Tuesday, 29 September 2015 13:51

How To Succeed In America As a Nigerian Immigrant

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It appears that any Nigerian from any tribe should be proud to improve himself/herself. Coming to America might be one of the ways to get up in life if you know what you want out of life. You have excellent opportunity to jump-start your life, having been through the horrors of Biafra and pogrom, boko haram violence, kidnappings, hunger, nights without electricity, bad economic times, and frequent university shutdowns due to teacher strikes. You might still be unemployed after graduating from the university with a degree in civil engineering.

Many successful Nigerians came to America in the 70's when things were a little easier in terms of granting F-1 Student Visas . There were many scholarships and financial assistance available for brainy Nigerians. Those Nigerians had excellent opportunities to obtain the Bachelor's, Master's and the Ph.D's with OPM (other people's money) . We came with one purpose in mind: to get an education and return home to Nigeria to serve our people, Education then was a "hot cake" and a sure way to become somebody.

Education is still a sure way to success. Pursuing money without education is a terrible waste of time because, without knowledge, you wouldn't know what to do with the money or how to manage it when it comes. You've heard people say: "Knowledge is power"?. Your money may disappear at any time. Your education stays with you as long as you live. Cheap pleasurable luxury is a trap for the unwary. It is not how much you make that matters. It is how well you use your resources.

Take Nigeria for example. We've made billions of dollars from our oil, but now we are broke, becoming almost a beggar nation. Why? It is not because our leaders lack proper skills that come from education. It is because they have not learned how to manage a nation well.  All of us in Nigerian, both leaders and followers, must realize that success is a learned behavior, not bought in the market.

The good old days in America are gone. Hard time is here. Scholarships have dried up, and you are expected to pay for your tuitions and boards with the money Americans believe is flowing freely like water in your country, especially when your corrupt politicians are dumping billions of dollars in America, England, and Switzerland for the world to see. These billions are used to develop foreign lands while your home is being impoverished.

Therefore, come to America prepared to pay your way without ending up in jails as a thief, or being deported as an undesirable. If you are deported and you come back under a different name, be sure that American technology is so advanced they would catch up with you through your fingerprints or court records. Your friends might be the informers to report on you.  The Immigration has spies planted in every country to report on smart-ass crooks.

To succeed in America, we had to work hard to change problem attitudes and behaviors we inherited from being born Nigerian. The attitudes include but are not limited to these in Igbo language:  inyanga (pride, arrogance); anya ukwu (greed); esemokwu (quarrelsomeness); oke akpili ego; ( big appetite for money); and ekwulekwu (talkativeness). These are some of the battles you have to wage against yourself.

Though other tribes may laugh all they want and think they are trouble-free, remember that any member of any Nigerian tribe who wants to succeed in Nigeria or elsewhere must first take a deep, hard, painful look at himself or herself and effect necessary behavioral modifications. Nigeria is in its 55th-year (1960-2015) out of colonialism, yet many of us are still encaged or boxed up in colonial mentality. For examples, many of us still believe others should take care of us even when we are adults. We still believe in witchcraft to achieve our goals when all we need are hard work, strength of mind, being sensible, and making wise choices.

Younger Nigerians coming to America nowadays have priorities so dissimilar and different than those of the older Nigerians who came in the 60's ,70's, 80's, and 90's. Education is no longer a priority among younger Nigerian immigrants who are coming to drink Heinekens and  Stouts beers, womanize, smoke marijuana or engage in crimes to  make easy money at all costs. Of the newcomers  who want fast money, a few succeed. The majority end up in despicable ways. By despicable, we mean appalling, dreadful, contemptible, deplorable, disgraceful, vile, loathsome, or wicked. Some have died while committing various crimes. Many have ended up in jail and/or deported.

This 25-year-old Nigerian man I will name Paul came to us with a valid Nigerian passport, asking for help. We helped him to rent a Ford truck equipped with a cold storage for the purpose of selling ice, cream, soft drinks and snacks during the summer months. Paul failed to pay the small rental fees to the truck owner, and hid the vehicle away. While the truck was missing, Paul went to court to claim damages for a wreck that occurred when someone hit the truck. How do you claim damages for a vehicle which does not belong to you and for which the owner had paid insurance? That explains the complexity of Paul's deviousness.

After the owner recovered his truck which had been used for months without rents being paid, Paul went into another illegal get-rich-quick scheme and was sentenced to a 20-year prison term. He bought a car and unregistered gun and began distributing illegal drugs on the streets of America.  Most black and white Americans do not like Nigerians whom they consider to be arrogant, disrespectful, and dishonest. Nigerians are known in almost all countries as crooks and  419 practitioners. One who claims not to know this is an unmitigated liar.

While Paul was attempting to sell drugs with his thick Nigerian accent in an unfamiliar neighborhood, citizens became suspicious and called the police. Paul, the Nigerian crook, ran and left his gun in the car. It is needless to say that he was arrested and charged with two-counts leading to felony convictions for carrying unlicensed weapon and carrying illegal substances for the purpose of distribution. These crimes are punishable with up to 20-year prison sentence and/or deportation.

What a fool Paul was!  He was lucky he wasn't shot in the back while fleeing from police for resisting arrest, which is what is happening today to many Afro-Americans. The police can shoot you to death and claim self defense, and nobody asks a question. Your illiterate parents won't have the money to hire attorneys to sue for your  wrongful death let alone appear in court to testify to your good character. Many Nigerians die needlessly everyday in the streets of America while engaging in unlawful activities.

There are lessons to be learned from this 25-year-old Nigerian named Paul who is probably spending days in prison or might have been deported. That he is a fool is clear from any side you see it: a foreigner, unfamiliar with the legal system, and fighting uphill battle in a jungle more sinister than the bushes he left behind in Nigeria. We are saying that life of easy money and fun does not make one successful. A combination of family values, do-or-die determination, and ability to endure scarcity while delaying immediate gratification would mould character that will surely produce a winner.

We know many Nigerian Americans who came to this country with very serious physical and financial disabilities. Some come from penniless homes and with both parents dead during their stay. Did they quit? They'd rather be dead than quit pursuing their goals tough as they were. Today, with extremely hard work, stubborn attitude and I-will die-if-I-don't-achieve-my-goal attitudes, many of these of Nigerians have been very successful, and are serving as Professors, Deans, Vice Presidents at American universities. Examples are Dr. Osuji of Alaska, Dr Okafor of North Carolina, Dr. Onyebuchi of Michigan, Accountant Igwilo of Maryland, and many others. Many are successful businessmen and women, If you come to America and have the proper attitudes, the sky is the limit to your level of success.

Successful people do not take No for an answer. Find out why you failed the first time, and try to not repeat the same mistake. Difficulties of life are not meant to make us bitter. They are meant to make us better, more tenacious. Getting an F in an Algebra course does not mean you should quit. It means you should practice more to master the concepts. This writer knows a successful Nigerian surgeon who made some bad grades in schools, but persisted and persisted till he perfected his grades. It does not matter how many times you failed; it matters how many times you got up after each failure. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Corporate America loves hardworking, disciplined workers. America is filled with Nigerian  professors, engineers, chemists, pharmacists, architects,, accountants, and entrepreneurs, to name just a few. Many Nigerian American college graduates may decide to work for themselves. They apply for the necessary business licenses and set up shops as limousine drivers, realtors, delivery truck workers, doctors, lawyer, accountants, and commercial truck drivers. Some Nigerians with the Master's or Ph.D degrees may decide to drive private taxis. Some are into shipping vehicles and motor parts home. No job is too dirty, high, or low for a sensible Nigerian.

Whoever tells you that hard work doesn't pay is telling a blatant lie! Think again. It definitely did for many Nigerians. Since they had no one to lean on to, it was a swim-or-drown frightening adventure for determined Nigerian Americans. Many honest, law-abiding Nigerians succeed in America through sheer hard work, and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  No job is too small or big for anyone; we do what we can on any job as long as it pays our bills and feeds the family. This Nigerian surgeon I shall name Dr. Emmanuel was mopping the hospital floor while he was in medical school in order to pay his fees and buy medical books. Humility pays while you are pursuing your goal. Dr. Emmanuel can attest to that. Pride is a vice.

It is a jungle out here in America. There are drugs everywhere. There are many illegal ventures like identity theft and stealing people's credit cards from mail boxes to buy and ship things home. You must be careful of the groups of people you associate with. A bird is known by the other bird of the same feathers it flocks together with. Attempt to flock with Americans and Nigerians with good character, who are about success and not concerned with thievery.  Learn to resist pressures to engage in some shady, make-money-quick  deals. Usually, bad people may try hard to corrupt the minds of weak but good individuals.

Some of the noticeable problems among male Nigerian American immigrants are excessive drunkenness, indiscriminate womanizing, and hopping from bar to bar at odd hours of the night. For the female Nigerian Americans, the problems  have a lot to do with prostitution, wrecking homes of married couples, forgeries, and obtaining jobs under false pretenses. Many Nigerians have been shot dead by police who suspect armed robberies or kidnappings are in progress.

Be grounded in something you brought from home, such as going to church, being in the company of people you have had time to study their character from home or for a long time.  We Nigerians have often come from homes that teach respect for self and others, loyalty, truthfulness, hard work, trustworthiness, being on time for appointments, bravery, and not giving up when the going gets tough. Keep these good habits and form others, such as cheerfulness, friendliness, helpfulness, and having positive attitudes in the face of difficulties.

Many young Nigerians come here and immediately want to behave like Americans without thinking through the consequences.  A criminal record or felony conviction will deter you progress and prevent you from being offered certain jobs or admission to colleges. If you are convicted of certain crimes, you may not be allowed to engage in some ventures requiring public trust.

Many Nigerians come to America playing "smart-ass"  games everyone is familiar with. Some claim they have millions they want to in invest. Some are claiming to be princes or related to wealthy politicians. A few claim to be children of the Oba of Lagos or some local chiefs. Such claims are deceiving and hold you up as a person not to be trusted. You might be robbed by the company you keep or by your fellow Nigerians, if your claims to be super-rich appear to be true. You are apt to be robbed if you drive fancy new cars, and are partying like a fool in the company of girls you hardly know, and who might be prostitutes waiting for the opportunity to have male companions strip you of your possessions.

One Nigerian man took a woman home  form a night club, and while he was busy fucking TDB (till daybreak), the woman's companions came through the door the woman had purposefully left unlocked and robbed the Nigerian of his television set, record payer, chairs, and shoes, and  other valuables. When the stupid Nigerian woke up from drunken sleep in the morning , he found the woman and his property gone forever.   It is needless to advise you to keep to one girlfriend or a handful of reputable females you can trust rather than run with the whole herds as a Fulani cattle keeper of 100 cows.

Live below your means. Economize. Buy slightly used items like vehicles, clothes, shoes, textbooks. Avoid being too showy. Save and buy with cash. Avoid using credit cards because credit makes the banks rich when they charge you as much as 21% interest. See it this way: I loan you 100 dollars and you pay back with 121 dollars. If you fail to pay up, the bank will seize the vehicle and you are left with nothing. Successful American millionaires are penny pinchers. Some people pick up pennies, dimes, and quarters people throw away. In time these coins add up to buy loaves of bread. Wealthy persons hardly spend, but poor people spend  a lot without thinking.

You do not succeed all by yourself without help from a few other persons. Successful Nigerians stood on the shoulders of helpers. While in America as a new Nigerian immigrant, begin to jot down names and phone numbers of people who have helped you along the way. Keep in touch with these people and ask for advice in difficult situations.

They are your mentors who might include successful Nigerians, previous employers, college teachers and people you have been on jobs with. It is wise to make new friends but keep the old ones for the future. You never know who might be of help when the time comes. Another thing: learn to show gratitude. Show appreciations for favor done to you. Learn to say "Thank You" in a convincing way. Some people send thank you cards or leave a thank you on voice mail or text messages.

Take good care of the body you live in. Avoid abusing your body with bad food, poisonous substances, and immoral lifestyle. This writer is not a physician. He is trained in mathematics, statistics, education and law. He cannot give medical advice but commonsense advice. He knows from experience that American food is not too healthy. Their meats are overloaded with chemical and antibiotics. Their drinks are full of sugar and salt which poison the body and lead to indigestion and other ailments. Nigerian Americans binge, overdo, overindulge in unhealthy eating habits which include excessive consumption of alcohol to the point of becoming alcoholics. One of my former students I shall name Chadriach drank beer and liquor heavily while in college. Chadriach  did not complete college 30 years after he started, and his mates tell me  Chadriach  has been seen wondering around homeless in Washington DC and might be dead by now.

Finally, leave a legacy behind. A legacy is inheritance, bequest, or birthright that shows you have been to America and succeeded. How would people remember your hard work if you live and die in America? While you are working hard and saving, plan occasional trips back home to see your people and lay your legacy. Marry a suitable wife or husband if you can from Nigeria, America, or anywhere you can. Plan to help your family back home through providing for elderly parents and relatives, helping elatives seeking education, or going into business.

Plan to build a retirement home in Nigeria by purchasing a piece of land to build "small small", as Nigerians say. You may use the land your family gave you. Laying the house's foundation, buying the necessary materials to do the roofing, and plastering can be done small small, and before you know it, you have a house built.

My last words on this topic are few. Forget you are a prince and work like a slave. Shove arrogance aside and a humble servant be. Work hard like your life depends on it, and it does. Work like you've never worked before and see your progress increase. Be pennywise and pound foolish, meaning spend less than you earn and live below your means. Always remember the valuable lessons your parents and elders taught you at home before coming to America, especially the pieces of advice regarding respect and showing appreciation. Don't get caught in the bad company of lazy, dishonest Americans or fellow Nigerians who would mislead you and get you in trouble.

I give you A SERIOUS WARNING here. Nigerian is not what it used to be. The relatives you left behind are not the people you think you've known all your life. Your relatives have changed to become envious of your success. They would attempt to dupe you, steal the things you've sent home to be sold for you, lie to you, and even kill you. Be wise as a serpent. It is good to call a spade a spade. Welcome to America and have a pleasant, profitable stay.

James Chukwuma Agazie is Professor (rtd)  with educational backgrounds in law (JD) education (Ed.D, MA) counseling,( MS), and mathematics (BA). He writes on topics dealing with Nigerian families, marriages, education, and employment. He advises on research and statistics, doctoral dissertations, and Master's theses. He is a married father of three sons and has several grandchildren.

Please direct comments or criticisms to the writer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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James Agazie Ed D

A retired college Professor  with educational backgrounds in law (JD) education (Ed.D, MA) counseling,( MS) and and mathematics.  Write on topics dealing with Nigerian families, marriages, education, and employment.