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The broken twig

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During my last visit to the United States, I had a rather interesting discussion with my brother-in-law, about his experiences during his two-year job hunt post immigration. Each time he sent his CV to fellow Nigerians, they’d fail to help him. However, the moment he finally managed, despite all the odds to secure a decent job, there has been no end to the flood of messages asking him to come and join the town’s union. He queried the utility of the town’s union if only cared about him when he had sorted himself out by himself.

Compare this attitude with the attitude of three other groups of people who moved to the new continent en masse within the last century and a half, the Italians, the Jews, and the Indians.

When the Italians first began to arrive in America, they were faced with racial discrimination, the kind which was almost always reserved for niggers. Heck, on 14 March 1891, 11 Italian men were murdered in what was at the time the second-largest mass lynching in American history.

But the Italians did not adopt the mantra of “every man for himself”, but instead worked their way up. Especially in New York. When you were coming off the boat at Ellis Island, you were sure to be taken to the man who would be your padrone to guide and place you.

Granted there was the link to organised crime which was strengthened by the ill-advised government prohibition of alcohol, but the point remains that the Italians stuck together, grew their community, and with time, evolved to be an influential political bloc.

In the middle of the 19th century, many German Jews began to emigrate to the United States. Towards the end of the century, they were joined by Yiddish speaking Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe. Like the Italians, they faced all sorts of discrimination from the resident odionweres, but over time, they pulled together and created support networks for one another. Like the Italians, upon arrival, you were introduced to your local synagogue, and from there help was sure to come to aid you find your feet in the new, and sometimes hostile country. These days, there is no denying the influence of the Jewish lobby in American politics.

The same can be said of the Indians, and the result has been their almost utter dominance of the software industry in the U.S. It is not an accident that Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella are the head honchos at Google and Microsoft respectively. They got their leg up through a solid backbone and their positions are the sort that can have a huge influence on American policy, unlike random doctors, NFL stars or entertainers…

Nigerians who have made it big in the U.S, have, to my knowledge and in general, do it on their own, and as a result, we have not built a solid and interwoven societal network which makes us easy pickings for predatory rulings. Nigerians on our own also need to realise that even if the richest man of African descent (Aliko Dangote) or the richest woman of African descent (Folorunsho Alakija) come from our country, as long as we are collectively poor and disunited, we will always be looked down on. Nigeria’s per capita income, the money each Nigerian makes in a year, is $2400. That is roughly the cost of a high-end laptop. We cannot possibly command international respect with that level of income unless we look out for each other.

There’s a famous anecdote about unity where a twig is easily broken when taken alone, but nigh on impossible to break when in a broom with a bunch of others. That is how best I can describe the Nigerian community abroad as well as the Nigerian community back home.

A few days ago, the Trump Administration announced a restriction on Nigerians migrating to the United States. This piece is not to talk about the reasons behind the restraint, but to point out that if the 380,000 people of Nigerian ancestry in the US had any organisational acumen, I daresay that the restriction would never have happened. The lobbying in Washington would have been intense, and effective. But like Nigerians back home, it appears that the Nigerian diaspora don’t have the ability to come together to protect and project their group interests.

It is an interesting, and unhappy coincidence that this visa thing happened at the same time as Lagos Nigeria’s largest economy, showed (again) that it does not serve the interests of the people, with a ban on a mode of transportation. Cue bedlam.

What has been the reaction of the people? Has there been any organised attempt to lobby the Lagos State Government about the cost of the ban in productivity, the lost man-hours and the sheer strain of commuting that the ban will put on the resources of businesses in the state?

Your guess is as good as mine. We simply do not, as a people, appear to be able to organise to protect our group interests, and it starts from the little things like the failure to help struggling members of our society to find their feet. In essence, Nigeria is a pile of individual twigs.


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