BY Dr Chuks Osuji, OON, FNIPR.
Evidently, before the civil war in Nigeria, just quite a few those of Igbo ethnic nationality were travelling to the United Kingdom in search of the Golden Fleece. Those who were able to mobilize both the financial requirements and to support a series of documentation requirements were mostly UK bound students. They were those whose parents were indeed wealthy to the teeth. That is why the earlier students in the United Kingdom were sons of the Ojukwus, Asinobis, Eronins, Anyanwus, Ihekwoabas etc. Although the opportunity was open for these prospective UK bound Igbo students to travel to the United States, for some reasons their attention was focused on schools in the United Kingdom. Prominent schools which attracted a lot of Igbo students then were the University of London, London School of Economics, London College of African and Oriental Studies and many other Universities in the provinces such as University of Manchester, Liverpool, etc. Few headed to adjoining cities such as those in Scotland and Ireland. The principal reason for such a flock of students to go to the United Kingdom was due to the fact that our education system and curricular were tied to those of the United Kingdom because of the colonialist influence.
Incidentally, about the beginning of the civil war and immediately after it, the tide changed. Igbo prospective students turned their attention to the United States as the principal attractive points. There were a couple of reasons for this. During the civil war, the role played by the British Government was very appalling and in fact alienated Ndi Igbo against the British and its interests in Nigeria. It was clear that although the United States did not openly support Nigerian because of its diplomatic tie with the British, it acquiesced to numerous and open support by various agencies and individuals in the United States. Of equal importance was that many colleges and universities in the United State offered various categories of scholarships to Igbo prospective students if nothing to enable them to escape the harsh economic and psychological trauma to which they were subjected by the then Federal Government of Nigeria after the war. In addition, those studying in the united state could be effectively fending for themselves while still undergoing full-time studies, a situation that was never and could never be found in the United Kingdom.
Thus, in the last 40 years, thousands of Igbo have moved to the United States first as genuine students and secondly as those escaping harsh economic conditions in the country. In fact, as time went by, visa conditions were very favourable to those entering the US.
There is one thing which has sustained foreigners in the United States; the country is a liberal country where people mind their business. There, known illegal immigrants could live with Americans citizens yet, nobody but nobody would attempt to report them to authorities; where a city police officers who arrest you for a traffic offence would rather not ask you of your immigration status because to him, it is not his business. Besides, America is a highly industrialized society with a booming economy where the so-called dream simply means, “No scare availability of those jobs which American citizens want” and not those menial and odd jobs which Americans would not like to touch. These include security, dishwashing in hotels and restaurants, janitorial jobs, cleaning elevators or escalators, toilets etc. These types of jobs are easily available for foreigner including the Igbo who are by nature enterprising, hardworking and willing to do anything to survive.
Unfortunately for every good thing, there is bound to be the other side of the coin which is a bad side. Within the last 40 years which saw the influx of Igbos into the United States, there has been increased in the population of Igbo children born in the US. Painfully enough, some of the parents don’t bring them home but some very scanty. So today in the United States, children of Igbo ethnic nationality born in the United States know little or nothing about the country of the tribe of their parents. Hence, some parents have been making efforts to ensure that the children embrace the Igbo culture by bringing them home regularly. But some don’t have such facilities and opportunities. In fact, most of these children have become adults and have begun to marry. First, they would like to marry those Igbo born in the US both men and women. But absolutely there is a short supply of husband of American origin of Nigerian parentage. What is now happening is Igbo males who could not find Igbo ladies of America origin to marry have resorted to marrying foreign ladies including black Americans. The obvious impact of this is that there is a growing population of “lost generation of Igbo” now in the Diaspora and the number is growing. The rate is growing fast and the influence of Igbo parents is becoming weaker to the fact, such that some parents consent to their children performing their “traditional wedding” in America. To many Igbo idealogues, this is an aberration. But the reality is that in fact, there is nothing much these helpless parents could do. Because, in America, once a person reaches the age of 18, “he or she is no longer under the control or influence of the parents both in law and in fact.”
Believe me, in the next 20 to 50 years, there will be “a nation of Igbo just as a nation of Jews could today be found in many countries in Europe and America.” Who then will say the Igbo and Jews do not have common ancestral linkage no matter how tenuous?