By Chuks Osuji
Before the Nigerian civil war, just quite a few Igbo people were travelling to the United Kingdom in search of the Golden Fleece. Those who were able to mobilize both the financial requirements to support a series of documentation requirements were mostly UK bound students. They were those whose parents were indeed extremely wealthy. That is why the earlier students in the United Kingdom were the sons of Ojukwus, Asinobis, Eroninis, 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. A few headed to adjoining cities such as those in Scotland and Ireland. The principal reason for such a flock of students choose the United Kingdom was 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 attraction 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 from the British and its interests in Nigeria. It was clear that although the United States did not openly support Nigeria because of its diplomatic tie with the British, it acquiecesed 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 States offered various categories of scholarships to Igbo prospective students to enable them escape the harsh economic and psychological trauma to which they were subjected by the then Federal government. In addition, those studying in the United States could be effectively fending for themselves while still undergoing full time studies, situation that was never and could never be found in the United Kingdom.
Thus, in the last 40 years, thousands of Igbos 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 businesses. There, known illegal immigrants could live with American citizens, yet, nobody would attempt to report them to the authorities; where a city police officer who arrests 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 booming economy where there were jobs. These include, security, dishwashing in hotels and restaurants, janitorial jobs, cleaning elevators or escalators, toilets etc. These types of jobs were easily available that foreigners, including Igbos who are by nature enterprising, hardworking and willing to do anything to survive.
Unfortunately, there is the other side of the coin. Within the last 40 years which saw the influx of Igbos into the United States, there has been increase in the population of Igbo children born in the US. Painfully enough, many of the parents don’t bring their children home. So, today children of Igbos born in the United States know little or nothing about the country or 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 Igbos born in the US. But there is a short supply of husbands of American origin of Nigeria parentage. What is now happening is Igbo males who could not find Igbo ladies of American origin to marry have resorted to marrying other foreign ladies including black Americans.
The obvious impact of this is that there is a growing population of “lost generation of Igbos” 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 effect that some parents have begun to consent to their children performing their “traditional wedding” in America. To many Igbo ideologues, 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 between 20 and 50 years, there will be “a nation of Igbos just as a nation of Jews could today be found in many countries in Europe and America.” Who then will say Igbos and Jews do not have common ancestral linkage no matter how tenuous.