Nigerian Americans

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Nigerian Americans
Total population
277,631 (2012 American Community Survey)[1]
116,807 (Nigerian-born, 2007-2011) [2]
Regions with significant populations
Mainly in Maryland; Rochester, New York City, and Binghamton, New York; Texas; Georgia; New Jersey; Los Angeles, California; the Chicago metropolitan area; and Detroit, Michigan
American English, Nigerian English, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Edo, Ibibio-Anaang-Efik, Esan, Urhobo, Isoko, Idoma, Ijaw, Fulani, Kalabari, Igala, Ikwerre, Tiv, Ebira, Nembe, Etsako, Itsekiri, Nupe, Nigerian Pidgin
Nigerian languages 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 US 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 numbers of Nigerians in Canada and Australia.


Slavery (17th century - 1865)[edit]

The first people of Nigerian ancestry in what is now the modern United States came as slaves 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 whom 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).[citation needed]

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 US 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.[citation needed] 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]

Modern Immigration[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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[who?] 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.[citation needed]

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 US 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[edit]

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. Outside the 50 states, there are also notable Nigerian American populations in the District of Columbia and the US territory of Puerto Rico.

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

1. Maryland: Prince George's and 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. Georgia: Cobb, Dekalb, Fulton, Gwinnett County, Georgia counties; the 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 the state

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.[citation needed]

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, and Lansing)

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

US states with the largest Nigerian populations[edit]

According to the 2013 US census, there were 299,310 Nigerian Americans.[19]

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[edit]

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

Traditional attire[edit]

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.[20] 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,[21] 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.[22]

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).[23] The men wear buba (long shirt), sokoto (baggy trousers), agbada (flowing robe with wide sleeves) and fila (a hat).[24] 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.[25] 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 (veils).[26]

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[27] and most notably Erykah Badu. On the fashion runway, Nigerian American designers like Boston-born Kiki Kimanu[28] are able to combine the rich distinct colours of traditional attire with Western styles to make clothes that are highly sought after by young Nigerian professionals and Americans alike.[29]

Nigerian American ethnic groups[edit]

Igbo American[edit]

Main article: 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 came to the US from Nigeria as the result of slavery 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.

Yoruba American[edit]

Main article: 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.The first Yoruba people who arrived to the United States were imported as slaves from Nigeria and Benin during the Atlantic slave trade. This ethnicity of the slaves was one of the main origins of present-day Nigerians who arrived to the United States, along with the Igbo and Hausa. In addition, native slaves of current Benin hailed from peoples such as Nago (Yoruba subgroup, although exported mainly by Spanish, when Louisiana was Spanish), Ewe, Fon and Gen. Many slaves imported to the modern United States from Benin were sold by the King of Dahomey, in Whydah.

The native tongue of the Yoruba people is spoken principally in Nigeria and Benin, with communities in other parts of Africa, Europe and the Americas. A variety of the language, Lucumi, is the liturgical language of the Santería religion of the Caribbean. Yoruba is most closely related to the Itsekiri language (spoken in the Niger Delta) and to Igala (spoken in central Nigeria).


Among prominent Nigerian-American organizations in the US are the Washington, DC-based Nigerian-American Council or Nigerian-American Leadership Council,[30] The Alliance of Nigerian Organizations in Atlanta, Georgia,[31] National Council of Nigerian Muslim Organizations in USA,[32] The Nigerian Association Utah,[33] the Nigerian Ladies Association of Texas (NLAT),[34] the Nigerian American Multi Service Association, NAMSA ( [35] First Nigeria Organisation [36] and United Nigeria Association of Tulsa.[37]

The Alliance of Nigerian Organizations in Georgia is an organization that tries to satisfy the interests of the community, and represents all Nigeria nonprofit associations in the state (such as Nigerian Women Association of Georgia – NWAG-[38]), in tribal issues, ethnic, educational, social, political and economic. Through the ANOG, the Office of Nigerian Consulate in Atlanta reaches the Nigerian community associations.[31] The National Council of Nigerian Muslim Organizations is an organization that teaches Islam, study the elements of religion, favoring Muslim integration in the US, creating an Muslim American identity and promoting interpersonal relationships.[32] Nigerian Ladies Association of Texas (NLAT) is an apolitical, non-profit formed by Nigerian women that promote fellowship, community and family values. NLAT is looking for ways to improve the lives of its members and their families and contribute to improving the life and development of Nigeria and the United States of America. The association teaches its members on individual rights (especially the rights of women, creating media to promote respect for these rights, to promote equality and peace between the sexes) and establishes job opportunities for Nigerians living in Texas, organizes and provides resources to women and children in Nigeria and the US, teaches Nigerian culture to the new generations, working with women's groups in the US and drives programs to promote education and health services.[34] and the Nigerian American Multi Service Association (NAMSA) provides services to community members.[35]

Nigerian American associations representing the interests of determinated groups are the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas[39] (ANPA) and Nigerian Nurses Association USA.[40]

NNAUSA is an organization for the Ngwa Diaspora in America.[41]

Notable Nigerian Americans[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Data Access and Dissemination Systems (DADS). "American FactFinder - Results". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  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. ^ "Nigeria - The Slave Trade". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  4. ^ Sparks, Randy J. (2004). The Two Princes of Calabar: An Eighteenth-century Atlantic Odyssey. Harvard University Press. p. 39. ISBN 0-674-01312-3. 
  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. ISBN 1-57806-706-5. 
  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.". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 26 Apr 2011. 
  15. ^ a b Rimer, Sara; Arenson, Karen W. (June 24, 2004). "Top Colleges Take More Blacks, but Which Ones?". New York Times. Retrieved 26 Jun 2011. 
  16. ^ Johnson, Jason B. (February 22, 2005). "Shades of gray in black enrollment: Immigrants' rising numbers a concern to some activists". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  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". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Textile". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Yoruba Clothing". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  24. ^ "The Yoruba tribe of Nigeria and their clothes rich in colors and textures". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  25. ^ "Umu Igbo Alliance". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  26. ^ "Welcome to Amlap Publishing". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  27. ^ KaKKi. "KaKKi: Solange Knowles - African Prints". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Kiki Kamanu". Kiki Kamanu. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  30. ^ Nigerian-American Council
  31. ^ a b Itoro E. Akpan-Iquot. "Home Page - Alliance of Nigerian Organizations in Georgia, USA (ANOGUSA)". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  32. ^ a b National Council of Nigerian Muslim Organizations in USA.
  33. ^ "Association of Nigerians in Utah, USA". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  34. ^ a b "Nigerian Ladies Association of Texas". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  35. ^ a b "NAMSA - Nigerian American Multi Service Association". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  36. ^ "Nigerians in Chicago Rise Against Boko Haram". Nigerian American Business. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  37. ^ United Nigeria Association of Tulsa
  38. ^ "Nigerian Women Association of Georgia - NWAG". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  39. ^ Donia Robinson/Gold Star Web Sites, LLC. "Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas - Home". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  40. ^ "Nigerian Nurses Association USA - Home". Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  41. ^ Ngwa National.
  • Ette, E.U. (2012) Nigerian Immigrants in the United States: Race, Identity, and Acculturation, Lanham, MD. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0739170397

External links[edit]