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Nigerian American

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Nigerian American

Nigerian Americans
Total population
277,631 (2012 American Community Survey)[1]
116,807 (Nigerian-born, 2007-2011) [2]
Regions with significant populations
Mainly in New Jersey, Los Angeles, Chicago metropolitan area
American English, Igbo, Yoruba, Efik, Hausa and various languages of Nigeria
Christianity: (Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism)
Sunni Islam, Animism, Voodoo, Agnosticism, Atheism minorities.

Nigerian Americans are Americans who are of Nigerian ancestry. According to a 2006 American Community Survey, there were about 266,000 U.S. residents claiming Nigerian heritage. Nigerian Americans makeup a significant part of African immigration to the United States.

Similar to their proportion of population on the continent of Africa, Nigerians are the single largest contemporary African immigrant group in the United States. Nigeria's official current population is 168.8 million. The largest communities of ethnic Nigerians living outside the country are those of the United Kingdom (see Nigerian British) and the United States. There are also significant amounts of Nigerians in Canada and Australia


The first people of Nigerian ancestry in what is now the modern United States came as slaves or indentured servants from the 17th century onwards.[3] Calabar, Nigeria, became a major point of export of slaves, from Africa to the Americas, during the 17 and 18th centuries. Most slave ships frequenting this port were English.[4] Most of the slaves of Bight of Biafra – many of them hailed from the Igbo hinterland – were imported to Virginia (which accounted for 60% of the Biafra´s slaves imported to United States, as well most of all slaves of Virginia) and South Carolina (arriving there the 34% of the Biafra´s slaves), surpassing in together the 30.000 slaves hailing from the Bight. These colonies were followed fundamentally by Maryland (where arrived the 4% of the Biafra´s slaves imported to United States, arriving more of 1,000 people of the Bight).

Under conditions in the European colonies, most English masters were not interested in tribal origins, which often were not recorded accurately. After two and three centuries of residence in the United States and the lack of documentation because of enslavement, African Americans have often been unable to track their ancestors to specific ethnic groups or regions of Africa. More to the point, like other Americans, they have become a mixture of many different heritages, although most of the slaves coming from what is now Nigeria are likely Igbo,[5] Yoruba and Hausa. However, also arrived to the current U.S. Nigerian slaves of others ethnic groups such as the Fulani and Edo people. The Igbo were exported mainly to Maryland[6] and Virginia,[7] place where they were the majority of all slaves (in fact, of the 37,000 African slaves that were imported to Virginia from Calabar during the eighteenth century, 30,000 of them were Igbo), importing Igbo people, between other slaves, to Kentucky. According to some historians, the Igbo were also most of the slaves in Maryland,[7] although according others, the most were from Gambia. This group was characterized by rebellion and its high rate of suicide, trying to challenge the slavery to which they were subjected.

Some Nigerian ethnic groups, such as the Yoruba, and some northern Nigerian ethnic groups, had tribal facial identification marks. These could have assisted a returning slave in relocating his or her ethnic group, but few slaves escaped the colonies. In the colonies, masters tried to dissuade the practice of tribal customs. They also sometimes mixed people of different ethnic groups to make it more difficult for them to communicate and band together in rebellion.[8]

After the abolition of slavery in 1865, many modern Nigerian immigrants have come to the United States to pursue educational opportunities in undergraduate and post-graduate institutions. This was possible because in the 1960s and 1970s, after the Biafra War, Nigeria's government funded scholarships for Nigerian students, and many of them were admitted to American universities. While this was happening, there were several military coups, among which there were brief periods of civilian rule. All this caused many Nigerian professionals emigrate, especially doctors, lawyers and academics, who found it difficult to return to Nigeria.[9] Almost all of these immigrants have come from ethnic groups in the southern part of the country, primarily the Igbo, Yoruba, and Ibibio peoples, including Annang and Efik. Due to adverse economic conditions in Nigeria, some immigrants stayed in the United States and began to raise their children there.

During the mid- to late-1980s, a larger wave of Nigerians immigrated to the United States. This migration was driven by political and economic problems exacerbated by the military regimes of self-styled generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha. The most noticeable exodus occurred among professional and middle-class Nigerians who, along with their children, took advantage of education and employment opportunities in the United States.

Some believe that this exodus has contributed to a "brain-drain" on Nigeria's intellectual resources to the detriment of its future. Since the advent of multi-party democracy in March 1999, the former Nigerian head-of-state Olusegun Obasanjo has made numerous appeals, especially to young Nigerian professionals in the United States, to return to Nigeria to help in its rebuilding effort. Obasanjo's efforts have met with mixed results, as some potential migrants consider Nigeria's socio-economic situation still unstable.

Slave notice from Williamsburg, Virginia for a runaway "Ibo Negro"


Nigerians in the Diaspora, including in Britain and the United States, have become well known for their educational prowess, as exemplified by the academic accomplishments of those such as Paula and Petter Imafidon, nine-year-old twins who are the youngest students ever to be admitted to high school in England. The “Wonder Twins” and other members of their family have accomplished incredible rare feats, passing advanced examinations and being accepted into institutions with students twice their age.[10] Similar to England, there exists a large percentage of degree holders among Nigerian Americans. According to census data, almost 40% of Nigerian Americans hold bachelor’s degrees, 17% hold master’s degrees, and 4% hold doctorates, more than any other racial group in the nation.[11]

Many cite a combination of factors that have contributed to the large number of educated Nigerians in America. Seeking chances for better job opportunities and economic stability has led many educated Nigerian professionals to migrate to America over the years. Similarly, the Diversity Lottery Program increased the number of Nigerians who were able to receive visas in America to study. Finally, Nigerian culture has long emphasized education, placing value on pursuing education as a means to financial success and personal fulfillment.[12] Famous Nigerian Americans in education include Professor Jacob Olupona, a member of the faculty at Harvard College of Arts and Sciences as well as Harvard Divinity School. Migrating to the U.S. from Nigeria more than 40 years ago, Professor Olupona has furthered the academic study of traditional African religions, such as the Yoruba traditional religion, and has been a vocal advocate for Nigerian Americans and education initiatives.[13]

Estimates indicate that a disproportionate percentage of black students at elite universities are immigrants or children of immigrants. Nigerian immigrants have the highest education attainment level in the United States, surpassing every other ethnic group in the country, according to U.S Bureau Census data.[14] Harvard University, for example, has estimated that more than one-third of its black student body consists of recent immigrants or their children, or were mixed-race.[15] Other top universities, including Yale, Princeton, Penn, Columbia, Duke and Berkeley, report a similar pattern.[16] As a result, there is a question whether affirmative action programs adequately serve those African Americans who are descendants of American slaves.[15]

Demography and areas of concentrated residence

Currently, based on DNA studies, an estimated 80 percent of African Americans (about 35 million) could have some Igbo or Hausa ancestors from Nigeria. Therefore 60 percent of them, according to historian Douglas B. Chambers, could have at least one Igbo ancestor.[17] The USA has the world's second largest Nigerian community, only behind Nigeria itself. Like other successful immigrant populations in the United States, Nigerian Americans reside in virtually all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Sizeable communities are concentrated in the following states and jurisdictions (in order of size):

1. Baltimore (Not Including Baltimore City) counties comprise the third largest Nigerian American community; also Howard and Montgomery counties.

2. New York: All boroughs of New York City, the second largest Nigerian-American community; plus Nassau and Westchester counties.

3. Texas: Harris (esp. the city of Houston), Fort Bend (southwest suburban Houston), Tarrant (Fort Worth), Dallas (Dallas County includes the city of Dallas), and Travis counties (Travis County includes the city of Austin); having the largest Nigerian-American community.

4. Atlanta metropolitan area is the 5th largest Nigerian-American community.

5. New Jersey: Hudson, Essex, Bergen, Union and Middlesex counties, with a large proportion of Nigerians living in Newark. In recent years, many Nigerian Americans have left New Jersey.

6. Illinois: Cook County (especially the city of Chicago).[18]

7. California: Los Angeles (city and county), San Bernardino (primarily the city of San Bernardino), Orange, San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno counties; and the San Francisco Bay Area: Solano, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Many Nigerians along with Kenyan and Ethiopian American groups live in the Fairfax District and the Crenshaw district of L.A., as well in West Oakland with other African and Yemeni immigrants.

8. Ohio: Hamilton and Montgomery counties, with Columbus being the sixth largest Nigerian-American community.

9. Michigan: Metro Detroit (with significant numbers of Nigerian Americans in Flint, Michigan, and Lansing, Michigan).

10. Virginia: Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun Counties, it has the fourth largest Nigerian-American community.

US states with largest Nigerian populations

According to the 2010 US census, there were 264,550 Nigerian Americans.

The top 10 US states with the largest Nigerian populations are:

  1. Texas - 43,969
  2. New York - 30,056
  3. Georgia - 29,505
  4. Maryland - 23,005
  5. California - 20,358
  6. New Jersey - 18,511
  7. Illinois - 12,413
  8. Florida - 7,220
  9. Minnesota - 6,794
  10. Virginia - 6,181

Religious demographics

In terms of religion the Nigerian community is split, with majority of Nigerians practicing Christianity and many others following Islam.

Traditional Attire

Historically, Nigerian fashion incorporated many different types of fabrics. Cotton has been used for over 500 years for fabric-making in Nigeria. Silk (called tsamiya in Hausa, sanyan in Yoruba, akpa-obubu in Igbo, and sapar ubele in Edo) is also used.[19] Perhaps the most popular fabric used in Nigerian fashion is Dutch wax print, produced in the Netherlands. The import market for this fabric is dominated by the Dutch company Vlisco,[20] which has been selling its Dutch wax print fabric to Nigerians since the late 1800s, when the fabric was sold along the company’s oceanic trading route to Indonesia. Since then, Nigerian and African patterns, color schemes, and motifs have been incorporated into Vlisco’s designs to become a staple of the brand.[21]

Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups and as a result, a wide variety of traditional clothing styles. In the Yoruba tradition, women wear an iro (wrapper), buba (loose shirt) and gele (head-wrap).[22] The men wear buba (long shirt), sokoto (baggy trousers), agbada (flowing robe with wide sleeves) and fila (a hat).[23] In the Igbo tradition, the men’s cultural attire is Isiagu (a patterned shirt), which is worn with trousers and the traditional Igbo men’s hat called Okpu Agwu. The women wear a puffed sleeved blouse, two wrappers and a headwrap.[24] Hausa men wear barbarigas or kaftans (long flowing gowns) with tall decorated hats. The women wear wrappers and shirts and cover their heads with hijabs (a veil).[25]

Among Nigerian Americans, traditional Nigerian attire remains very popular. However, because the fabric is often hard to acquire outside of Nigeria, traditional attire is not worn on an everyday basis but rather, reserved for special occasions such as weddings, Independence Day celebrations and birthday ceremonies. For weddings, the fabric used to sew the outfit of the bride and groom is usually directly imported from Nigeria or bought from local Nigerian traders and then taken to a local tailor who then sews it into the preferred style. Due to the large number of Nigerians living in America and the cultural enrichment that these communities provide to non-Nigerians, the traditional attire has been adopted in many parts of the country as a symbol of African ethnicity, for example, clothes worn during Kwanzaa celebrations are known to be very influenced by Nigerian traditional attire. In recent years, the traditional fabric has attracted many admirers especially among celebrities such as Solange Knowles[26] and most notably Erykah Badu. On runways, Nigerian American designers like Boston-born Kiki Kimanu[27] is able to combine the rich distinct colours of traditional attire with Western styles to make clothes that is highly sought after by young Nigerian professionals and Americans alike.[28]


Many Nigerian organizations have been created in the United States. The preeminent and most prominent Nigerian-American organization is the Washington, DC based: Nigerian-American Council or Nigerian-American Leadership Council (web: The Nigerian-American Council is broad in membership and outlook, encompassing all Nigerian ethnic groups, regions and religions; the Council also has a broad national reach in the United States, and United States governmental institutions and agencies, the Council advocates for the Nigerian-American community, and US businesses, agencies, or organizations with interests in Nigeria. Other prominent organizations are: The Alliance of Nigerian Organizations in Georgia, USA.,[29] National Council of Nigerian Muslim Organizations in USA,[30] The Nigerian Association Utah,[31] the Nigerian Ladies Association of Texas (NLAT),[32] the Nigerian American Multi Service Association (NAMSA)[33] First Nigeria Organisation [34] and United Nigeria Association of Tulsa.[35]

Alliance of Nigerian Organizations in Georgia, USA. is an organization that tries to satisfy the interests of the community, and represents all Nigeria associations nonprofit in Georgia (such as Nigerian Women Association of Georgia – NWAG-[36]), in tribal issues, ethnic, educational, social, political and economic. Through the ANOG, the Office of Nigerian Consulate in [32] and The Nigerian American Multi Service Association (NAMSA) provides services to community members.[33]

Nigerian American associations representing the interests of determinated groups are the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas[37] (ANPA) and Nigerian Nurses Association USA.[38]

NNAUSA is an organization for the Ngwa Diaspora in America

Notable Nigerian Americans

Igbo American

Igbo Americans, are people in the United States that maintain an identity of a varying level of Igbo people ethnic identity that now call the US their chief place of residence (and may also have US citizenship). Many having come to the US from Nigeria the result of Slavery in the United States or the effects of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) (or the Nigerian-Biafran War).

In the United States Igbo slaves were erroneously referred to by a couple of names corrupted from Igbo such as Ibo and Eboe. Some Igbo slaves were also referred to as 'bites', denoting their Bight of Biafra origin, their new slave names were often given to them denoting their origin in Africa such as Bonna for a slave that arrived through the port of Bonny. Their presence in the United States was met with mixed feelings by American plantation owners.

Yoruba American

Yoruba Americans are Americans of Yoruba descent. The Yoruba people (Yoruba: Àwọ̀n ọ́mọ́ Yorùbá) are an ethnic group originating in southwestern Nigeria and southern Benin in West Africa.

See also


  1. ^ People Reporting Ancestry, 2012 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, United States Census Bureau
  2. ^ "PLACE OF BIRTH FOR THE FOREIGN-BORN POPULATION IN THE UNITED STATES, Universe: Foreign-born population excluding population born at sea, 2007-2011 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  3. ^ The Slave Trading Port of
  4. ^ Sparks, Randy J. (2004). The Two Princes of Calabar: An Eighteenth-century Atlantic Odyssey. Harvard University Press. p. 39.  
  5. ^ "Ethnic Identity in the Diaspora and the Nigerian Hinterland". Toronto, Canada: York university. Retrieved 2008-11-23. As is now widely known, enslaved Africans were often concentrated in specific places in the diaspora...USA (Igbo) 
  6. ^ "Languages in America #25 along with Kru and Yoruba". U.S.ENGLISH Foundation, Inc. Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  7. ^ a b Chambers, Douglas B. (March 1, 2005). Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia. University Press of Mississippi. p. 23.  
  8. ^ "Ethnicity and the Slave Trade: 'Lucumi' and 'Nago' as Ethnonyms in West Africa"
  9. ^ Encyclopedia ofChicago: Nigerians in Chicago. Posted by Charles Adams Cogan and Cyril Ibe. Retrieved May 2, 2013, to 16:30 pm.
  10. ^ Manly, Howard. "Nigerian family considered best, brightest in Britain". Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  11. ^ Aziz, Naeesa. "Survey: Nigerians Most Educated in the U.S.". BET. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  12. ^ Adenle, Tola. "Why do immigrant kids perform so well in America (2): The Nigerian example". Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  13. ^ Alabi Garba, Kabir. "Ambali... Pursuing human capital development agenda". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  14. ^ Casimir, Leslie (May 20, 2008). "Data show Nigerians the most educated in the U.S.".  
  15. ^ a b Rimer, Sara; Arenson, Karen W. (June 24, 2004). "Top Colleges Take More Blacks, but Which Ones?".  
  16. ^ Johnson, Jason B. (February 22, 2005). "Shades of gray in black enrollment: Immigrants' rising numbers a concern to some activists".  
  17. ^ "Southern Miss history professor made chief in Nigerian royal lineage". University of Southern Mississippi. April 15, 2005. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  18. ^ Nigerian Community of Chicagoland
  19. ^ Africa History
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ The Yoruba tribe of Nigeria and their clothes rich in colors and textures
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ a b Alliance of Nigerian Organizations in Georgia, USA
  30. ^ a b National Council of Nigerian Muslim Organizations in USA.
  31. ^ Nigerian Association Utah
  32. ^ a b Nigerian Ladies Association of Texas (NLAT)
  33. ^ a b Nigerian American Multi Service Association
  34. ^ "Nigerians in Chicago Rise Against Boko Haram". Nigerian American Business. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  35. ^ United Nigeria Association of Tulsa
  36. ^ Nigerian Women Association of Georgia - NWAG
  37. ^ Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas
  38. ^ Nigerian Nurses Association USA
  • Ette, E.U. (2012) Nigerian Immigrants in the United States: Race, Identity, and Acculturation, Lanham, MD. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0739170397

External links

  • EveryCulture — Nigerian-Americans
  • Nigerian Village Square
  • Nigerians in America
  • Nigerian-American Community Association (U.S.A.), Inc.
  • Nigerian-American Public Professionals Association
  • Nigerians in America on Gnaija
  • Nigerian Languages for Nigerian Kids Abroad
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