When people think about Nigeria, what immediately comes to their mind are four or sometimes five top-line issues. The biggest country on the continent for population and entertainment; great black soccer nation; the country known for its crude oil exports, or even highly smart individuals who may sometimes use their creative energies negatively. Whatever you think of Nigeria, one cannot deny that the country is a very diverse nation made up of three main ethnic groups – Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba, as well as other very vibrant minor ethnic groups. The U.S Embassy in Nigeria reports that Nigeria has a total of 250 ethnic groups present in the country. While this report is largely true, Nigeria’s diversity is not only highlighted in its local cultural diversity but also in its racial diversity as well.
Nigeria is a predominantly black nation, but over the years, even before 1960s when the country gained its independence from the British, there had been immigrants from Asia and Europe, who came with their families to start a new life in this country.
One immigrant group that has integrated into the Nigerian environment are the Lebanese. The Middle East Institute reports that the first Lebanese immigrant to arrive in Nigeria was Elias Khoury in Lagos during the year of 1890. As a result, other Lebanese families followed suit and migrated to Nigeria in an attempt to expand their business and build a transnational network. The Lebanese settled mostly in the Northern part of Nigeria, particularly in Kano State, which Ironically has a throughway called Beirut Road. This was named after the capital of Lebanon, Beirut.
The benefit of their migration to Nigeria has been largely beneficial in creating economic prosperity, capital formation, and even a socio-cultural development. According to the Middle East Institute, there was a survey conducted on Lebanese living in major Nigerian cities and in Lebanon. The survey reported that 80% of the Lebanese interviewed concurred with the fact that their migration and the success of their business enterprise in Nigeria was all due to them building a network, in which they leveraged contacts from family members, friends, and even other businessmen.
One popular Lebanese-Nigerian is the billionaire businessman and Philanthropist, Gilbert Chagoury. He and his brother, Richard, own the Chagoury group, which is a Nigerian multinational business corporation that was founded in 1971. According to Forbes, the net worth of The Chagoury Group is projected to be about $4.2 billion and they are the owners of the Eko Hotel & Suites in Victoria Island, Lagos.
The Chagoury group is also behind the Eko Atlantic project in Lagos, which is an entirely new coastal city built in Victoria Island and is reserved exclusively for the high net worth individuals and corporate entities including some Embassies. The Eko Atlantic City project is expected to accommodate over 150,000 people, who would reside there, and another 250,000 people, who would work and commute there, according to the Eko Atlantic website. This location and the Eko Hotel has been the favourite spots for entertainment events in Lagos.
This project by The Chagoury group would be very influential for the city of Lagos and it would help to increase the internal generated revenue for the Lagos state government. According to ventures Africa, the overall cost for the development of this new city would be about $6 billion.
An interesting group whose presence predates the Nigerian Independence are the Greeks. The Greeks were over 10,000 before the 1980s and the Nigerian military coup. Leventis Group of Companies was founded by a Greek man, Mr Cypriot Anastasios George Leventis and the Leventis stores, where a lot of Nigerians worked including my grandmother was the first example of successful retail chain business in Nigeria for a very long time. By 2005, according to Greek embassy in Nigeria, Greece exports into Nigeria had risen to 65.7 million euros, while the imports into Greece is 20.2 million. Greek investments in Nigeria at some point rose to 5 billion dollars with Greeks owning the Flour Mills, having a stake in the Nigerian Bottling Company to mention but a few. A number of intermarriages occurred with some notable Nigerian families still bearing Greek names.
A handful of Chinese also came into Nigeria before 1960 and owned companies in some states in Nigeria including Delta state. They have had a presence in Nigeria since the 1930s and they have been largely successful because of the businesses they have established in the country and grown significantly since then.
One particular Chinese company that has been well known for doing business in Nigeria is the China Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC). This construction company was first established in the People’s Republic of China before it expanded into Nigeria for business during the year of 1979. According to China Daily, since the establishment of the CCECC, the company has employed over 20,000 Nigerians in 70 different projects, specifically in the field of road, bridge and railway projects.
The Lebanese, the Greeks, the Chinese, Indians, Syrians, Filipino, Cypriots immigrants have become part of the Nigerian people. The country also saw the migration of Africans from the South and West Africa at some point.
Although Nigeria’s immigrant population is barely acknowledged by the native black population, it is without a doubt that the foreign settlers, who have made Nigeria their home for the over 5 decades, have contributed immensely to the economic growth and projection of the country. It does not matter where you grew up, what ethnic group you are from or where your parents came from. What matters is that you love this country, Nigeria, and that is what is important.
We are truly a culturally and racially diverse country.
Paul Olele Jnr writes from Washington DC. He is a 2019 graduate of George Washington University and currently works as graduate Media and Research Intern at the Initiative for Global Development.