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By Dominic Ikeogu

I arrived the United States of America on the morning of March 6 1983 with 7500 Naira in my pocket. As a young fresh student newly arrived from Nigeria, I went straight to a bank to exchange it for Dollars. I was given 9500 Dollars. It means that the Naira was stronger than the Dollar by a ratio of 1:1.26 or nearly 27 percent. This was the exchange rate in 1983 in the USA.

Fast forward to 40 years later. It’s February 2024, and the exchange rate is 1500 Naira to $1. In other words, if I were to arrive the USA today from Nigeria with the same amount of money in my pocket (N7,500), I would only walk out of the bank with $5 – a sum that would not even feed a cat for a day!

This is a crime against humanity for which every Nigerian leader from 1983 to the present day should be charged, tried, sentenced and jailed. Every single one of them should be held accountable for the collapse of the Naira and a nation which once prospered to the envy of all.

A majority of Nigeria students who came to the USA in 1983 were on a Federal Government scholarship. Their federal allowances, including feeding, was 9500 Naira per year. Those with rich parents got an additional 5000 Naira or more as pocket money from home.

My twin brother and I came to USA sponsored by our struggling parents who worked regular jobs. All they could afford was 7500 Naira for each of us. Even that was a princely sum for us and represented their entire life savings plus borrowed funds.

Our Nigerian brothers on Federal scholarship or from rich homes made fun of us. But we were glad even just to have made the trip and to have a chance to better our lives.

Most of us on private sponsorship had to find additional means of income to survive. The only jobs we could get then as students was as dishwashers, cleaning chickens in factories or mopping bathroom floors. Working and going to the university is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.

But with a strong exchange rate of the Naira to the Dollar in 1983, privileged Nigerian students drove some of the best cars on campus streets. That included the sporty Chevrolet Camaro. Even our professors at the universities could ill afford to compete. No luxury was off limits for affluent Nigerians then, even as students in the USA.

For young American ladies both black and white, dating a Nigerian student was a status symbol at the University. Nigerian students were often named the most fashionable or best dressed students on campus.

One of my professors could not hide his feelings. In class he sometimes spoke of the African country where milk and honey flowed on the streets. He once asked me, “What type of car do you drive?” He had obviously mistaken me for one of the rich kids. Most of those cars were paid for in cash at car dealerships, which was a rarity. For this, American car dealerships loved Nigerian students more than anyone else.

I vividly recall that Saudi and Iranian students became jealous and once demanded that their governments increase their allowances to compete with Nigerian students. Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Iran were all prominent members of OPEC who made their money from international  oil sales at that time. Our Saudi and Iranian friends couldn’t understand why Nigerian students seemed to be faring better. Today, the tables have turned.

Nigerians are still flocking to foreign universities for education. But a vast majority of them, I hear, are not paid for by government scholarships. Instead, they are sponsored by private citizens who are either politicians, top civil servants or their cronies in business. People like me from honest, working class families are almost entirely out of the equation.

The federal and state governments are too broke to finance education and basic public services. But those who lead the governments are rich enough to pay for foreign education for their kids from their private pockets. What an irony.

The wealth of an entire nation has been emptied into the private coffers of a few individuals. A country has been robbed blind by those in whom it entrusted its leadership and vaults.

This is the fall of a Giant. It’s the way the cookie crumbles. The last Nigerian ruler, Muhammadu Buhari, was reputed to have run the country using a Chinese credit card. He was taking loans with terms and conditions written in Chinese, a language he does not understand a word of. Buhari led Nigeria for all of 8 years, with calamitous consequence from his economic policies or lack thereof. How can a nation be so blessed and yet so cursed?

Mr. Ikeogu (Big D) writers from Minnesota, USA.

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