Saharan trade terminals. By the 19th century, Usman dan Fodio, a Fulani leader made a jihad to renew and rid Islam of Hausa and Fulani superstitions and indigenous practices.  Islam was imposed on surrounding peoples. Soon, northern Nigeria was controlled by the Sokoto Caliphate. In the southwest were Ile Ife, ancestral birthplace of the Yoruba, and the magnificent and powerful, politically strong Oyo Empire, established around 1400 CE, extending to today’s Togo during the 17th to 19th centuries.  

In south central Nigeria, the Benin Kingdom was powerful by the 15th and 16th centuries, with a powerful army, a grand court, and skilled artists who produced outstanding ivory, wood, bronze, and brass artwork.  European contact intensified from the 17th to 19th centuries, when demand for slaves brought them to Nigeria’s coastland. As the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade ended, the “legitimate trade,” began. Nonetheless, slave labor was used in Africa to gather or produce commodities like palm oil as raw materials for European factories during the industrial revolution. 

Nigeria also had some acephalous (without central authority) people, like Southeastern Igbos and Middle Belt Tivs, where all adult males made decisions by consensus.  Igbo heritage includes Igbo Ukwu culture, with bronze, copper and clay artifacts from the 9th Century.  Nok culture emerged around 1000 BCE in today’s Jos Plateau, a Tiv area renowned for its life-sized terracotta sculptures.  It had iron and metal technology from around 500 BCE. This sophisticated, well organized culture with similar artifacts to Benin and Ife’s disappeared mysteriously.

The coming of the Europeans:  From “Legitimate Trade” to Colonialism

Imperialism propelled European states to sponsor exploration of potential sources of monopolistic profitable, exploitative trade worldwide.  The Portuguese arrived first in the 15th Century.  The British and Dutch became dominant.  By the 18th Century, the British pushed into the hinterland.  A British sphere of influence was internationally recognized in 1885.  The Niger Company was granted a royal charter to trade. By 1900, its territories were appropriated by the British Government.  To prevent other Europeans’ encroachment, Britain strengthened their dominion, finalized through the 1914 amalgamation. Western education was provided to a few men, who became low level colonial employees.  Since pioneer missionary schools favored Christian converts in admission, communities in Southern Nigeria established more schools, some for girls. Southern Nigeria more readily embraced Western education, modern capitalist economy and Christianity than Northern Nigeria where the Sokoto Caliphate had imperial control and could negotiate more hands-off colonial policy.  

Anti-colonial agitation was constant, intensifying after the Second World War.  Nigerian British army conscripts joined nationalists to demand political representation, social welfare and respect for Nigerian culture. Radical nationalists demanded immediate, full independence.  Britain responded by granting incremental rights in undemocratic legislative councils. Eventually, self-government (the Northern elites’ demand), began on October 1, 1954, and full independence on October 1, 1960.  Nigeria became a federal republic in October 1963, under a new constitution.  

Independent Nigeria was a federation with three regions, (Northern, Western, and Eastern) each with some autonomy.  The Midwest region was established 1963, making four regions. The federal government controlled defense, security, foreign relations, commerce, and fiscal policies in a British parliamentary system.  

Soon after independence, a cycle of coups d’etat began.  On January 15, 1966 a coup was led by Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and predominantly Southeastern Nigerian army officers, majority of them Igbos.  Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s and the Premiers of the Western and Northern regions were assassinated. Soon, more senior officers took over, and Major General Aguiyi Ironsi, an Igbo, became the Head of State.  

Ethnic tensions escalated.  The new regime attempted to replace the federal system with a unitary one, generating tremendous resistance and eventually, a coup in July 1966.  General Yakubu Gowon, a Tiv from Nigeria’s Middle Belt became head of state. In the north, trouble erupted when thousands of Igbos were massacred and many flooded back to Southeastern Nigeria.  Perceived unfairness in revenue allocation and access to petroleum export earnings also fuelled strong secessionist desires. 

Gowon created twelve states (North-Western State, North-Eastern State, Kano State, North-Central State, Benue-Plateau State, Western State, Lagos State, Mid-Western State, West Central State, and, out of the old Eastern Region, Rivers State, South-Eastern State, East-Central State) from four regions on May 5, 1967.  South-Eastern and Rivers States were not Igbo areas, and contained Nigerian oil reserves.  Predominantly Igbo East-Central State was landlocked and denied access to the sea. Constitutional revisions were proposed that Igbos found as objectionable as new state creation.  Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, military governor of the Eastern region demanded its full autonomy. The Federal military government uncompromisingly rejected the demand, and peace negotiations in Aburi, Ghana failed.  On May 30 1967, Ojukwu declared the “Republic of Biafra’s” independence in the former Eastern region. A destructive and bloody civil war ensued, ending on January 13 1970, when Biafrans surrendered. Biafran refugees fled abroad.  Complaints of marginalization by Igbos continue today by the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).

Post-civil war Nigeria was awash in petroleum revenue, particularly after the 1970s Arab-Israeli war.  Economic development was declared the foremost priority but most Nigerians experienced no material improvement.  Profligacy and massive corruption thrived, fueling popular disenchantment. When General Murtala Mohammed led a bloodless coup on July 29, 1975, he was hailed as a patriot.  Mohammed announced a timetable for return to civilian rule by October 1, 1979.  

The regime fired thousands of federal civil servants and hired new personnel (creating bureaucratic chaos).  It promised to create new states and move the capital from overcrowded and ill-planned Lagos to more central Abuja.  On February 13, 1976, Murtala Mohammed was assassinated. Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, erstwhile Chief of Staff became the Head of State.  Obasanjo attempted armed forces modernization and reorganization and economic nationalism. On February 3 1976, seven new states were created; with twelve more on August 27 1991.  By 1st October 1996, Nigeria had 36 states and one Federal Capital Territory.

The Second Republic 

Plans began from 1977 for a new constitution that was published on September 21, 1978.  The ban on political activity ended. Five political parties competed in the 1979 elections.  All won National Assembly seats. Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), a Hausa from Northern Nigeria was elected president.  In August 1983, the NPN won the elections, in a “landslide” victory, giving it a National Assembly majority and power over 12 state governments. Both the 1979 and 1983 elections were rigged.  The 1983 elections were plagued by violence, massive rigging and chicanery. There were many legal challenges of the results, but the NPN maintained its dominance.  

Another Military Coup: Buhari, 1983-1985

By December 31, 1983, Major General Muhammadu Buhari overthrew Shagari’s government in a military coup, ending the Second Republic.  The junta expressed most Nigerians’ views when it accused Shagari’s government of economic incompetence, endemic corruption, political shenanigans, and total abdication of state responsibility for Nigerians’ welfare.  The Buhari regime promised speedy economic advancement, and a quick return to civilian rule. Nigeria had intractable economic problems. The Shagari administration, had sought balance of payments relief from the IMF, but rejected the recommended harsh deflationary policies.  The Buhari regime’s negotiations with the IMF also failed. Attempts to swap oil for commodities with other developing nations failed. Most western businesses stopped doing business with Nigeria without the IMF guarantee. The regime was also draconian toward opposition, and political resistance grew.  

Palace Coup:  Babangida, 1985-1993

The Buhari regime was overthrown in an August 1985 coup, also dubbed the IMF coup, led by its third-ranking member, Army Chief of Staff, Major General Ibrahim Babangida.  Babangida, because of his adroit political moves, is called “Maradona,” (named for Diego Maradona, the former Argentinean footballer (soccer player) who gained notoriety for pushing a soccer ball into the goal with his hand during a 1986 World Cup match between England and Argentina.  Maradona claimed that the hand of God was responsible). The regime declared an economic emergency, imposed across-the board pay cuts, banned staple food imports and orchestrated a national debate on whether an IMF loan should be taken. Given widespread opposition to the IMF loan, Babangida imposed a “home-grown” program (drawn up with substantial input from the World Bank, whose strategies were identical to the IMF’s) without taking the loan.  Nigerians felt tricked. Opposition grew among intellectuals, university students, and professional organizations. Many were summarily jailed for being anti-government.

Sapped Transition: Stillborn Third Republic

By 1989, Nigeria had a new constitution.  Political party formation began. Allegedly, mid-level officers attempted an abortive coup in April 1990.  After secret trials by military tribunals, 69 people were condemned to death and executed. There were elections (local government, December 1990); governorship and state legislative elections (December 1991).  Babangida abruptly canceled the 1992 Presidential primaries, charging widespread fraud. A presidential election took place on June 12, 1993 after the regime banned political parties, forming and imposing two political parties on Nigerians –the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC).  Babangida declared, one as “a little bit to the left” and the other, “a little bit to the right”.  

The June 12 Presidential election is widely considered Nigeria’s freest and fairest. M.K.O. Abiola, a multi-millionaire Yoruba businessman was indicated as winning in early returns, but the Babangida regime annulled the election on June 23.  Riots and demonstrations erupted in the streets. Many lives were lost. Babangida announced that he was “stepping aside.”  

A fleeting Transition:  Shonekan, August 27-November 17 1993

On August 27, Babangida, promising new elections in February 1994, handed over power to an Interim National Government led by Ernest Shonekan, a Yoruba businessman.  Shonekan could not handle Nigeria’s economic and political problems.

Brutal Dictatorship: Abacha, 1993-1998

General Sani Abacha, the Defense Minister, seized power and ejected Shonekan on November 17, 1993, imposing military rule.  Abacha’s coup was embraced by most Nigerians, but disillusionment was swift. A pro-democracy movement developed, coalescing into the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), spearheading opposition to the regime, demanding democracy, supported by Western democracies, and Nigerian Diaspora groups.

Abacha initiatives including the May 1994 elections for a Constitutional Conference were overwhelmingly rejected.  Abiola, supported by NADECO, declared his presidency on June 11, 1994, but fearing assassination, fled Nigeria. Upon returning on June 23, he was arrested and jailed.  The pro-democracy opposition strengthened, supported by unions including the powerful union of petroleum workers, which went on strike. Abacha dismissed national union leaders, banned professional associations, jailed critics, muzzled the press, and suppressed all opposition, including critics like Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni eight who were sentenced to death by hanging by a military tribunal.  Despite widespread domestic and international appeals, the Ogoni environmental activists were executed in November 1995. Nigeria became a pariah state internationally. International sanctions were imposed. Abacha alleged in 1995 that 40 military officers and civilians plotted his overthrow. Included were retired Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, former military head of state and deputy, numerous human rights activists, and journalists.  A secret tribunal convicted, and sentenced many to death.  

Abacha planned to become a civilian president.  On October 1, 1995, he announced a three-year transition.  Widely considered a sham, below 10% participated in the local government elections in December 1997 and state assembly and governorship elections in April 1998.  All five Abacha-regime approved political parties—the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), Grass Roots Democratic Movement (GDM) Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) Congress for National Consensus (CNC) National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN)—nominated him as presidential candidate (BBC News I; II; III; IV, 1998).  Nigeria was declared most corrupt in the world by Transparency International (BBC News IV, 1998). There was much relief and jubilation when Abacha died allegedly of a heart attack on June 8, 1998.  

Another Transition: Abdulsalami Abubakar, 1998-1999

General Abdulsalami Abubakar was drafted to lead another transition.  Most political detainees were released and there was a declared commitment to end human rights abuses. In August 1998, the regime appointed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to run elections from December 1998 to February 1999.  General Olusegun Obasanjo, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), newly released from prison, won the presidential election. There were numerous complaints about electoral malpractices, and Chief Olu Falae, the Presidential candidate for the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All People’s Party (APP), who allegedly lost, challenged the results.

The 1979 constitution previously suspended after the Buhari coup was rehabilitated and dubbed the 1999 Nigerian constitution.  The federal system established by the constitution had an American style executive branch with a strong President. The Nigerian National Assembly has two chambers, a Senate with 109 members and a House of Representatives with 360.  Reforms began to ensure judicial independence. The inauguration of the president and beginning of Nigeria’s fourth republic was scheduled for May 29, 1999.  

General Obasanjo returns to power as a two-time civilian President in the 4th Republic, 1999-2007 

Many Nigerians were euphoric when the Obasanjo administration began, believing that the economic and democratic dividends of democracy were imminent.  Many considered Obasanjo a firm believer in democracy committed to ending human rights abuses.

Nigeria’s military was restive and discontented; its bureaucracy inefficient and corrupt, infrastructure decayed, and population oppressed by long-term economic crisis and political repression. The administration rationalized and reorganized the military, and charged the Oputa Commission with investigating human rights abuses.  Many Nigerians languishing in detention without trial were released and past military regimes’ economic policies rigorously scrutinized. There were efforts to recover funds secreted away in foreign bank accounts by the Abachas.

Nigerian democratic space expanded with greater freedom of the press, and attempts to operate a system of checks and balances.  This was evident in disagreements between the legislature and executive over revenue allocation formulas and budget appropriations.  There were also tensions between Federal and state governments over access to resources.

Nigeria grappled with slow economic recovery and conflict over access to resources in communities where combined religious intolerance and disputes between indigenes and newcomers generated conflict.  Amendments to the 1999 constitution and a sovereign national conference to determine the country’s future were demanded. Many soon became disenchanted with the Obasanjo administration over the military-type tactics used to quell uprisings, for example, the army deployment to attack Odi, a town in Bayelsa State to avenge the killing of twelve policemen by an Odi group in November 1999.  Numerous lives were lost and much property destroyed. Religious uprisings include the May 1999 Emirate succession dispute as well as bloody demonstrations against the adoption of Shar’ia from February to May 2000, the latter causing over 1,000 deaths in Kaduna State. There was retaliation in Ibadan and Sagamu in Southwestern and in Southeastern Nigeria where hundreds of Hausa lost their lives.  Jos in the Middle Belt experienced religious conflict causing over 2,000 deaths in September 2001. In October ethnic conflict erupted in Benue, Taraba, and Nassarawa. Hundreds of lives were lost and thousands rendered homeless. The Obasanjo administration appointed the National Security Commission on October 1, 2001, to investigate these conflicts.  

In 2003, the first elections under a civilian administration in the fourth republic were conducted.  Obasanjo and the PDP won implausible landslide victories that were widely condemned. The elections were violence-prone, and election tribunals confronted massive caseloads generated by challenges to the elections.  Many results were invalidated.  

The Obasanjo administration faced disputes over the Niger Delta’s decrepit infrastructural and environmental status and growing violence and insecurity.  Armed ethnic militias engaged in interethnic conflicts, but the situation continued until oil installations were attacked and foreign employees of multinational oil companies were kidnapped.  The situation escalated with kidnappings of wealthy Nigerians, particularly politicians and their relatives. The government established the Niger Delta Development Commission in 2000 to replace the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission, established in 1992.  Neither responded effectively to complaints about environmental degradation, nor to pent-up desire for development. Violence continues to date. 

Instead of gracefully serving out his second term and leaving office, Obasanjo aggressively sought constitutional amendment for a third term. Attempts to push this through the National Assembly were vigorously resisted and in May 2006, defeated.

Second post-Authoritarian Elections of the 4th Republic—2007: Yar’Adua Administration

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was charged with organizing and conducting the 2007 elections.  Over thirty-five political parties participated in governorship and state assembly elections on April 14; and Presidential and National Assembly elections on April 21, 2007.  The elections were deeply flawed. Violence, intimidation, rigging and other malpractices were rife. Challenges were mounted by the major parties, against the governorship elections results in 34 states. 1,527 petitions were brought before the Court of Appeals, compared with 527 in 2003.  Many results were overturned by election tribunals, and incumbent governors, legislators and local government officials thrown out. The presidential elections were also challenged, albeit unsuccessfully. On December 12, 2008, in a 4-3 vote, the Nigerian Supreme Court declared the presidential election results as valid.  

INEC was widely condemned for non-transparency, incapacity to conduct elections, lack of autonomy from incumbents, and politicizing the elections. INEC certified that the PDP won over 70% of the votes in the presidential elections, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, former governor of Katsina state, and brother to Obasanjo’s second-in-command when he was a military head of state was declared winner.  However, Yar’Adua also agreed that the elections were deeply flawed and appointed a Constitutional Review, and Election Review Committee. Although highly suspect, Nigerians accepted the transition, fearing a military coup. Obasanjo handed over to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on May 29, 2007. 

Patricia Olubunmi Etteh (PDP) made history as the first woman Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives.  However, her term was short-lived. By October 2007, she was forced to resign over allegations of abuse of office and misappropriation of funds;  after a legislative impasse, conflict within the National Assembly and widespread public demands. Dimeji Bankole (PDP) took over as Speaker.  

Legislative and judicial autonomy have coexisted with policy drift and rootlessness.  The executive branch’s problems include the Niger Delta violence, ethno-religious conflicts, flawed elections, and sluggish economy.  The administration declared its commitment to the rule of law but no institutional reforms are forthcoming. From August 6, 2009, there were unsuccessful amnesty and job-creation programs for demobilized Niger Delta armed militia members (Olukoya 2009).

With a serious kidney ailment, President Yar’Adua was sickly.  A constitutional crisis erupted due to Yar’Adua’s mysterious absence for nearly 60 days, and lack of transparency on his medical condition and whereabouts.  Allegedly in Saudi Arabia, Yar’Adua neglected to hand over power to Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan. A Yar’Adua interview on BBC caused further confusion and after lawsuits demanding respect for constitutional provisions and/or Yar’Adua’s resignation, a letter was produced informing the National Assembly that he was on vacation.  The Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, was sworn in as interim President on Monday, February 8. Nigerians doubted that Yar’Adua recovered. Finally, on May 5, 2010 his death was announced. Jonathan was sworn in as President.  

II Causes and waves of migration

The peoples of today’s Nigeria were among the enslaved Africans transformed into an undifferentiated mass in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  In the 18th and 19th Centuries, about 10 million African slaves were brought to America.  Enslaved Africans and indentured servants, including the abolitionist, Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa), and an “Ibo Negro fellow” in James City prison mentioned in a Williamsburg, Virginia advertisement were transported from Nigeria to America.  (Williamsburg VA Slave Notice 1766, n.d.). They were transported predominantly through ports in Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina, subsequently purchased by land and business owners who scattered them throughout the country (Library of Congress, African American Immigration n.d.).  

Both when America allowed free non-Asian inflows and after the 1924 Immigration Act when national origin immigration quotas were legally mandated, few Nigerians came to America.  Immigration laws discriminated against Blacks, due to institutionalized segregation and racism. Nigeria was under British colonization (1914 until 1960), and few Nigerians could migrate.    

 The second wave (1945-1965) saw increased migration but Britain remained the favored destination.  A third wave responded to political turmoil and economic crisis, dating from the Biafran war when Igbo refugees came to America, through the 1980s when deep economic crises and harsh SAP policies, imposed by the IMF and World Bank, pushed Nigerians out.  From 1979-1983, military dictatorships produced flows of political and economic refugees. Some Nigerians came to America after winning the Diversity Lottery, or as health care professionals (whose skills are in high demand, and could secure immigrant visas).  Undocumented immigrants also come “by any means necessary”. With democratically elected governments since 1999, out-migration has coexisted with return immigration by politicians and businessmen/women.  

Immigration Act of 1965 and succeeding legislation

Before the 1965 Immigration Act, restrictions against non-European immigrants to America foreclosed emigration to Africans.  Most Nigerians emigrated for education and after graduation, promptly returned home. Between 1965 and 1986, the numbers of Nigerian immigrants increased slowly.  Most came for higher education, with some sponsored by the government. Many professionals, particularly in the medical and ancillary fields came to America (Baird-N’Diaye 1997).

Refugee status was automatically extended to people fleeing from Communist regimes, and Nigerians were not so classified.  Nigerian refugees first came to America before the country’s civil war (July 6 1967 to January 15 1970). The Nigerian Civil War/Biafran War refugees raised funds for relief efforts in the war zone.  Many stayed and now live all over the country, for example, in the Chicago metropolitan area (Cogan and Ibe n.d.).  

Later, those fleeing draconian military regimes and political tensions came in larger numbers after each coup d’etat.  The successful coups occurred in January and July 1966, July 1975, December 1983, August 1985, and November 1993. Due to the brutal dictatorships of General Muhammadu Buhari (December 1983-August 1985), General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (August 27 1985-August 27 1993), and General Sani Abacha (November 17, 1993 to June 8, 1998), Nigerian refugees also flowed in after the 1980 Refugee Resettlement Act.  

The Refugee Act of 1980 

The 1980 Refugee Act incorporated international standards into U.S. law.  The 1951 Geneva Convention and 1967 Protocol on Refugees were adopted in response to critiques of U.S. refugee laws as politicized, being geared predominantly toward fulfilling America’s Cold War objectives (UNHCR, n.d.).  Previously, those fleeing Communist governments were accepted as refugees, and those from U.S.-supported right wing authoritarian regimes rejected.  After the 1980 Act, Refugee Settlement Programs were established that received and resettled African refugees.  

IRCA (Immigration Reform and Control Act, 1986) to the present

By 1986 the IRCA was passed, extending amnesty to immigrants and criminalizing the hiring of undocumented aliens, mandating employer verification of employees’ work authorization.  Farm workers were given exemptions to seek employment. Undocumented immigrants and agricultural seasonal workers whose came before January 1, 1982, and had lived in America continuously were granted amnesty.  Many undocumented Nigerian immigrants applied for permanent resident status and family reunification. (US DOJ 1986).

The 1990 Immigration Act increased the limits on family-based immigration from 216,000 to 480,000; allowing immigrants to apply for parents, spouses and minor children.  The 480,000 ceiling was exceeded in 1993. Immigration for employment was increased from 54,000 to 140,000 per annum and a permanent lottery system devised to accommodate countries with fewer immigrant admissions (USIS 1990; Green and Ziel n.d.).  

III Demographic profile

Size and composition of community

There were 91,499 Nigerians in America in the 1990s, and 164,691 in 2000, representing 0.1% of total U.S. population and 80% increase from the 1980s (Brittingham and de la Cruz 2004). 

Nigerian immigrants have high levels of formal education that does not match their income, which is lower than similarly situated Americans’.  This is attributed to their citizenship status. Only 21.4% had U.S. citizenship in 1990. Citizens and green card holders can access well-paying jobs with benefits (Moore and Foster 2002, 38).  Nigerian immigrants combine part-time work with schooling, and if compliant with immigration law, cannot work over twenty hours weekly, often, in minimum wage jobs.  Immigrants face more discrimination for jobs requiring higher levels of education (35; Butcher 1994, 275; Kaba 2007).  Discrimination against immigrants means underemployment and comparatively lower wages than for green card holders and citizens. 

Age and family structure

The Nigerian immigrant population in America is young, with most in high school or tertiary institutions.  This follows African trends, where in 2006, 40.6% of 910.8 million were under 15 years old, compared with 42.3% of Nigerians.  In 2006, the African median age was 19.6 years compared with Nigeria’s 18.7 years. In America, in 2000, 31% of 700,000 African immigrants were under 25 years old (Schmidley 2001).  According to Moore and Foster (2002) Nigerians had the youngest average age: 34.5 years among immigrant males in America in 1990 from nine African countries (38; Kaba 2007). 

Educational attainment

Compared with other Americans, Nigerian immigrants are better educated (Butcher 1994; Dodoo 1997; “US Bureau of Census 2001; Takyi 2002; Logan and Deane 2003).  As Amadu Jacky Kaba shows, in the 1990 census: 

of 158.9 million people in the United States aged 25 and over, 20.3 percent had bachelor’s degree or higher and 7.2 percent had graduate degree or higher. For 52,388 Nigerians aged 25 and over, 52.9 percent had bachelor’s degree or higher and 26.3 percent had graduate degree or higher. The 52.9 percent of Nigerians with bachelor’s degree or higher were second only to another African group, Egyptians, with 60.4 percent. The 26.3 percent of Nigerians with graduate degree or higher was the highest rate among all 68 ancestry groups listed…. Nigerians in the United States are at the top of the ladder in 1990 in educational attainment. Their average rate in bachelor’s degree attainment was 36.6 percentage points higher than the national average and doubled and tripled many of the dominant groups in the country in 1990. Their average rate in graduate degree attainment in 1990 was 19.1 percentage points higher than the national average and more than doubled many of the dominant ethnic groups in the country (Kaba 2007).

Leslie Casimir shows that 37% of Nigerians in America had Bachelor’s degrees, 17% had Master’s degrees, and 4% had doctoral degrees (2007).

Economic attainment

African immigrants in America, including Nigerians, may be highly educated, but are relatively poorly paid compared with others with similar levels of education.  Many obtain advanced degrees when very young, probably due to desired compliance with immigration laws that deny them legal authorization to stay after graduation from tertiary institutions.  Finding employment may combine with being underpaid. Many hope that “a foot in the door,” will generate future advancement, failing to complain for fear of employers’ penalty by non-sponsorship for a green card.  Being young could also mean earning less (Butcher 1994: 267-268). Also, race, skin color, skin tone and the prejudicial behavior that darker skin still evokes mean that Nigerian immigrants may earn less than lighter skinned Africans from Northern and Southern Africa (Kaba 2007; Takyi 2002;; Breland 1998; Dodoo, 1997; Keith & Herring, 1991).  

Low earnings relative to qualification could arise from lack of social capital, non-connectedness to networks facilitating access to well-paying jobs (Reitz and Sklar, 1997; Portes and Rumbaut 1996), relative newness to America (Moore and Foster, 2002) or insufficient acculturation (Bucher, 1994).  

Gender inequality, expressed as wage inequality affects African women more profoundly than men (Dodoo).  The wage disparities between North and South also affect African workers who are predominantly in the South (Moore & Foster 2002; Kaba 2007).  For Dodoo and Takyi (2006), wage disparities are caused by white privilege in access to resources (Dodoo and Takyi, 2006).

Occupation and income patterns

Statistics on the occupational and income patterns of Nigerians in America are inaccurate.  However, for the New York Times, the top twenty occupations of Nigerian immigrants are as follows:

  Occupation Number of workersMargin of error (+/-)
1. Nurses  11,300+/-14%
2. Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants    7,400+/-17%
3. Sales related occupations    6,500 +/-19%
4. Managers and administrators    5,700+/-20%
5. Teachers    5,300+/-21%
6. Policemen and other protective service workers    4,500+/-22%
7. Drivers and other transportation workers    4,200+/-23%
8. Accountants and other financial specialists    4,100+/-23%
9. Social service and legal professionals    3,700+/-25%
10. Doctors    3,000+/-27%
11. Scientists and quantitative analysts    2,900+/-28%
12. Clerical and administrative staff    2,500+/-30%
13. Computer software developers    1,200 +/-43%
14. Janitors       900+/-50%
15. Engineers and architects     700+/-57%
16. Machinists and craftspeople     700+/-57%
17. Cooks and other food preparers     600+/-61%
Total workers in all occupations  92,500Change 1990-2007: +240%

(Bloch, Carter and Gebeloff 2009).

Health statistics, issues

Nigerian immigrants in America do not have significant health problems.   They are healthier than others of African descent in predominantly white countries (Read and Emerson 2005).  But for Early, McKinney and Murray (n.d.), Nigerian immigrants and refugees have pre-existing health conditions, including a host of “tropical diseases” like river blindness, yellow fever, and malaria.  Unfortunately, they give neither statistical nor analytical indication of the prevalence of these conditions among Nigerian immigrant, whether their health status differs from that of refugees; whether the socioeconomic status of immigrants or refugees makes any difference, or how they compare with other groups.

IV Adjustment and adaptation

Family, culture, and life-cycle rituals: Birth/baptism, coming of age, marriage, funerals  

Nigerian immigrants value and nurture family relations.  Consanguinity matters, but conventionally, most also establish fictive kinship with close friends.  These relationships are often so close that outsiders cannot distinguish blood relations from fictive kin.  

Islam, Christianity and a wide variety of indigenous religions are practiced in Nigeria. The language of government, English, is now combined with indigenous Nigerian languages in various states (US State Department 2009).

Due to modernity, new religions like Christianity and Islam, and lack of will, most Nigerian families do not observe indigenous coming of age rituals and rites as originally constructed.  However, the first, tenth, sixteenth and twenty-first, fiftieth, and seventieth birthdays, weddings, graduation from high school, college, professional schools, and advanced degrees are celebrated with great fanfare.  The sixteenth and twenty-first birthdays are considered indicative of maturity. The size and grandness of the party depends on family circumstances.   

Nigerians celebrate births with great joy.  Friends and family assemble for child-naming ceremonies.  Traditionally, Nigerian children are named after seven days.  Given modern realities, the child is named in the hospital/at birth, traditional with child-naming at the baby’s parents’ home after one week.  

Some Nigerians names are not gendered.  However, some names are believed to be more suited to males or females.  The Yoruba saying: “ile laa wo k’a to s’omo l’oruko” (the family circumstances and/or circumstances of birth are essential determinants of naming a child), means that children’s are deeply meaningful, connecting with family heritage, and parents’ experiences during gestation.  Thus, immigrant Yoruba may name their children “Tokunbo”, (one from overseas). Babatunde (male child born after the grandfather’s death). Babarimisa (male child born after his father’s death). Yetunde or Yewande (female children born after the grandmother’s death). Yoruba twins are named Taiwo (first born) and Kehinde (second).  

Babies are given money and other presents.  In traditional Yoruba naming ceremonies, the baby is given a taste of kolanuts, bitter kola, alligator pepper, honey, salt, palm oil, salt and water; and there are prayers for the baby’s life to be productive (alligator pepper and its numerous seeds), useful and distinguished (kola), meaningful (bitter kola), sweet (honey), crucial (salt), smooth, and trouble free (water).  In Nigeria, these ceremonies are at dawn, but difficult work schedules mean flexible timing for immigrants. Refreshments are served. Traditional practices also include a forty-day out-dooring ceremony for new mothers. Akara (savory fried paste from black eyed peas, onions, tomatoes and pepper) is served, marking the completion of confinement. In immigrant communities, confinement ends when the mother returns to work, or because she has everyday chores and lacks the three month maternity leave and supportive family network enabling confinement back home. 

Weddings are usually grand and large, with lavish parties, and religious ceremonies in church or mosque combined with traditional ceremonies. 

Nigerian funerals are modest and sad when a young person dies.  Among the Yoruba, it is anathema for parents, and those older than the deceased to attend funerals of the young.  However, modern realities make compliance difficult. Nigerian immigrant communities often take a collection to assist with expenses.  Some take the body back to Nigeria for burial, and hold a memorial service in America, but increasingly, there are more U.S. burials. Also, when parents die back home, services of songs are held by Christians; and fidau prayers by Muslims.  Funerals of aged Nigerians are celebrations of life, because these are considered lives well-lived. These parties feature people dressed in aso-ebí/“uniform” colors or clothing. There is dancing, lots of food and drink often for hundreds of people, in banquet halls. 

Families and changing gender relations

Due to cultural retention, African American family patterns are influenced by African origins (Sudarkasa 1998).  Gender relations inevitably change over time. However, some scholars claim that immigration changes gender relations to give women more autonomy and sometimes disrupt the gender balance within families.   Many Nigerian immigrant professional women like those back home, have financial autonomy. Lacking social networks to assist with child, family and elder care, they also have a heavier burden than back home.  

Nigerian women work, (some in the informal economy).  Many are skilled technical professionals, home health aides, and service sector workers.  Many also trade part-time, as small scale informal international traders in cloth, jewelry and accessories from Asia (China, Bangkok), Europe (Italy, France, U.K.); Middle East (Dubai, Beirut); Nigeria and America  

Most Nigerian families struggle with life challenges and the harshness of the immigrant experience but manage to live in relative harmony and peace.  Unlike in Nigeria where fathers and even mothers take less direct responsibility for housework and childcare because they can hire staff, which they cannot afford in America   So, the family must cooperatively clean, cook, and manage childcare. Reluctance to change traditional gender roles may cause tensions and arguments and insecurity and anguish about lost status and income causes or escalates hostility, distrust and rancor.  Some Nigerian immigrant families experience domestic violence, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that this may be due to women earning more than their husbands, causing the men’s insecurity. Some men also believe that their wives, upon becoming credentialed and moneyed, become arrogant and disrespectful.  Some domestic violence tragically cause deaths or mutilation of wives by husbands.

Retaining a sense of national culture and identity

Nigerians in America attempt retention of cultural and national identity, particularly in their food and folk ways.  Many join ethnic or hometown associations to maintain connection with people of like culture and interests. Many Nigerian immigrant rites of passage are marked by wearing the clothing, cooking and serving the food, and speaking the languages of Nigeria.  Nigerian immigrant parties and celebrations and the music, speeches and practices are almost identical to those back home. There are communal social events like picnics, award ceremonies and fundraisers that bring together Nigerian immigrants who network, socialize, and access resources that connect them with their national culture.  

Many immigrant groups organize language lessons for their offspring.  Some attend exclusively Nigerian churches and mosques. Products from Nigeria are available in Nigerian immigrant stores.  Loom woven cloth is sold by women traders to satisfy demand for these essential items for weddings, birthdays and other celebrations.  

Continued links to country of origin

Nigerian immigrants are transnational.  Many send remittances home to contribute to philanthropy, family welfare and survival needs, community development projects, philanthropic efforts and business ventures (Sander 2003; Okome 2005a, Ajayi 2006).  Some links are political. During the Abacha dictatorship, Nigerian pro-democracy and human rights activists organized coalitions worldwide where Nigerian immigrant and refugee populations resided. For example, Hafsat Abiola, MKO Abiola’s daughter established the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND).  MKO Abiola was reputed to have won the June 12 Presidential election invalidated by the Babangida regime. Abiola was sentenced to jail for treason after declaring himself President, and on the eve of his release, died under suspicious conditions. Kudirat Abiola, one of MKO’s wives was assassinated later by the Abacha regime, and KIND was established to mobilize domestic and international efforts to unseat Abacha.  KIND established Radio Kudirat and beamed broadcasts into Nigeria from abroad, in five of Nigeria’s numerous languages (Sykes 1999:6–7; Okome, “African Diasporas”, p. 159).  

Migrant, alumni, hometown associations and individuals raise funds for philanthropic efforts in America and Nigeria (Okome, 168).  Sometimes these efforts connect with those of philanthropic institutions, such as the collaboration by Ford, MacArthur, and Rockefeller Foundations and the Carnegie Corporation to help African universities after the 1970s to 1990s infrastructural decay.  The University of Ibadan established the Fanton challenge to raise $250,000 to match funds donated by the MacArthur Foundation’s president and the Nigeria Higher Education Foundation, headquartered in Uniondale, New Jersey (Nigeria Higher Education Foundation n.d.).

New philanthropic organizations are being founded by prominent individuals.  Hakeem Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets star, founded the Hakeem Olajuwon Dream Foundation in Nigeria (Copeland-Carson 2005:83–84). Unfortunately, in the post-9/11 period, Olajuwon was more scrutinized by the media for allegedly supporting a mosque that made donations to Al Qaeda than for his philanthropy (Kelley 2005; Okome, 169).  Kase Lawal, a wealthy Nigerian immigrant in the petroleum industry also undertakes philanthropy in the US, and Nigeria (Chappell 2006; Hughes and Robinson 2006).  

To accumulate funds for individual or communal remittances, Nigerian immigrants use both formal and informal savings mechanisms.  The Yorùbá of Southwestern Nigeria use èsúsú or àjo. The Igbo, Oha: the Ibibios, osusu; the Annang, Etibe, and in northern Nigeria, Adashi or dashi (Osondu forthcoming).  A group put in an agreed-upon amount of money in a pool according to a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or other schedule; decide when each member takes the entire pot, sometimes by drawing lots.  The designated banker could be a group member or an outside with a reputation for trustworthiness. The banker collects money from group members and pays members as scheduled (Sander and Maimbo 2003:17; Okome, 170).

Social organizations based on national/ethnic background

Nigerians in America have a rich associational life.  Most organizations are ethnic, hometown, alumni, and professional associations, but a few have national scope.  Their roots are historically deep, being influenced by social organizations first established for mutual assistance for Nigerian rural-urban migrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Baird N’Diaye 1997; Olumba 1995).

Many community-based organizations with established institutional presence in the African immigrant community are ethnic, professional, religious, and social.  Some examples include, but are not limited to those described briefly below. 

  • The Association of Nigerian Physicians Abroad (ANPA) does fund-raising for medical outreach to Africa.  It donates medical services, equipment and medicines. ANPA participated actively in the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria from 1995 until 1999, funding exiled pro-democracy activists like Wole Soyinka and participating in lobbying Congress for US intervention in Nigerian politics (Sayo, 1999). 
  • Afénifére is a Yoruba political group actively involved in Nigerian politics. A member, Dr. Sikiru Fadairo, ran in 2001 for a New York City Council seat in Queens (Okome in Krase et al, p. 191).
  • The Association of Nigerian Lawyers provides pro bono immigration and other legal services.  
  • The Yoruba Alliance, a community-based umbrella organization established in November 1996, has eight independent U.S.-based member organizations (192).
  • Nigerian American Community Association, based in Staten Island, NY has the mission of positive portrayal of Nigerian Americans’ image (Nigerian American Community Association n.d.).

Recent Caribbean and African immigrant communities are building political, social, and cultural bridges between continental African and Caribbean communities. Common experiences of immigration, accommodation, and transnational interests contribute to these relations.  African, Caribbean and African-American communities share African ancestry and experiences of racial discrimination. During Mayor Marion Barry’s administration in Washington, DC, a Commission of African and Caribbean Community Affairs, was appointed, with equal numbers of continental African and Caribbean Americans.  Some African American organizations have sister cities in Africa and the Caribbean that sponsor and encourage exchange visits between America, Africa and the Caribbean; organize and promote cultural activities, and fundraise for philanthropic outreach. They work closely with African and Caribbean immigrant organizations (N’Diaye 1997); for example, the Odunde festival, an African-Caribbean effort in Philadelphia, now in its 34th year (African and Caribbean Business Roundtable 2009).


Nigerians of many faiths, including Christianity, Islam and African religions indigenous to Nigeria, reside in America  The oldest presence is among Africans of the old diaspora created by slavery who worship Yoruba deities.  

Mainline Christian denominations are well represented but the fastest growing are African initiated charismatic Pentecostalist churches.   Some are branches of those first established in Nigeria, including the Celestial Church of Christ, the Cherubim and Seraphim (Aladura) Church, Christ Apostolic Church, Deeper Christian Life Ministry, Mountain of Fire and Miracles, and Redeemed Christian Church of God.  Others are independent churches founded by Nigerians in America (Genocchio 2006; Aliens in a New America 2004). Some of the mainline churches bring clergy from Nigeria and have services in its languages (Kwakye-Nuako 2006) Cogan and Ibe n.d.). 

Nigerian Muslims have a strong presence in the US.  A National Council of Nigerian Muslim Organizations in the USA was established in Washington, D.C. in 1976.  By December 2009, NCNMO listed 26 U.S. chapters with mosques established by Nigerian immigrants, including the Nigerian Islamic Center on the North Side of Chicago, Rhode Island’s, Masjid Ar-Razaq, Muslim Community Center (National Council of Nigerian Muslim Organizations in the USA n.d.)

Language issues

Nigeria has over 400 distinct ethnic groups.  The three largest are the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.  Some first generation Nigerian American parents teach their children their mother tongue.  However, many find this a struggle. Some send their children back home for education, and want to return to Nigeria eventually.  However, over time, there are more attempts to establish language and cultural schools or workshops. Some Nigerians in the diaspora have developed multimedia language teaching tools sold online.  Also, the major Nigerian languages are taught in colleges and universities with African Studies Programs. Many Nigerian American youth take these courses. One of the challenges of language retention for Nigerians is that the numerous languages make efforts to develop material and promote retention disparate.  The larger ethnic groups may have more resources to ensure the production and dissemination of language materials. Also, efforts will be duplicated since these languages are mutually unintelligible.

National/regional-language press and other media

Nigerian newspapers in America are published in English for a longer reach and broader readership.  However, there may be newspapers in the indigenous languages of Nigeria in the future if there is a critical mass of subscribers.  Most Nigerians also access the major Nigerian dailies online. Some of these are published in the major Nigerian languages.  

The Guardian is one of Nigeria’s crusading newspapers.  It is privately owned. Alex Ibru is the proprietor.  Until the 1999 election, it doggedly provided a pro-democracy perspective.  This tradition of militant journalism is traceable to the nationalist resistance to colonial rule.  The Guardian is favored by Nigerian intellectuals and respected for its independence and sound analysis (Olukotun 2004).

Vanguard is privately owned.  Sam Amuka-Pemu is the proprietor.  It is also one of the crusading newspapers that engaged in militant journalism during the transition to civilian rule (Olukotun 2004).

This Day is privately owned and published in Lagos, Nigeria.  Nduka Obaigbena is the proprietor. It was first published on January 22, 1992.

The Sun is a tabloid.  Orji Kalu is the proprietor.  It is relatively new, compared with The Guardian, Vanguard and Punch (Olukotun 2004).  It is online at:

Daily Independent is one of the newer privately owned Nigerian newspapers (Olukotun 2004).

The Punch is privately owned.  Ajibola Ogusola is the proprietor.  It is widely read and is also a crusading newspaper (Olukotun 2004).

Daily Trust is privately owned.  Kabiru Yusuf is the Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO.

Daily Times is one of Nigeria’s oldest newspapers.  It started off as a state-owned newspaper but is now privately owned.

Alaroye is a privately owned Yoruba newspaper with very wide coverage.  This and other similar newspapers became stronger and more prominent during military rule  (Olukotun 2004).

Tell Magazine is a privately owned weekly published in Lagos, Nigeria.  The editor is Nosa Igiebor. 

Newswatch is a privately owned weekly published in Lagos since December 3, 1984.  It pioneered the weekly news magazine genre in Nigeria. Dan Agbese is the Editor in Chief.  Its first Editor in Chief and Chief Executive, Dele Giwa, was killed by a mail bomb during the Babangida era, on October 19, 1986.

News sources established by Nigerian immigrants in the US newspapers publish Nigerian, and some African news, photographs of weddings, birthdays, funerals and other significant events; advertisements of businesses owned by Nigerians and other Africans, or those serving them, including professional services, restaurants, groceries and shipping services.  Advertisements of Churches and revival services are featured. Their print edition is often free and found in many African grocery and other stores, churches and businesses. They include:

USAfricaonline, established in Houston, Texas in May 1992.  It covers Nigerian, African and US news. 

ViewNaija was established in Georgia on October 1, 2007 by Ehi Binitie, Jude Idada and Michel Karera as “a one stop shop for… wholesome Nigerian entertainment” for Nigerians in the Diaspora. 

Chicago Inquirer is published twice weekly.  It was established on August 1, 2003.  The editor is Joseph Omoremi. It provides news on “politics, economy, culture, fashion, sports, art, religion, crime, affluence and the poor” and seeks to facilitate African-African American connections. 

Light of the World is a monthly publication by Julius Ogunnaya with offices in Maryland, Queens, New York; Atlanta, GA and Columbia, OH.  Together with articles on Christianity and advertisements by Nigerian Churches and businesses, it carries Nigerian and African news.  

Sahara Reporters was created as “an online community of international reporters and social advocates.”  It uncovers and reports political corruption and excesses in Nigeria.  

African Sun Times is headquartered in East Orange, New Jersey.  It is published by Chika Onyeani.

African Abroad-USA is published bi-weekly from Queens, New York.  The publisher and Editor-in-Chief is Alex Okiemute-Kabba.

US Immigration News is published by immigration attorney, Joseph Rotimi Famuyide.  It provides information, analysis, and advertisements on immigration.

The Diasporan Star is published by Ekerete Udoh, a Master’s graduate from the Political Science program at Brooklyn College, CUNY.  It is a tabloid featuring news on Nollywood and the Nigerian Diaspora arts and entertainments scene in the US.

There is also a myriad of other web presence.  Among them are online communities and social networking media with links to many of the Nigerian newspapers with an online presence.  They include:

Nigeria World, Odilinet, nigeriaweb, naijapages, and naijanet, are part of a network, each with multiple webpages, including message boards.  They provide current Nigerian news, blogs on Nigerian society, politics, economy, and popular culture.

Odilinet:  Links to nigeriaweb, naijapages, and naijanet can be found on Odilinet

Nairaland Forum

Television broadcasters based in Nigeria include:

Africa Independent Television, (AIT).  Raymond Dokpesi, proprietor.  It broadcasts in Nigeria and has coverage in some African countries.  It was previously available by subscription in the US. 

Channels Television, whose proprietor is John Momoh was established in June 1993 as a news channel.

Nigerian Television Authority is owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Radio broadcasting from Nigeria include:

Radio Abeokuta, a webcast station on LIVE360 Internet radio network at 5780 kHz on the shortwave band, seeks to advance and support Yoruba culture, language and music.  It is primarily focused on Abeokuta (in South West Nigeria).

Eko FM (Radio Lagos) 88.9FM, owned by Lagos State, was established in 1977 as a spin-off from the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).  It provides music, news, and features programming 24-7.

Radio, established in 2004 has six channels—Afro hiphop, Igbo, Mixed, Yoruba, Gospel and DJ Live.  It provides and facilitates the distribution of digital Nigerian music online.

Cool FM, 96.9 Lagos, located in Victoria Island, Lagos, has an online presence and broadcasts 24/7.  

Radio 1960, Lagos has a 24-7 web presence.  Its CEO, Peter A. Olaniran, its Executive Director, Ben Adeyanju its publicity and marketing director, Yetunde Alafe, Chief Engineer, Tunde Elegbede, and Director of Programming, Oby Denchukwu, all live in the US. See:

Radio Nigeria is owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Nigerian Web Radio is an internet based radio station deliberately geared at reaching Nigerians in the Diaspora.  It provides Nigeria and international news, features, entertainment, sports reports and music (both religious and secular) of Nigerian artistes.

Celebration of national holidays

Nigerian Independence Day (October 1) is celebrated by Nigerian Americans.  New York celebrations include a parade on 2nd Avenue.  The 2009 parade stretched over 15 blocks.  Elected city officials are invited, Nigerian states sponsor floats showcasing indigenous ethnic clothing, music and dance. Many Nigerian clubs, churches, mosques, and businesses participate and advertise.  Patriotic memorabilia are sold (Adujie 2009). In Chicago, Nigerian immigrants congregate at the DuSable Museum of African American History for a Nigeria Festival every summer (Cogan and Ibe n.d.). There are annual banquets, as in Portland, Oregon to commemorate Nigeria’s independence, with keynote speakers to address contemporary issues, pageants, award ceremonies, and much merry making.  2010 marks the 50th year of Nigeria’s independence, and festivities should be grand.  The Nigerian Independence Day Celebration in New York City is planning a 3-day celebration (OAN Inc. 2009).  In Miami, the Nigerian American Foundation celebrated in 2009 with a parade (Umahi 2009). 

Nigerian Muslims celebrate Eid el Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan—prescribed fasting, reflection, and abstinence from pleasurable activities for approximately 30 days.   Activities include prayers, alms to the poor, a feast with friends and family celebrating, and presents for children. Eid el-Adha (called Eid el Kabir by most Nigerians), the feast of the Sacrifice commemorates the return of the Prophet Mohammed to Mecca.  In Nigeria, rams are slaughtered in Muslim homes, cooked and served with jollof rice and other festive foods. The food is also presented to neighbors. Muslims congregate at prayer grounds in their best finery to pray for blessings from Allah. In America, Muslims purchase rams that are slaughtered (halal) and cut up to order from farms.  Those unable to afford whole rams buy affordable portions from Nigerian or Muslim grocery stores. There are also prayers at mosques and festivities.  

Igbos who consider yam a man’s crop, and cocoyam, a woman’s crop, celebrate the New Yam Festival annually.  Immediately before midnight, elders lead thanksgiving ceremonies with prayers to God almighty and indigenous Igbo deities (for fertility, plenty, and goodness), kola nut ceremony, libations, drumming, blessings, dancing, and eating.

Nigerian Christians celebrate Christmas, Easter, and predominantly Nigerian immigrant churches have an annual harvest ceremony with dancing and prayers.  Aladura churches celebrate an annual Adoption Service instead. Fruits and other foodstuff are brought to the church and shared after the ceremonies, which end with a feast.  Many Nigerians also celebrate the major American holidays, particularly Thanksgiving, appropriated and embraced as family time and a day for appreciating positive accomplishments in their families and communities.  

Retained by enslaved people, Orisa worship preceded contemporary Nigerian immigrants’ presence in the Americas.  Puerto Rican Santeria, African American Yoruba religion, Ocha, Haitian Vodun, Cuban Lucumi and Brazilian Cadomble and Umbanda are offshoots that sometimes combine Yoruba religion with Christianity and other religions.  Some contemporary Yoruba immigrants worship ancestral deities but are fewer than Old Diasporan Africans. Festivals with prayers, chanting, singing, and drumming accompany the worship the deities.


Food is basic to human existence, social systems and processes but it goes beyond sustenance, facilitating social interactions and multiplicity of human expressions.  Like its ethnic groups, Nigerian food is diverse and varied. Most Nigerian food is spicy. Nigerians conventionally have a taboo against eating with the left hand. However it is increasingly recognized that left handedness is natural.  Nigerian food reflects rich ethnic diversity and historical heritage, the contact and admixtures of various ethnicities, contact with Europeans, and between its peoples who returned after “new world,” slavery and the peoples they encountered there.  Nigerian food has flavors of Brazil and the Americas. Frijole and emojo, part of Afro Brazilian cuisine in Lagos Island are examples of such foods.   

Nigerians in America crave and relish food from home.  Small grocery stores, restaurants and catering businesses and wholesale markets of major metropolitan areas sell staple ingredients.  In New York City, the Bronx and Brooklyn Terminal Markets are frequented by Nigerians, since most families buy bulk food. All Nigerian food is delicious although this discussion focuses on the Yoruba.  Nigerian cuisine includes dried and fresh meats, fish, poultry, seafood, vegetables like spinach, jute leaves (ewedu), peppers, tomatoes, onions, okra and corn, yams, and cassava. Oils include palm and groundnut/peanut oil.  Grains include rice, and sorghum. Fruits include oranges, bananas, and pineapples, imported mostly from tropical Caribbean and Latin American countries. Immigrant Nigerians substitute kale and mustard greens for spinach. 

Ogbono (dried, ground wild mango seeds, cooked with tomatoes, peppers and any meat or fish of choice, stewed and served with fufu (from cassava flour), tuo (from rice, millet or corn flour), láfún (flour of dried cassava) iyán (pounded yam flour, traditionally made from peeled cooked yam pounded in a mortar with a pestle),  èlùbó ògèdè (sun dried green plantain flour), àmàlà (flour of dried yam), gàrí (cassava grits made into èbà (Yoruba). It is eaten all over Nigeria. Nigerians also eat legumes like beans and peas.

Nigerian ethnic groups have a various soups and stews.  The Niger Delta and Southeastern Nigerians have pepper soup, a highly spiced and hot soup with either seafood, goat meat, chicken or beef.  Pepper soup is served alone or with other food. Depending on the herbs included, it could also be medicinal food for the sick, or pregnant and nursing mothers.  Most stews (called soup by Nigerians) combine blended tomatoes, onions and peppers, poured into hot oil. Meat, fish, seafood, poultry or bush meat (game) is added.  Leafy vegetables and egusi (ground melon seeds) are added to another variety, and okra and jute leaves are chopped and cooked with iru (fermented locust beans) or dadawa (fermented soybeans) or bouillon; combined with stews, served with either fufu, eba, iyan, lafun, tuo or amala.  Edi ka ekong and afang are Efik and Ibibio stews loved by most Nigerians. Tuo is a Northern Nigerian staple. Nigerians also consume a lot of rice, cooked in multiple ways. White rice is served with stews (Nigerian soup) and sauces (Nigerian stew). Jollof rice, staple Nigerian party food, is a one-pot dish including blended onions, peppers, tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable oil and mixed vegetables, sometimes seasoned with curry, thyme and white pepper.

Móín-móín, (skinned black eyed peas or Nigerian brown beans, blended with onions, peppers tomatoes, oil and tomato paste, wrapped in leaves (or aluminum foil) and steamed in a pot), is another favorite at Nigerian parties, as is fried ripe plantains, called dòdò.  Green plantains are sliced thinly and fried in hot oil to make ìpékeré (plantain chips). Either green or ripe plantains are roasted on hot coals to make bòòlì, a popular street food during plantain season. For Nigerians in America this is summer barbeque food. The same ingredients as móín-móín, are ground into a thicker paste, fried to make àkàrà, and served with corn porridge (ògì) or èko (solidified, thicker corn porridge), for breakfast.  Òjòjò is finely grated water yam (Colombian yam) seasoned with hot pepper and onions and fried. Àsáró or èbe is peeled, cut up (Brazilian or Ghana) yam, with blended onions, peppers, tomatoes tomato paste, vegetable or palm oil. If desired, dried fish, dried ground shrimps, seafood, meat or chicken is added. Ìkókoré is indigenous to the Ìjèbú Yoruba. It combines peeled and finely grated water yam (Colombian yam) with blended onions, peppers, tomatoes tomato paste, and palm oil, dried fish and shrimp.  Boiled or roasted corn on the cob/maize is popular street food in season. Yorubas also combine fresh corn kernels with Nigerian brown beans or black-eyed peas in àdàlú.  

Obì (Kolanut in Yoruba) Goro (Hausa), are significant symbol for most ethnic groups, produced in Southern Nigeria and used for divination rituals, and as a stimulant.  For Igbos, it symbolizes welcome to guests, used at the beginning of formal gatherings, with elaborate ceremony and prayers. At naming ceremonies, it symbolizes significance and productivity.  However, old practices and beliefs about kolanut in social praxis are changing, although more changes may be found at home than abroad where people cling to indigenous social practices for their integrative qualities (Duru 2005).    Orógbó (Bitter cola) is used for Yoruba naming ceremonies and as medicine. 

Snacks include àádùn, a mixture of ground roasted maize/corn kernels, red hot pepper and palm oil; kulinkuli: ground maize or millet and sugar; kokoro: ground roasted maize/corn kernels rolled into thin sticks and fried.  Suya originally from northern Nigeria, but now most Nigerians’ favorite, is barbequed meat, poultry, gizzards, liver, kidney, and fish rubbed with dry barbecue spice, skewered and roasted around a tall hearth, served in Nigerian restaurants worldwide, at summer barbecues and parties.   Groundnuts are boiled, roasted in or out of their shell. Almonds are eaten raw, and cashew nuts roasted.   

Postcolonial Nigerian snacks include puff-puff, buns, sausage rolls, meat pies, chin-chin, and Scotch eggs.  Puff-puff: sweet fried dough leavened with baking powder; buns: fried dough of a thicker consistency. Chin-chin: stiff kneaded dough, rolled flat, cut into small rectangles or squares, and fried in hot oil.  Sausage rolls: sausage meat baked in puff pastry. Meat pies: baked pastry filled with seasoned ground beef, and potatoes. Scotch eggs: hard-boiled eggs covered in sausage meat, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried.

Nigerians eat fruits like orange, pine-apple and grapefruit, and drink manufactured fruit juices.  Juice drinks combining water, fruit concentrate and sugar are more popular. Various home brewed beers and liquor are produced including otí okà/topó (millet beer) bùrùkùtù, ògógóró (home brewed gin), ginger beer, zobo: ìshápá/hibiscus, boiled, strained, sweetened with honey or sugar.  Palm wine is consumed throughout Nigeria, either freshly tapped from the palm tree or fermented. These drinks are imported from Nigeria and sold in Nigerian food markets.  

Postcolonial soft drinks/soda/pop which Nigerians call “minerals”, are produced by Coca Cola, Pepsi and other multinationals as are Guinness stout and beer from hops.  Nigerians all over the world drink them at social gatherings with the exception alcohol prohibited for observant Muslims (Food n.d.). 

Nigerian food has deep roots in the Americas and Caribbean due to past enslavement.  Hopping John (from black-eyed peas), and chitterlings, are examples. Excavations in Monticello, Mount Vernon, and other slave plantations show significant West African influences and various foods made from maize, rice, peanuts, yams and dried beans as “one pot meals combining meat, vegetables and broth” eaten by the enslaved Africans (Samford 1996). 

      Music, arts, entertainment

Nigeria has rich music traditions.  The transnationalization of Nigerians has generated cross fertilization between home and Diaspora.  African music is also evident in the Americas and Caribbean (Meadows 1979; Ekwueme 1974). Babatunde Olatunji’s percussion, Fela Anikulapo’s Afrobeat, and King Sunny Ade’s juju became popular in America from the 1960s.  Musical genres like Yoruba’s apala, waka, agidigbo, rara (Adegbite 1991; Drewal, Pemberton and Abiodun 1989; Ajuwon 1982), juju, fuji, highlife (Euba 1989); itseko (Itsekiri); abigbo (Southeastern Igbo) (Onyeji 2004) are today used to deliver Gospel music, combined with reggae, hip-hop soul, and pop (Babalola and Taiwo 2009) and played in religious and secular settings.  

Paintings, sculptures, fabric design, mixed media productions, are produced in Nigerian and America, by internationally recognized artists, including Bruce Onobrakpeya and Taiwo Olaniyi (Twins Seven Seven), once self-exiled in America (Mundy-Castle and Mundy-Castle 1972; Soyinka 1990). 

V Integration and impact on U.S. society and culture

By introducing Nigerian popular and material culture in America, Nigerians in America have diversified black ethnicity.  Western educated Nigerians speak English, and most others, pidgin. Being highly educated, Nigerian Americans don’t have linguistic challenges, but when newly arrived, some find American accents hard to understand. Americans also have these issues with Nigerians but these are soon resolved.  Most contend with lowered post-immigration social status, taking menial jobs, as taxicab drivers, security guards, home health aides, childcare workers, and janitors. Many pursue financial autonomy and higher education. Some train as nurses to secure work authorization and higher income.  Taxi drivers sometimes buy “medallions”.  Most insist on their children’s excellence in education.  Nigerian immigrants’ professional offices and businesses, including those selling Nigerian foods are in all major cities (Cogan and Ibe).

Paths toward Citizenship

Whereas most pre-1980s immigrants from Nigeria wanted education and immediate return home, many contemporary Nigerian immigrants in America with student/F-1 visas seek permanent resident status (green card), and seek naturalization.  Unwillingness to return home is due to Nigeria’s profound and unrelenting economic crisis, consequent lack of opportunities for gainful employment and/or upward mobility; and fear of political upheaval. Naturalization is increasingly embraced by Nigerian immigrants in America with Nigerian legalization of dual citizenship. 

Forging a new American political identity

Some Nigerians have American citizenship.  Some joined the political parties and vote in all elections.  Others join political clubs, yet others form political pressure and advocacy groups and some run in local elections.  

Political associations and organizations

Nigerians remain concerned with politics back home.  Most of the major political parties, including the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Action Congress (AC), and The Peoples Mandate Party (PMP) have U.S. branches or affiliates.  From the 1980s to the 1990s when Nigeria was under the Babangida and Abacha brutal dictatorships, Nigerians in the US established newspapers to provide news from home, and challenge repression and intolerance for democratic freedoms.  A Nigerian–North American Conference was convened in May 1995 to analyze and propose solutions for political and economic problems. While Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel Prize Laureate was exiled in the US during the Abacha regime, he worked with other pro-democracy activists to organize resistance to the dictatorship (Okome in Krase et al, p. 183).  

Civic and electoral participation

The first Nigerian elected in America is two-term Councilman Kyrian Nwagwu of Lathrup Village in Michigan.  He arrived in 1982 to study at Eastern Michigan University ( In March 2010, Omonigho Ufomata was appointed Acting Director of the Office on African Affairs in the Mayor’s office, Washington, DC.  There are also advocacy groups formed with other recent African immigrants like the Bronx African Advisory Group in New York City, currently chaired by Ololade Toba LaCrown (Reuter and Beekman 2010).  

Some Nigerian immigrant groups have welfare, sociopolitical and economic functions.  Many are actively interested in Nigerian politics. Some claim non-partisanship, which is belied by their activities.  Thus, Egbe Omo Yoruba tends to be associated with the ruling PDP and Afenifere with the AD.  Some factions of the Egbe Omo Yoruba are part of a mass-based, group challenging all major bases of power within the political system, particularly in the Western states of Nigeria.  PMP’s affiliates include Nwannedinamba-Umbrella Igbo organization Oganihu USA, Ekwenche Organization, Ugwumba USA, Anedo Social Club and Aka Ikenga USA. Some individuals travel to Nigeria to participate in party activities, or contest elections. 

Since over 400 languages are spoken in Nigeria, its immigrant communities are non-homogenous.  Shared ethnicity is assumed to produce pan-ethnicity, but although pan-ethnic groups exist, historical and contemporary cleavages could subvert pan-ethnicity.  For example, among the Igbos, Onitsha Igbos, Mid-Western Igbos and central Igbos consider themselves as distinct historically and culturally, they also have major differences in dialect.  The Yorubas are similar. Oyo Yoruba, Ondo, Ijebu, Ekiti and others share history, ethnicity and culture but have widely differing dialects and alliance formation patterns.  

Many Nigerian Americans form philanthropic groups for social welfare. They facilitate informal socializing and mutual support, provide informal youth and marriage counseling, job and professional advice, avenues for friendship or dating and opportunities for leadership that validate the immigrant’s gifts, expertise and skill.  They also provide development assistance back home (Okome in Krase et al, p. 183).    

Public policies and political representation

As more African immigrants become active in local, state, and national politics, tensions have developed about what Black identity means.  Most black immigrants identify as nationals of their country of origin rather than as “Black or African American.” Cooperation and collaboration among people of African descent could be pursued, and some power sharing negotiated.  Change is however unlikely until the cost of maintaining the status quo becomes unbearable (Okome in Krause et al, 190).

Return immigration

In early 20th century Nigerian immigration to America, there was little desire for permanent stay.  Most, including Lincoln University-educated Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, nationalist and first President of post-independence Nigeria desired return to contribute to the anti-colonial struggle.  This continued until the Biafran war, when some Igbos left permanently. Many more left in the 1980s to date to escape economic crisis and political upheaval occasioned by the SAP was recommended in 1986 by the World Bank and IMF, imposed by the Babangida regime.  Nigeria lost decades of development. However, with political and economic improvements, some Nigerians in America are returning home.  


Adebayo Ogunlesi

56 year old Adebayo Ogunlesi, chairman and managing partner of Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), in New York City, is an exceptional example of Nigerian immigrant professionals with high-level appointments in the finance sector.  His company has worldwide infrastructure asset investments, and recently acquired London Gatwick Airport in a £1.455 billion contract with British Aviation Authority Airports Limited. Ogunlesi gives informal advice on privatization to the Nigerian government.  He previously worked with Cravath, Swain & Moore, a New York law firm, later moving to First Boston. First Boston acquired Credit Suisse in 1997 and became Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB). CSFB later became involved in the Nigerian liquefied natural gas project. Ogunlesi’s father is a professor of medicine.  He attended King’s College, Lagos and studied Philosophy, Economics at Oxford University and Harvard University, from which he graduated with degrees in Law and Business. He was a law clerk for late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, taught at Harvard and Yale Law Schools and has expertise and worldwide experience in project finance in the petroleum and mining industries, particularly in emerging markets.  Ogunlesi chairs the Board of Directors of Lagos-based Africa Finance Corporation (AFC; Sky News 2009; Newspage Weekly 2009).    


Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu

Tinubu began his university education at Richard Daley College, Chicago, later transferring to Chicago State University while working as a dishwasher, security guard and taxi driver.  He graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, and worked with Arthur Anderson, Deloitte Haskins and Sells and GTE in the US. Tinubu returned home to work with Mobil Nigeria Limited as an Auditor, becoming the Treasurer, before leaving the company.  Tinubu was a founding member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He was elected to the Federal Senate to represent Lagos West District. Tinubu belonged to NADECO in America during the Abacha years. He returned to Nigeria in 1998, ran for governor as the Alliance for Democracy (AD) candidate, was an elected Governor of Lagos State, from 1999 to 2007 (Profile: Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu n.d.). 

Dr. Eugene Ezekwueche, Peoples Mandate Party (PMP) Anambra State governorship candidate for the 2010 elections came to America in 1982.  He studied for his Bachelor’s in Accounting and Economics at New Jersey City University, and the Bachelor’s and Doctoral degree in Pharmacy from Howard University, Washington, D.C.  Ezekwueche established businesses in Nigeria, and founded Solon Institute, a Washington, DC think tank (Peoples Mandate Party 2009).   

Professor Lazarus E.N. Ekwueme is an ethno-musicologist who returned home from America and later became the traditional ruler of Oko in Anambra State (Southeastern Nigeria).  Ekwueme studied music in the U.K., from 1960 to 1964, returning home to teach at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He established the University’s Choral Society.  Ekwueme was in America during the Nigerian civil war. He obtained his Ph.D. in Music Theory from Yale University, and taught at Yale, and other universities. At Yale, he established the New Haven International Chorus.  In 1974 he was recruited to teach Music at the University of Lagos. There, he established the Laz Ekwueme National Chorale and was the Coordinator of the Nigerian National Choir for FESTAC, the lnternational Black Arts Festival held in Lagos in 1977 (Adegboye 2009).

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is an Economist with a Bachelor’s Degree from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from MIT.  She was a Vice President at the World Bank before appointment as the first female Minister for Finance in Nigeria in July 2003.  Under her watch, Nigeria repaid $12 billion of its $18 billion debt to the Paris Club to reduce the burden of debt servicing. In June 2006, she became Nigeria’s first female Foreign Minister, resigning soon after and subsequently returning to the World Bank where she was considered for the presidency.  After Paul Wolfowitz’ appointment as President, Okonjo Iweala was promoted to Managing Director. 

Many Nigerians in America travel back and forth frequently, make significant remittances in cash and kind, and are committed to philanthropy.  Some professors arrange exchange programs between US and Nigerian universities (Lindow 2009). 39.5% of the $9.221b in remittances from Nigerians abroad in 2007 came from America mostly for extended families’ survival needs (UNDP 2009). 

VI The second and later generations

Some second generation Nigerians would likely surpass their parents’ generation in educational attainment, (Anekwe 2008).  However, while many second generation Nigerians might excel, others might struggle, break even or fail. Being one generation removed from direct memories of, and intimate connection with Nigeria as home, the second generation may become pan-ethnic, pan-African, or embrace hyphenated-American or exclusively American identity than their parents (Clark 2008).  Many second generation Nigerian Americans passionately declare and defend their African origins, (6), but they have widely disparate positions on identity, varying from embracing African American identity to an exclusively African one, despite African American or American accents, serious study of, and sympathetic disposition toward African American history and politics.  

Intermarriage, familial, career and other ties in America and social capital propel the development of hyphenated American or American identity by second generation Nigerian immigrants.  Their high levels of education, being English speaking, the institutional context (immigration laws, regulations and enforcement); the local context (size of Nigerian community, extent of associational life, local beliefs and race relations) also increase degree of integration into American society.  Integration increases with a critical mass participating actively in ethnic, national and other civic associations (Cordell and Garcia y Griego n.d.). 

VII Issues in relations between America and Nigeria

Nigeria has the second largest petroleum reserves in Africa and huge natural gas reserves.  Its low sulphur petroleum/“sweet crude” is highly desired. It is Africa’s largest and the world’s twelfth largest producer of petroleum; the 5th ranked supplier of petroleum to America (U.S. Energy Information Administration n.d.).  With investments in the petrochemical and liquefied natural gas industries, America has replaced the U.K. as Nigeria’s largest foreign investor.  

U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Nigeria declined from $2 billion in 2004 to $339 million in 2006.  The dominant U.S. corporations with investments in Nigeria are Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, with investments in petroleum mining, oil and gas production.  Nigeria is America’s biggest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa ($42 billion per annum in 2008). 11% of U.S. oil imports are from Nigeria, representing approximately 46% of daily production.  America exported over $4 billion in machinery, wheat, and motor vehicles, and imported over $38 billion in mostly petroleum products from Nigeria in 2008. It also imports over $70 million rubber products, cocoa, gum arabic, cashews, coffee, and ginger (2007 figures).  

Nigeria has a trade advantage vis a vis America   In 2007 America’s trade deficit with Nigeria was $21 billion.  Nigeria ranks 50th largest export market for U.S. goods and is the14th-largest exporter of goods to America.  Nigeria’s tariffs are high but many goods from America are smuggled.  

America and Nigeria negotiated continuance of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement in March 2009, to fine-tune trade policies, improve market access, diversify exports, enforce intellectual property laws, foster technical assistance, and improve infrastructure, and investment.  They also discussed possible cooperation within the World Trade Organization (WTO) (U.S. Department of State n.d.). 

Forecasts for the 21st century

Nigerians in America will continue developing strong institutions and social capital that support their transnational existence.  Already, religious, civic, communal and professional organizations have proliferated and make a deep impact on American social life.  The number of second generation Nigerian American is growing, as is new Nigerian immigration. There is substantial return immigration flowing both ways, and efforts by Nigerians in America to vote in Nigeria’s elections might be successful.  Improvements in communication technology will make those ties easier to maintain and contribute to social, economic, political and cultural life. Black identity will draw from these and other sources contributed by other Africans in America, who like Nigerians are part of the old, ongoing and future Diaspora.  Nigerian American trade will continue, and probably grow since there is mutual interest in both countries for continuance.  

Appendix I: Migration statistics

The emigration rate of Nigerians to America, from 2000-2002 was 0.8%; with 14.8% of Nigerian immigrants worldwide in America, where they are 0.38% of all immigrants (UNDP 2009a). 

Appendix II: Census statistics 

The US Census bureau gathers information on Nigerian immigrants in the American Community Survey (ACS), using standard categories.  However, some data would be elusive despite the best fact-gathering efforts because undocumented aliens fear that contact with government agencies would jeopardize their stay in America  There are sometimes insufficient numbers within the sample to make clearcut assessment but with increases in the numbers of Nigerian immigrants, such figures can be provided.

United States S0201. Selected Population Profile in the United States  
Population Group: Nigerian (553-560)
Data Set: 2006-2008 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates
Survey: American Community Survey 

SubjectTotal population
Margin of Error
Nigerian (553-560)
Margin of Error
Total population301,237,703*****239,990+/-8,324
One race97.8%+/-0.197.4%+/-0.6
Two races2.0%+/-0.12.5%+/-0.5
Three races0.1%+/-0.10.1%+/-0.1
Four or more races0.0%+/-0.10.0%+/-0.1
Total population301,237,703*****239,990+/-8,324
Under 5 years6.9%+/-0.110.8%+/-0.7
5 to 17 years17.6%+/-0.121.8%+/-1.1
18 to 24 years9.8%+/-0.112.9%+/-0.9
25 to 34 years13.3%+/-0.114.5%+/-0.8
35 to 44 years14.3%+/-0.116.9%+/-0.7
45 to 54 years14.6%+/-0.115.3%+/-0.7
55 to 64 years10.8%+/-0.15.5%+/-0.4
65 to 74 years6.5%+/-0.11.6%+/-0.3
75 years and over6.1%+/-0.10.7%+/-0.2
Median age (years)36.7+/-0.127.9+/-0.7
18 years and over75.5%+/-0.167.4%+/-1.1
21 years and over71.1%+/-0.161.3%+/-1.1
62 years and over15.3%+/-0.13.3%+/-0.4
65 years and over12.6%+/-0.12.3%+/-0.3
Under 18 years73,806,575+/-13,42378,235+/-4,285
18 years and over227,431,128+/-13,385161,755+/-5,654
18 to 34 years69,762,524+/-13,25565,723+/-3,263
35 to 64 years119,688,468+/-18,89990,516+/-3,323
65 years and over37,980,136+/-7,1205,516+/-826
Population in households293,015,322*****231,956+/-8,137
Householder or spouse57.3%+/-0.147.9%+/-1.0
Other relatives6.7%+/-0.18.1%+/-0.9
Unmarried partner2.1%+/-0.10.9%+/-0.2
Family households66.6%+/-0.166.4%+/-1.8
With own children under 18 years31.0%+/-0.147.5%+/-2.1
Married-couple family49.6%+/-0.147.0%+/-1.5
With own children under 18 years21.4%+/-0.135.6%+/-1.7
Female householder, no husband present, family12.5%+/-0.112.3%+/-1.2
With own children under 18 years7.4%+/-0.18.5%+/-1.1
Nonfamily households33.4%+/-0.133.6%+/-1.8
Male householder15.5%+/-0.123.2%+/-1.7
Living alone12.1%+/-0.119.9%+/-1.6
Not living alone3.4%+/-0.13.3%+/-0.7
Female householder17.9%+/-0.110.4%+/-1.0
Living alone15.4%+/-0.18.5%+/-1.0
Not living alone2.5%+/-0.11.9%+/-0.5
Average household size2.61+/-0.013.17+/-0.08
Average family size3.20+/-0.014.08+/-0.07
SubjectTotal population
Margin of Error
Nigerian (553-560)
Margin of Error
Source: (selected categories) U.S. Census Bureau, 2006-2008 American Community Survey (US Census Bureau 2008) 


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Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome is an International Political Economist whose regional specialization is on the African continent. Educated at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, Long Island University, New York, and Columbia University, New York, she’s a Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College, CUNY; past Women’s Studies Program Director and past Deputy Chair for Graduate Studies in the Department of Political Science at Brooklyn College. Born in Nigeria, Mojúbàolú has worked on international development issues as a consultant for clients including the United Nations and Commonwealth Secretariat in London. Her teaching interests include a focus on the meanings of inclusive, equitable citizenship in the context of the interplay between globalization, democratization and economic development. Her research interests include: Effects of globalization, post-colonialism, and post-modernity on economic and political transformation; youth, gender, democracy and citizenship in Africa and African Diaspora Studies. She has authored or edited 6 books and published numerous book chapters and journal articles in her areas of research interest. She founded and edits the peer-reviewed journal: Ìrìnkèrindò: a Journal of African Migration


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