If you believe the mainstream media in this country, Nigerians are among the most corrupt people in the world,” says Olakunle O. Akinboboye, M.D. “But that’s a terrible stereotype without an iota of truth.” Nigerians should have their own newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television and Internet outlets “to showcase our best and brightest,” he declares.
Born in Nigeria, with a successful practice in Queens, N.Y., Dr. Akinboboye, 50, is exemplary of the thousands of Nigerians who have settled in America and made remarkable contributions. Many of them are reflecting on their life in America as they prepare to celebrate Nigeria’s 51st anniversary of independence from Britain on Oct. 1.
“Like any other people, there are good Nigerians and bad Nigerians,” Akinboboye continues. “And just because a few of us do the wrong thing, the rest of us should not be condemned. The bad ones always get all the press, while those working hard and trying to be good citizens are ignored.”
Not to be ignored is the $10 billion that hardworking Nigerians abroad sent back to Nigeria last year, the bulk of it coming from the United States, making that country first among remittance recipients in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank’s Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011. The remittances are a boon to money-transfer firms like Western Union. Last November, Western Union added Nigeria’s United Bank for Africa to its agent network, “complementing our already extensive reach across the nation,” Aida Diarra, Western Union’s regional vice president for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said at the time.
Some of those hardworking Nigerians are now prominent Americans and they have carved a special niche for themselves in just about every walk of life. And this phenomenal rate of achievement has been a fact since the late 1960s and early 1970s, when about one million Nigerians immigrated to the United States. Today, they are the single largest contemporary African immigrant group in the nation. Moreover, according to recent a U.S. Census Bureau report, they surpass all other ethnic groups in educational attainment. “[Education] is one of the reasons we have accomplished so much here,” Akinboboye explains.
Akinboboye, who came to America in 1985, said he chose to come to study here because of the exceptional post-graduate programs. He was also impressed with the cutting-edge technology that was available. A sizable segment of that technology, particularly the Internet and the digital world we live in, can be attributed to Philip Emeagwali, whose roots are deeply embedded in Nigeria. “I was born in Nigeria and though my body is somewhere else, I will always be a Nigerian,” he says. Among a galaxy of achievements, Emeagwali, who has offices in England and Washington, D.C., is perhaps best known for his development of the supercomputer. CNN dubbed him “A father of the Internet.”
Emeagwali, 56, was educated in London and arrived in America in 1974 where his mathematical genius — a title he rejects — was deftly harnessed to the groundbreaking world of computers. Most astoundingly, Emeagwali discovered a formula that enabled supercomputers powered by 65,000 electronic brains called “processors” to perform the world’s fastest calculations. This constituted a new paradigm and led to other breakthroughs in the information age.
Several years ago, Gabriel Oyibo’s name was mentioned in the same scientific circles as Emeagwali. Oyibo, a native of Nigeria who has resided in the states for quite awhile, claimed to have done something Albert Einstein could not do: formulate a united theorem of everything. While his mathematical deductions and equations have received recognition from various respected physicists, there remains a number who are not sure what to make of it. So, the jury is still out whether Oyibo has done what no other has — and we await approval from a consensus of scientists qualified to comprehend his calculations.
Another phenomenal Nigerian is Olufunmilayo Olopade, a highly skilled hematology oncologist at the University of Chicago Medical Center. In March, President Obama appointed her to the National Cancer Advisory Board. Born in 1957 and a graduate of Ibadan University in Nigeria, Dr. Olopade is a renowned specialist in the treatment of breast cancer and was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award in 2005 for her comparative study of breast cancer around the world. “I discovered that breast cancer is really many diseases,” she said in a video presentation at the Chicago Medical Center.
Nigerians in America are not only unraveling the mysteries of the universe, specializing in heart ailments and solving grave medical problems, they are also outstanding people in the arts, such as prize-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and actress Sophie Okonedo, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role opposite Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda.
These superb Nigerians have definitely and definitively established their American credentials, but how do they relate to their homeland? “I visit at least once a year. Mainly, I return there to teach and to train, but it’s also an opportunity to see my many friends and family there,” says Akinboboye. “While we are on this subject of visitations to Nigeria,” he adds, “there is a somewhat reverse migration going on. Many Nigerians are returning now that things are a bit calmer, particularly in the southern part of the country.”
Omoyele Sowore, founder of Sahara Reporters, is providing a platform to counter the negative images of Nigerians. “Sahara Reporters is not a journalistic endeavor,” he said in an interview posted on his site. “It is a reportorial platform for Nigerian citizens. It is a place where citizens report news — where they report themselves. We report events, news and write reports of real time issues. It is our response to the failure — the refusal or lack of will on the part of professional journalists — to report real news to the people. The goal of Sahara Reporters is like asking citizens to prepare their own food instead of eating junk food.”
Equally indispensable is The African Sun Times, with the esteemed “dean of African media in America,” Chika Onyeani, at the helm. A recent issue of the newspaper carries an interview with Nigerian-born Chidinma Emenike, who at that time was competing for Miss West Africa USA, 2011. Asked to give her definition of success she replied: “Success, to me, means setting goals and always trying for those goals. The reality is that sometimes you may not achieve exactly what you set out to do, but if you give up, or, worse, if you never try, you are a failure. This, I can guarantee. Therefore, I measure true success by the climb ... by never giving up the climb — no matter how difficult it sometimes may be.”
This advice clearly has been absorbed by thousands of Nigerians in America who have never given up and who continue to make newsworthy contributions in their adopted home.