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Nigerian Green Card Holders in America: Catching Hell in Paradise? (III)

The following post first appeared in my weekly column on December 30, 2006 in the Weekly Trust newspaper, Abuja, Nigeria. By Farooq A. Kpe...

The following post first appeared in my weekly column on December 30, 2006 in the Weekly Trust newspaper, Abuja, Nigeria.

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Given the volume of private inquiries I have received on immigration matters since I started this series, I feel compelled to preface my column this week with the disclaimer that I am no expert on U.S. immigration. I do not have the experience, the knowledge, or the authority to give advice on immigration issues.

What I have been writing in this column are no more than mere anecdotal accounts of my experiences with Nigerians who are here by virtue of winning the Green Card lottery. And, as with all anecdotal accounts, they are limited, even superficial, and unworthy of being used as a sole basis for any firm conclusion. People who need professional services on immigration to the United States should go to the public affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.

Having said that, I will proceed to conclude this series. I stated last week that not all Nigerian Green Card holders here are beset by tales of woes. I have been told that there are many Nigerian Green Card lottery winners who are “doing well” here.

I have neither the space nor the inclination to give a catalogue of these people because I have not personally met any of them. It seems to me, nevertheless, that there are four categories of people that have the potential to benefit most from possessing the Green Card.

The first category is composed of people who are already here on non-immigrant visas: students, researchers, visitors, etc. Because of their prior knowledge of the workings of the society, they are usually able to make the best use of the opportunities that the Green Card offers. Of course, having a non-immigrant visa is no guarantee that you will win the Green Card lottery.

The second category is made up of young people who are either fresh out of the university or are about entering the university when they come here. The advantage of age makes it easy for them to go back to school and arm themselves with American qualifications with which to entrench themselves in their new society.

The third category comprises people who possess scarce professional competencies. Such people as IT professionals, nurses, engineers, doctors (if they are ready to retrain), well-published scholars, etc often find it easier to make inroads into the American middle class than people with everyday qualifications.

The last category is people who have nothing to lose by leaving Nigeria—and nothing to hope for by remaining there. I am talking of people who, even if they come here and end up as “maiguards,” are still better off because they couldn’t be any better if they remained in Nigeria.

This is, after all, the most prosperous country on Earth. The worst services and infrastructure here are light-years better than our best. Sad but true. In spite of all the reality checks that jolt you to the disjunction between the lavish glamorization of this country in the popular imagination and the reality on the ground, this is still one of the best places anybody can ever hope to live in the world.

If for nothing, you can at least wake up every day and be sure that there will be electricity. Millions of people here can’t conceive of the kinds of power outages we endure in Nigeria—and with equanimity most of the time. It’s trite to say that the regular and unfailing functioning of modern conveniences is taken for granted here. And there is no fuel scarcity here!

Many of my American friends simply can’t fathom why we suffer from perpetual fuel shortages when we are the fifth largest suppliers of oil to the United States. An exasperated American once asked me if our leaders are actually retarded. I think they are not only retarded; they are also greedy, incompetent, narcissistic and insensitive.

Which leaders would create the condition for the kind of tragedy that befell Lagos this week? In the midst of severe fuel scarcity, criminals, apparently associated with the government, burst open a pipeline and siphoned tanker loads of petrol. In the wake of their criminality, poor people reeling from the effects of fuel scarcity swooped on the leaking pipes, thinking it was their own “Christmas gift” before tragedy struck.

Needless to say, law enforcement is incredibly efficient here. And the majority of the people are honest. In fact, it’s honesty that sustains this society. It’s its engine. The credit system— which is the backbone of the American society—and Internet commerce are sustained by trust and honesty. If not, how can you purchase items worth thousands of dollars on the Internet from people you never know and will probably never know and your order gets delivered to you? That is impossible in Nigeria.

Of course, there is also security of life and property. Where such assurances are breached, you can be sure that the law enforcement agents will come to your aid. I often wonder why people choose to be criminals here. It seems to me that you have to have two things in excess to choose to be a criminal in this country: stupidity and pluck.

The law enforcement here is so efficient that very few crimes go unresolved.
Again, this is a society that gives every citizen—or almost every citizen—an opportunity to succeed. Not everybody, of course, takes advantage of this opportunity. But the society is structured in such a way that people don’t necessarily have to be rich to afford the conveniences of life.

All they need to have is a good credit history and a decent, regular job. Credit history is a record of an individual's past borrowing and repaying, including information about late payments and bankruptcy. When a customer fills out an application for credit from a financial institution, their information is forwarded to a credit bureau, along with constant updates on the status of their credit accounts.

This information is used by lenders to determine an individual's credit worthiness; that is, determining an individual's means and willingness to repay an indebtedness.
This helps determine whether to extend credit, and on what terms. If they have a good credit rating and a decent job, they can usually get mortgage from their banks to buy any kind of car, house, etc even if these things are ordinarily well above their means.

If they don’t get to repay the whole mortagege in their life times, their children or named beneficiaries will continue from where they stopped. That’s the origin of the expression, “mortgage the future of your children.” In sum, this is a country that WORKS. And this compensates for any disappointments that some Green Card holders here may experience.

Nevertheless, there are three kinds of Green Card lottery winners I will always advise to think twice before coming here: (1) people who are already doing well in Nigeria, (2) people who have only modest educational attainments with little chances to improve themselves here, and (3) people who are so advanced in age that they will find it difficult to adjust to a new, strange cultural and social setting.

Many Nigerians here who work several menial jobs to survive, especially at a fairly advanced age, are literally living in hell. They have enmeshed themselves in a vicious trap. They grow premature grey hair and permanently look frazzled because they can’t afford to rest. It’s a hard life. They remain here because they can’t live with the “shame” of returning home as “failures.”

But even the so-called successful ones here all wish that they had their success in Nigeria. I am yet to come across any Nigerian here who didn’t wish he could stay at home and not be a glorified economic refugee in another person’s land.

There is something about one’s land of birth that is difficult to completely dissociate from. However well you are doing in another man’s country, and however integrated you may be in your new society, you still feel a nagging sense of alienation, an abiding homesickness.

Perhaps, if we didn’t have a bunch of criminal rulers who have ruined our present and are ruining our future, America would not be such a huge attraction for our people. I read somewhere this week that Nigeria has the second highest number of applicants to this year’s edition of the Green Card lottery. We are second only to Bangladesh, another impoverished and corrupt country with which we always compete for first position in Transparency International’s annual ranking of the world’s most corrupt nations.

Gani Fawehinmi at his inATIKUlate worst
It was one of my American students who first called my attention to the “sack” of the vice president by the president. After taking my class in news reporting and writing, my students now easily relate with news from Nigeria.

My student was alarmed that our president has such enormous powers that he can unilaterally fire his deputy without recourse to the Congress. I thought this was a joke until I read the details in our newspapers myself.

It does not require someone with a legal education to know that Obasanjo’s purported sack of Atiku is a crying, culpable rape of the constitution. And you don’t have to like Atiku to acknowledge this.

However, the most disconcerting thing for me is Gani Fawehinmi’s well-publicized stamp of approval on this barefaced executive banditry. He is reported to have said that Obasanjo’s action has basis in law. It is obvious that this is merely the product of Fawehinmi’s whimsical legal interpretation, an interpretation that is balanced on a very scrimpy strand of constitutional evidence.

For people who had seen in Fawehinmi the model of a person who has transcended petty ethnic allegiances, this must be a distressing time for them. Just the other day, he again stamped his imprimatur on the notorious subversion of our laws in the impeachment of the thieving ex-governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye.

I think Fawehinmi should be frank enough to accept to serve on Obasanjo’s legal team. He can even replace Afe Babalola as Obasanjo’s main lawyer. He should stop deceiving people that he is a pro-democracy activist. He is not. In fact, he has never been. With the benefit of hindsight, is it possible that Fawehinmi’s exuberant opposition to the military was actuated more by primordial animosities than by a desire to protect the rule of law?

But many people had cause to point out that this man is basically a media creation. People who know him closely say his modest intellectual endowments are scandalously out of step with the larger-than-life public perceptions we have of him in the media.

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