Tuesday, September 28, 2021

    Why are Nigerians in diaspora so successful

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    Anthony Joshua, world heavyweight boxing champion; John Boyega, Hollywood actor; Pearlena Igbokwe, Universal Studios group chair and Maggie Aderin-Pocock, space scientist.

    These are just a few names in a long list of Nigerians in diaspora who have achieved success on an international scale in a wide range of fields.

    61% proportion of Nigerian immigrants in the US to hold at least a bachelors degree In the US, Nigerians are the most highly educated of all groups, with 61 per cent holding at least a bachelors degree compared with 31 per cent of the total foreign-born population and 32 per cent of the US-born population, according to 2017 data from the Migration Policy Institute.

    More than half of Nigerian immigrants (54 per cent) were most likely to occupy management positions, compared with 32 per cent of the total foreign-born population and 39 per cent of the US-born population.

    Similar Nigerian success is reflected in the UK, where many in a highly-educated diaspora work in financial services, IT, and the legal and medical professions. What drives Nigerians and the diaspora, and can future generations continue their success?

    The economic future of Nigeria and the success of Nigerians abroad are closely tied, as is the lack of opportunity that drives many to leave home in the first place.

    In the past three years, Nigerians abroad have sent home more than $25bn annually in remittances, according to President Muhammadu Buhari, who this summer emphasised the importance of support equivalent to about 6 per cent of the country’s GDP and 80 per cent of the annual budget.

    A strong desire to succeed in life, enabled by education, is also a common theme in Nigerian homes. In 2016, the continent’s most populous nation sent the largest number of African students abroad — 95,000 — and ranked fifth in the world in terms of overall number of students in foreign study; the UK and US were among their top destinations for Nigerian students, according to figures from Unesco. “Education is an essential part of our culture,” says Emeka Okaro, a consultant obstetrician and lead clinician for benign gynaecology at St Bartholomew’s and Royal London Hospital, who was born in Moscow to Nigerian-born parents and now lives in London.

    “[When] I went to school, we were encouraged to excel. Parents expected it of us.” His wife Joy Odili, a consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon at St George’s Hospital, adds: “As a people we are very proud and we like to do well.

    I had a parent who absolutely believed I could be anything I wanted, therefore I grew up [believing] there was no obstacle to whatever I wanted to achieve.” Where others might see chaos, Nigerians see opportunity Resilience is another big part of the Nigerian identity.

    A “special case of lack of infrastructure [in Nigeria] engenders in us is a real creativity, so where others might see chaos, Nigerians see opportunity,” says award-winning Nigerian writer and novelist Chibundu Onuzo who lives in the UK and will publish her third novel — Sankofa — next year.

    “Sometimes that is why Nigerians in diaspora — especially the first generation — can be reluctant to talk about race and racial barriers, because we are conditioned to not say, ‘

    It is not going to work for me because . . . ’. They don’t want to talk about racial bias. They want to talk about the opportunities.”

    June Angelides, a venture capitalist who was born in London but attended secondary school in Nigeria, says growing up surrounded by family and friends who were entrepreneurs, gave her the confidence to start Mums in Technology.

    The baby-friendly coding course trained more than 250 women to become tech literate, and some alumnae went on to start their own companies. Women are [also] realising they have to take charge.

    They cannot wait to be given permission any more “It’s in our blood. One thing I love about Nigerians is we have this inherent ability to make things happen where it may seem impossible to others.

    We are extremely resourceful as a nation,” says Ms Angelides, who was awarded an MBE for services to women in technology this month. “Women are [also] realising they have to take charge.

    They cannot wait to be given permission any more. But we still need more visible female role models [in leadership].”

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