By Gbenga Osinaike
Bassey Essien and Osileke Osipitan are two remarkable Nigerians in the US. They live in Albany, the capital city of the State of New York. Essien is the president of the Association of Nigerians in the Capital District of New York while Osipitan is the Vice President of the Association. Essien on one hand has been in the US for the past 40 years while Osipitan moved into the country about twenty years ago.
Essien’s story is the story of resilience and determination. He travelled out of the Nigeria in 1969, just at the twilight of the civil war having experienced deprivation and lack in the country; while Osipitan travelled out of the country in 1999 having won the US Green Card lottery.
Both are now US citizens doing exploits and representing Nigeria so well. Just last March in the belly of the snow, this reporter was with the duo at their Albany residences; where they shared their experiences in the US and how the country has been a blessing to them.
For Essien, his sojourn to the US was not planned so to say. He was a trained photographer back in Nigeria. But by the time he was to travel out, he did not go back to his workshop on Herbert Macaulay Street, Yaba to take his things. The shop according to him was locked with all the equipment inside. The journey was abrupt. “My plan was to travel down and study photography but by the time I got here my plan changed. I enrolled in adult education centre to have basic qualifications and later studied Broadcast Journalism for my first degree.” He said
He buried himself into a lot of studies and read to the point of having an Ms and Ed.D degrees from the University of Albany. He had earlier in 1975 received his B.A degree from the American University in Washington DC. Osipitan on the other hand was already armed with a Master’s degree in Transport Studies from Olabisi Onabanjo University before he travelled out of Nigeria. With his certificate he was able to secure job with the New York State. He is a chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. He holds a PhD in Technology Management with specialization in Construction Management from Indiana State University and several masters’ degrees at the Albany State University of New York.
One thing seems common with the duo of Bassey and Osileke; they have a strong thirst for western education with the resolve to live exemplary lives that would inspire Nigerians in the US. So being at the leadership of the Association of Nigerians in the Capital District of New York is not an accident afterall. With many years in the US they have been able to gather so many experiences that have helped them in the service of other Nigerians on how to live and how to behave in a foreign land.
Essien, an indigene of Akwa Ibom and Osipitan, from Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State don’t joke with their motherland. They both show a lot of concern on how to improve the infrastructure in Nigeria. This is not unexpected. Osipitan’s special area is transportal technology. He currently works with the New York State Department of Transportation being an intermodal transportation specialist. He has had to visit Nigeria several times offering help where necessary. He makes it a tradition to come to Nigeria once in a year sometimes twice depending on the need.
Essien on the other hand is also passionate about home that he comes home at every given opportunity. He recalled that by the time he came to the US there were no known association of Nigerians. “What we had then were student groups not residents group. Students from Nigeria had their own association while students from other countries also had their groups. But there was no forum where residents come together. The initiative for the association according to him is to create a bond among Nigerians and also give Nigerians proper counsel on how to live in the US and make progress”
Corroborating Essien’s views, Osipitan observed further that the US is a land of opportunities adding however that, “the opportunities may not come on a platter especially if one is not doing the right thing. Here you can go to school and attain any academic height if you are so determined but you need to be ready to pay the price. If you have your degree and you do necessary professional courses you can be guaranteed of a good job. But the beauty is that these opportunities are on the internet. People just need to search and take advantage of them.”
But that has not been the case with some foreigners. He observed, “Many people who end up complaining are either lazy or do not have their stay permit. The work permit is not enough. With the green paper and a degree in your hand, you can be certain that you will get a good job”
Essien who works with the Public Service in the State of New York said the influx of Nigerians to the US was more between 1985 and 1995 adding however that many of those in the Association have become citizens of the US. “Because many of us have become citizens, it is difficult to face discrimination or border line trouble that some experience”
The issue however is that many of those who come to the US don’t have requisite papers. “Some Nigerians who come to the association come to ask for help which is difficult to provide. They come with expired visa, they want to get work. Some complain they are not getting help. They are looking for shelter.
Some will get married to a US citizen to get stay. Some people have issues back home. But the truth is that the immigration service in the US is very meticulous about people asking for special consideration. They want people that know them to verify their claim. When your claims cannot be verified they deny your application and leave you to sort yourself out.”
Essien who recently published his memoirs in a book titled, Voice from the Mangrove Swamps, recalled that his first few years in the US were difficult years. “It was not easy for me to integrate. I have gone through a lot in the US. I was once recommended for a job but because I had no green card I was denied the job though I had work permit.” He said
The duo however lamented that back home Nigeria is suffering from bad leadership and the seeming greed of a few people. “Many of the problems we grapple with in Nigeria are things that we can tackle if the will is there and if we are so determined to make a change” says Osipitan.
He reasons that the spate of kidnapping can be reduced drastically with the use of technology. “I have a strong feeling that we are not taking advantage of technology enough that is why people are being kidnapped at will and nothing is done and the kidnappers go without being caught.”
He counseled that if people have microchips planted in their cloths or bodies, it will be difficult for anybody to be kidnapped without the person being traced or the kidnappers apprehended.
Of what benefit is the association of Nigerians in the Capital District of New York? Osipitan volunteers: “We meet regularly to bond and share experiences. We celebrate Independence Day and we serve as a link between Nigerian government officials and Nigerians in New York. Whenever an official is coming to New York we provide a platform for such official to interact with Nigerians and also find means of creating a cross border relationship that will be of value to Nigerians back home.”
Essien says his goal as the president of the association is to build capacity and do better with raising funds to assist stranded Nigerians. We also want to also integrate more with the US so that they know we are here to make impact and make them realize that Nigerians don’t come to commit fraud in the US. We show positive image of Nigerians in the US.”
Presently the association has the vision to build the Nigerian House in New York. Commenting on the Kudirat Corner in the New York City, Essien says, “When Abiola was alive he had many followers in New York. Many Americans loved him. So when his wife was killed, it was not difficult to name that corner after her.”
Many would want to know if it is all rosy in the US, Osipitan hints, “The reality is that our expenses in the US are in dollar. You’ve got to work to earn it. It does not come free. The only major comfort is the infrastructure. There are good roads, the light is constant. There are jobs. But there is no extra money here in the US, you have to sacrifice your time and intellect to make money but you may not have surplus as people think.”
The trouble according to him is that “many Nigerians have stayed here for a while without being citizens. If your status shows that you are alien you can’t travel the way you want. What some do is to hang around to improve on their papers. Some have been stranded because they don’t have money to buy ticket.”
Sharing his own experience, Essien says, “I came to New York State employment in 1985. I can say it has been great working here. But you can’t lay about. You work when it is time to work.”
On Nigerian government officials who come to the US to display wealth, Essien says, ‘I do not get to see them too often. I notice that some of our officials bring too many people on their trips. There was a day an official of one of the states in the south south had about $700,000 cash. That tells a lot about our values. There is abuse of money, abuse of power, abuse of everything while many Nigerians are dying of starvation.”
He expressed deep concern about the attitude of Nigerians to work. “The attitude to work in Nigeria is poor. The difference between here and there is night and day. We don’t monkey here. A lot of Africans are doing extremely well in the US because there is a culture of hard work and discipline here. We have it in Nigeria too but the attitude of civil servants in Nigeria is not too encouraging.”
Osipitan noted that many Nigerians are directors and top people in strategic organisations in the US. He concludes, “I have delivered many lectures around some states in the US. I see a lot of remarkable things being done by Nigerians. It gladdens my heart. But back home it’s difficult to do those things because the system is awkward.”
Essien corroborates his views adding that Nigeria has all the potentials to become a great nation. “What we need is to put ourselves together and work towards the vision of making Nigeria great. It is possible. It can be done.”