Augusta's Nigerian community a tight-knit group

Abiodun Emmanuel Akinwuntan moved to Augusta for a few reasons.


The Nigerian native liked that it is small enough so he did not have to worry about his two small children, and yet it has museums, live music and a thriving arts scene.

Also, Akinwuntan, who earned a doctorate in neurorehabilitation from Katholieke University in Belgium and completed postdoctoral training in education at the University of East London, loved the idea of being 30 minutes from anything.

“In a big city, you never know how long it will take you to get anywhere,” he said.

When he took the leap to move to Georgia, Akinwuntan, now an associate professor at Georgia Health Sciences University, never worried about fitting in.

“Nigerians are everywhere,” he said. “If it is habitable, there is at least one Nigerian living there.”

When Akinwuntan moved to Augusta in 2005, he quickly got in touch with the local Nigerian community, the Augusta Union of Nigerian Indigenes. He said a group of about 13 or 14 families meets every other month, rotating homes in alphabetical order by last name to enjoy Nigerian food and customs.

“It gives us a chance to talk in our native language,” he said. “To talk politics and issues in Nigeria. To catch up.”

During the Christmas season, the group rents out a hall and invites all local Africans to a big party where traditional food is served.

“The kids have a blast,” he said.

Akinwuntan also became involved in Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival, where he can share Nigeria’s traditional food.

He said Nigerian food is traditionally very spicy, so the cooks tone it down for first-timers. They keep the spices on the side in case someone feels brave.

“It surprises me,” he said. “But sometimes they like it.”

A big part of Nigerian culture, Akinwuntan said, is philanthropy. He said the group’s members always make sure they give to charities in the community and overseas.

Also, if a new Nigerian moves to the area, those living here reach out as soon as possible. And if a Nigerian is in bereavement, the others will step in and help by making funeral arrangements or anything else that might be needed.

“We reach out so they know they are never alone,” Akinwuntan said.

Now, Akinwuntan spends his time at GHSU teaching and working in the $250,000 addition to the College of Allied Health Sciences building that was built for him. Inside it is a driving simulator he uses to assess stroke, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s patients’ ability to drive.

The simulator acts like a real car, from the steering wheel to the brake and gas pedals. It is connected to a program he wrote that takes information and allows him to analyze if someone should be driving and if they can be taught to drive again.

Akinwuntan said he is happy to be part of the local Nigerian community, and part of Augusta as a whole.

He was recently accepted into Leadership Augusta. The application process includes being sponsored by a previous member and getting interviewed. He said the process opened his eyes to some issues in the area.

“Somehow, I knew I could always do more for Augusta,” he said.