In Africa, Nigerians are the “big boys”.
They copulate a lot. Nigeria is the most populous country.
They are the best entrepreneurs. Nigeria is now the first economy in Africa. Lagos alone has a GDP equivalent to that of 25 African countries combined.
They are also lucky: Nigeria is the first oil exporter of the continent.
Everyone loves to trash Nigeria, but how come they succeeded to overcome Egypt and South Africa to become the first economy on the continent? Transparency International would tell you corruption is the cause of Africa underdevelopment, Obviously Nigerians don’t like wrong assumptions.
You don’t become triple champion by accident.
Big at home, Nigerians are also the best abroad.
They were the only Africans mentioned in the top-eight of best performing ethnic groups in the United States of America, in the best-seller book “The Triple Package” by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld.
According to Chua and Rubenfeld, Nigerians have three distinguishing characters in common with Jews, Indians and Chinese: a complex of superiority, a feeling of insecurity, and impulse control.
Nigerians feel superior. It’s the country with the highest number of self-proclaimed “Princes”, “Princesses”, “Queens”. All have a story relating them to an ancestral kingdom or a king. They feel entitled to a high social status.
Nigerians are very competitive. When you come from a crowded country, you feel insecure about your part of the pie. Parents plug a “fighter spirit” in their kids early on.
Now, when it comes to the third factor, “impulse control”, I have hard time believing the authors. For me, the third factor stems from a unique practice by the Nigerian diaspora: sending their kids back home to attend primary or secondary school.
This is very counterintuitive.
Why would anyone living in the US send their kids back to Nigeria to study? The best schools are in the West, as a popular belief goes.
Many Africans in the diaspora I know would tell me “I’d like to move back to the continent but I can’t. I want my kids to have a good education in the West. I can’t leave them here alone”.
So Why are Nigerians doing the opposite?
According to the Washington Post, “the decision made by families reflects a discomfort shared among immigrants from Africa. They don’t like … the lax public school system, the sense of entitlement that comes with living in a country so privileged.”
I asked a number of Nigerians why they have sent their kids back, and below is the list of reasons they gave me.
Reason 1: Kids getting in trouble
Early Nigerian immigrants were America-lover. In Nigeria, they have dealt with whites who came to Africa as peace corps volunteers, missionaries, doctors or teachers. These whites acted as mentors or opportunity providers, therefore most have a positive opinion of them. They do not hate them, in contrary they trust them, eager to connect, and seek opportunities from them. That attitude expose them to more opportunities.
However, their US-born kids usually have African-Americans friends with parents whose background makes them distrust the whites and believe their social and economic conditions are to do with the discrimination by whites.
Thus, sending kids back home is an attempt to help them prevent self-victimization, loss of self confidence, low expectations, and ‘getting in trouble’.
Reason 2: Damage inflicted by racism
A lady residing in the US told me a story: “My six-year-old first grader was spit on (in her face) by a white child. The faculty failed to see the historical connotation and poorly addressed it!
“In second grade, my 7-year-old (the only black kid in class) was “taught” in class about a black kid who hates his dark skin. Two issues here: this “lesson” opened up the possibility that didn’t exist for her: to hate her own skin, and it taught the white kids that black skin could be something to hate. They do not read about hating white skin, mind you. Drum roll… And the first lesson about Africa, again in second grade, is about how we don’t have running water, drink from dirty ponds, live in huts, walk to classes and crap under trees. I’m so done with white-superiority-style teaching!
“I am so done,” she repeated, desperate. “I can teach my kid academics. But it is hard to rebuild years of self-esteem after it has been crushed by your so-called teachers.”
Another worried Nigerian told me: “My son is five. Insanely brilliant and insanely hyperactive. I’ve been teaching him Math and other studies myself, and he can already do his multiplications, additions, subtractions, name all his planets, and so on. But PRE-K teachers are already complaining. I’m quite concerned about them ‘bending’ him.”
In Europe the situation is no better for our kids.
A 5 years old, African girl, schooled in an elementary class in Paris came back home crying. Her mother asked what was wrong. She said, at school the teacher was teaching them a new song. While singing the new song the kids have to clap their hands tree times and then put palms down on the leg and say “… and it’s all white”, supposedly referring to the skin color. The little girl rightfully noticed that her palm and skin were not … all white, but chocolate as she said to her mom.
The third time the kids played the clap, clap, clap, white game, the teacher and the other pupils noticed the embarrassment of the African girl. A girl in the group shouted “she is not white”, another one continued “she’s chocolate”. The teacher intervened and move the class to other less controversial topics.
Another story said:
During a drawing lesson, in another elementary school in Paris, a little African girl was asked to draw a human character on the board. She drew very well, colored the character face in brown, with a curly, puffy hair on its head. Some kids in the class start laughing and said there is not such people with burned face, a ballooned hair. The teacher intervened to ask the girl to draw a normal person like everyone else. She complied.
In 2007, few days before Christmas, the social assistant of the organization where I was working in Paris sent an email to all employees with a gift catalog. Employees with kids under 7 years old could select up to 2 items they’d receive as gifts from the employer.
I happened to meet the assistant a morning, and she kindly asked me what gifts my son would like to receive. I said I don’t know, but asked what are the most popular items with other parents. She replied “Every year is different. There are some star products like Lego which work well with boys. Educational games, gears, and DVDs are also popular, but some parents are more practical and would go with stuff like baby bathtub or bikes.”
Then she continued “It happens some years that I receive requests for items not listed in the catalog. Some funny ones, but few years ago, a mom asked her 6 years old daughter what gift she’d like for Christmas. The little girl after a long hesitation and sigh said “Mom, could we become white even if it’s for one day!?”
The assistant became silent for a whole minutes then concluded “It was so painful to hear. I cried, and I cried all day long. I’m a mom too, you know!”
The 6 years old black girl in Paris already knew the difficulty of being black in a work dominated by white people who in a huge majority hate almost instinctively black people. Her dream to become white, even if it’s for one day, is the dream of millions of black kids and adults.
It’s rare to see African kids born in France to amount to anything outside of socially constrained roles in sport or music. They rarely reach university, or achieve any status in science, literature, arts. The overwhelming majority of successful and prominent Africans in France are the one who are born in Africa, and who grew up in Africa before going to France.
The structural racism, daily humiliation and denial of identity often break the kids early on life.
At a personal level, during the first months of my son at school in Europe, he was constantly assaulted by white kids telling him he was brown like shit, and they would often show him their ass, saying “you are my shit”, and many other racist words kids only learn from parents (check the article “why white families teach racism to their kids“)
In New York city you have Russian, Jew, French, Arab, Chinese, etc. elementary schools. These community know the value of protecting their kids and endowing them first with their culture. It’s up to the African diaspora to create African schools for their kids in Paris, London, Brussels, Cape Town.
Yesterday a friend sent me a link to an article which states that more and more African American families are taking their kids out of american schools to protect them against racism. I think it’s a good move, and the next step would be to go beyond homeschooling to start building our own schools for our kids wherever we go, for they to be thought by teachers who resemble them, and receive an education which is less eurocentric.
We don’t have any power to ask white families to stop teaching racism to their kids, nor ask racist people to stop racist aggressions. But we have the duty to protect our kids from being destroyed so early on life by racism.
By sending their kids to Nigeria, US-based Nigerians are preventing them from being broken by a system they have no control over.
Reason 3: Schools in the US aren’t challenging the kids enough
“My boy is good in Science, Math. He plays tennis. And it was a big struggle with the school. They were not challenging him enough. They blamed him for acting out, when bored. We sent him back. That experience changed him,” said a Nigerian businessman.
Another Nigerian told me: “An Igbo couple in my old church were having real problems with their last one. They shipped him off to Nigeria. After two years, he came back. Grades went from 2.4 to 4.0 in high school. Except he’d do anything not to be sent back.”
Nigerians in the diaspora continue to think that schools back home are still with the iron discipline of the old days, and the old-time competitive spirit among pupils would yield better results.
Reason 4: Help kids connect with our culture
“Many of these top schools produce great African professionals with bright professional prospects, but not great African citizens,” complained a Nigerian.
Another, shared his son’s experience: “Whilst in Lifeforte [international school in Ibadan that admits both Nigerian and foreign students], my son went on excursion to Egypt organized by the school. Visited the pyramids, and the Valley of the Kings. The experience is invaluable. It has changed him. You can’t tell him Africa is barbaric. He is in a program for gifted children, now taking college level courses in Johns Hopkins.”
Few schools in Nigeria like Lifeforte, Vivian Fowler Memorial College, and Ibadan International School are now catering to the needs of the ‘homecoming’ diaspora.
A Nigerian IT consultant summarized it all: “I spent many years in a church that had a good number of Nigerians, Ghanaians and some Kenyans, and as I think back through my memory, I realized that you are right, and that Nigerians are by far more likely to consider or to execute this plan of sending their children of a certain age home for their education (and, really, for their acculturation as well).
However, the valuing of education is such that in Nigeria, I have relatives who have sent their children to Ghana as the quality of public and affordable education in Nigerian secondary schools has deteriorated. Virtually all of the children being sent to school in Nigeria from overseas are being sent to very expensive private schools – whether boarding schools, or day schools.
I have seen the course work and curriculum for some of these schools. The standards are higher, and more demanding than some of the best public school districts in the United States. I should know. When I came back to the United States in my teens, I attended a high school that is part of Montgomery County Public Schools – right outside Washington D.C – one of the highest-ranking, best-funded and most elite public school systems in the entire country.
These kids who go back home get to experience a highly competitive culture, and an elite culture, where the mindset they have is that nothing is really out of reach. The kids they will go to school with, expect to attend University at Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Sorbonne or any of the other schools that are supposedly of high international repute. I suspect that the standards associated with all this, rubs off. Children and teens are far more influenced by peer cohort than any parent would like to admit.”
The trend of sending kids back to Africa will definitely continue, as more and more Africans become aware of this opportunity and success stories.
An abridged version of this article has appeared on March 20 at naij.com