Most Americans know very little about Nigeria, and that which they do know is extraordinarily negative.
Nigeria is viewed as a nation with a breathtakingly corrupt government, intractable violence in its oil producing region, and as the source of the e-mail scams that clog countless in-boxes each and every day.
Nigeria's most damaging label, that of burgeoning terrorist haven, was sadly affixed last Christmas Day, when a young Nigerian who was radicalized in the Middle East attempted to blow up a plane over Detroit.
While Nigeria's miserable reputation has mostly been well-earned, the country's critical importance to the United States still cannot and should not be ignored.
Nigeria is by far the most populous nation in Africa. One out of four Africans is a Nigerian. The country is Sub-Saharan Africa's most prodigious oil producer and the fourth-largest exporter to the U.S. Those who denounce Nigeria as a haven for angry Islamic terrorists, fail to realize how highly the country regards America.
According to the Pew Research Center's 2010 Global Attitudes Survey, 81 percent of Nigerians have a favorable view of the U.S. The only two countries ahead of Nigeria o then survey are Kenya (94 percent), the homeland of President Obama's father, and the United States itself (85 percent).
Nigeria has been recognized by the United Nations not for exporting terrorists, but peacekeepers.
The country is the fourth-largest contributor of troops to UN peacekeeping missions around the world. Nigeria played an indispensable role in ending brutal civil wars in Liberia and the Sierra Leone, and soldiers from the country constitute the majority of the African Union's peacekeeping forces in Darfur.
Just as the importance of Nigeria is often overlooked and underappreciated, so to is the positive impact of Nigerians living in America. We are the largest African immigrant group in the U.S., and the largest African group in Los Angeles. We are the largest group of Black professionals in the country and have the highest levels of education in the nation.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey, 17 percent of all Nigerians in United States hold master's degrees, 4 percent have doctorates, and 37 percent have bachelor's degrees.
By comparison, 8 percent of Whites have master's degrees, 1 percent hold doctorates, and 19 percent have bachelor's degrees. Nigerian Americans have made their mark in all aspects of American life, including sports, where they have led teams to NCAA titles, NBA championships and Super Bowl victories. Several are among the highest-paid athletes in their respective leagues.
While Nigerians have flourished in America, our native land has suffered bitterly. In the 50 years since independence, the country has endured a devastating civil war, multiple military coups, sporadic eruptions of deadly religious and ethnic-based violence and repressive regimes which wrecked the country's economy and trampled on basic political and human rights.
According to the World Bank, 85 percent of Nigeria's oil revenues accrue to a mere 1 percent of the population, and approximately $300 billion of that revenue has been stolen over the last 40 years by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Nigeria is home to the third-largest number of poor people in the world. Approximately one million Nigerian children under the age of five die each year, most from preventable causes. Nigeria also has the second highest number of maternal deaths annually, behind only India. Every 10 minutes, at least one Nigerian woman dies in childbirth.