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Contrary to global trends, Nigerians love America

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The closest Chinedu Okorie will probably ever come to America's amber waves of grain are the sacks of US-imported rice he carries on his head. Yet the impoverished Nigerian harbors a love affair with the distant superpower.

Like the majority of Nigerians, the 25-year-old vender holds America in high regard even as its reputation sags elsewhere in the world. Mr. Okorie often carries huge sacks of rice emblazoned with the US Stars and Stripes to his market stall, and while he knows little of that country, his eyes light up when he says, "I love America!"

America's image has steadily declined since 2000, even in nations considered US allies such as Britain, India, Turkey, and Japan. But recent polls show approval rates climbing in Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria.

Some 72 percent of Nigerians say that the US is having a mainly positive effect in the world, according to a BBC World Service poll released last month.

A 2006 poll by the US-based Pew Global Attitudes Project reveals that 62 percent of Nigerians have a positive opinion of the US, up from 46 percent in 2000.

The polls don't delve into the reasons, but Nigerians interviewed said that overwhelming might is respected, Muslim-Christian conflict is a major issue here, and America's great riches and powerful global role resonate with many Nigerians.

America actually has less economic influence in Nigeria than it does in many other African nations. As Africa's largest oil producer, Nigeria gets relatively little direct aid from the United States.

While America's free-enterprise appeal is the most obvious lure for young men, other factors exist, says Ayodeji Oladimeji, who goes by the rubric "D.J. Dollar."

A one-time club bouncer who learned how to fix air conditioners to increase his income, Mr. Oladimeji enjoys American movies. The 40-year-old likes the multi-cultural makeup of the America he sees on the big screen and the possibility for upward mobility through hard work.

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