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This Nigerian Tech Worker Was Detained at JFK Because "He Didn't Look Like an Engineer"

28-year-old Celestine Omin says he was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at JFK airport, and given a written test to prove that he was an engineer.

In January, Trump signed an executive order banning entry into the United States for people from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Though the original initiative was blocked by a federal court, he issued a modified version of the order today, which—hold your non-existent applause—now excludes Iraq.


The realities of living in "Trump's America," become more and more clear every day with the saturation of stories like these:

Last Thursday, 28-year-old Nigerian engineer, Celestine Omin was detained at JFK airport as he tried to enter the country from Lagos on a business trip despite having the necessary visa and following immigration procedures, reports CNN Tech.

Omin, who works for Andela—a Mark Zuckerberg-backed global tech company that recruits software developers from Lagos and Nairobi—says that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) told him that he "did not look like an engineer" and made him take a written test to prove that he was.

According to Omin, he was asked to "write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced," and to explain "what an abstract class is and why you need it."

He was held at customs for three hours, and was only released after Andela's co-founder Christina Sass, called to speak with Border Patrol.

In a statement to CNN Tech, CBP claimed that it "does not administer written tests to verify a traveler's purpose of travel. [Our] officers strive to treat all people arriving in the country with dignity and respect."

Maybe they should strive a bit harder.

In a statement entitled "What an Engineer Looks Like," Andela co-founder Jeremy Johnson addressed the incident, urging the American tech community to "do better," pointing out that "the technologists of tomorrow will be every race, gender and religion, and they will hail from every corner of the globe — from Silicon Valley to Sub Saharan Africa."

"Celestine was not looking to immigrate to the United States. He’s a proud Nigerian whose life and young son are in Lagos, said Johnson. "American companies are fortunate to have the opportunity to convince people like Celestine, of whom there are far too few in the world, to work with them from afar. If anything, they need much more of them if they intend to overcome the deficit in engineering talent."

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Photo: Jolaoso Adebayo.

Crayon Is Nigeria's Prince of Bright Pop Melodies

Since emerging on the scene over two years ago, Crayon has carved a unique path with his catchy songs.

During the 2010s, the young musician Charles Chibuezechukwu made several failed attempts to get into a Nigerian university. On the day of his fifth attempt, while waiting for the exam's commencement, he thought of what he really wanted out of life. To the surprise of the thousands present, he stood up and left the centre, having chosen music. "Nobody knew I didn't write the exam," Charles, who's now known to afro pop lovers as Crayon, tells OkayAfrica over a Zoom call from a Lagos studio. "I had to lie to my parents that I wrote it and didn't pass. But before then, I had already met Don Jazzy and Baby Fresh [my label superiors], so I knew I was headed somewhere."

His assessment is spot on. Over the past two years Crayon's high-powered records have earned him a unique space within Nigeria's pop market. On his 2019 debut EP, the cheekily-titled Cray Cray, the musician shines over cohesive, bright production where he revels in finding pockets of joy in seemingly everyday material. His breakout record "So Fine" is built around the adorable promises of a lover to his woman. It's a fairly trite theme, but the 21-year-old musician's endearing voice strikes the beat in perfect form, and when the hook "call my number, I go respond, oh eh" rolls in, the mastery of space and time is at a level usually attributed to the icons of Afropop: Wizkid, P-Square, Wande Coal.

"My dad used to sell CDs back in the day, in Victoria Island [in Lagos]," reveals Crayon. "I had access to a lot of music: afrobeat, hip-hop, Westlife, 2Face Idibia, Wizkid, and many others." Crayon also learnt stage craft from his father's side hustle as an MC, who was always "so bold and confident," even in the midst of so much activity. His mother, then a fruit seller, loved Igbo gospel songs; few mornings passed when loud, worship songs weren't blasting from their home. All of these, Crayon says, "are a mix of different sounds and different cultures that shaped my artistry."

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