The city of Onitsha in eastern Nigeria held an impressive rally for U.S. President Donald Trump last week, complete with Republican campaign signs, red hats, and a mixture of American and Nigerian flags. Trump is enormously popular in Nigeria, Reuters noted Tuesday.
A Pew Research poll cited by Reuters found him holding a 56-percent approval rating and 58-percent confidence in leadership rating, about double what he typically gets in polls of Europeans.
Trump thanked the Nigerians organizing last week’s parade on Twitter Tuesday.
A parade for me in Nigeria, a great honor! pic.twitter.com/EHiSQMFvSZ
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2020
The strong Trump support and high poll numbers puzzled Reuters, which recalled reports of Trump referring to African nations as “shithole countries” in a 2018 White House meeting (which Trump denied) and imposing tougher visa limits on Nigeria – along with Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar – in early 2020. Reuters’ headline described Nigerians as “scored by Trump” but bizarrely determined to “love him all the same.”
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari officially accepted the reasoning behind the visa curbs and appointed a commission to review the security concerns that prompted the U.S. action. Buhari said in August that two of the six concerns advanced by the Trump administration had been “fully resolved,” two had been “substantially satisfied,” and the last two were still difficult works in progress.
None of this history seemed to dim the enthusiastic support for Trump from Nigerians such as Rev. Daddy Hezekiah of Living Christ Mission, Inc., organizers of the October 25 rally in Onitsha. Hezekiah posted a video in which he declared, “President Trump, may we shout for joy over your victory.”
Hezekiah noted that the name “Donald” is a Scottish name whose etymology means “world leader” in a sermon this weekend.
“God had already planned that this man must be great,” Hezekiah said. “So many things are against him – spiritual things, physical things … I was a boy when President Kennedy was shot but I’ve never seen any president who the witches are after as they are against President Trump.”
Another Nigerian, a young artist named Peter Udoakang (or, sometimes, Udoakang Promise Peters), painted a picture of Trump wearing a traditional gold-trimmed red robe as a “mark of respect” for the U.S. president and an effort to “bring him closer to us.”
Still others wished they had a president with Trump’s bold style and unconventional approach to governance, wistfully observing that fewer Nigerians would want to emigrate from their country if it were managed better.
The UK Guardian also took note of Udoakang’s painting of Trump wearing an agbada robe and cap, reporting that portraits of Trump have “grown more common among the impressionist depictions of notable figures often sold from open stalls on the streets of Nigeria.”
The Guardian also found Trump’s support in Nigeria baffling in light of the alleged “shithole countries” comment, plus “widespread accusations of racism and Islamophobia” against the president. Nigerian political analyst Sa’eed Husaini pointed out to the Guardian that Trump’s book The Art of the Deal has long been popular in Nigeria, while a Lagos bookseller confirmed that Trump’s writings constantly sell out, along with the autobiography of his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson.
The Guardian did its best to find Nigerians who do not like Trump – starting with Husaini, who sneered that his countrymen voted for President Buhari, a fellow “septuagenarian economic nationalist with a born-again vice-president, minimal respect for rule of law and archaic views about women” – but they kept tripping over Nigerians who like Trump, citing everything from his style to his conservative policies. Trump’s Nigerian fans were even good sports about his “America First” policies, finding it reasonable that the president of any nation should put his country’s interests first.
“Trump is in many ways a useful avatar for many, embodying what they feel is missing in Nigeria,” the Guardian conceded, after taking a stab at portraying Trump support as a proxy for the anxieties of southern Nigerian Christians about the Muslims who predominantly live in the north.
On that score, Nigeria does have a rather notorious problem with militant Islamists, a problem shared by its neighbors. U.S. special forces on Saturday conducted a daring raid in northern Nigeria to rescue an American citizen kidnapped by militants on the other side of the border in Niger.
“Despite Trump’s strong line against Africa, and anti-Black Lives Matter-protest rhetoric more generally, the Nigerian population still love him and would welcome a second term,” Newsweek fumed, quoting unnamed “economists” who said Nigeria’s economy would be better off under a President Joe Biden because Biden would have open borders and a “less hawkish approach to the oil industry,” by which they meant Biden would make oil more expensive, to the benefit of Nigeria’s petroleum industry.
Newsweek was also surprised that Biden did not seem to gain any benefit in Nigeria from expressing support for the anti-SARS protests, the biggest story in Nigerian politics this fall. The “Special Anti-Robbery Squad” (SARS) was a police unit now disbanded after widespread protests against it for its brutal attacks on civilians, bribery, and other alleged crimes.
“It’s like watching an action movie, or the best reality show Nigerians have ever seen – expressions of wonderment and wild laughter can be heard when people gather to discuss him,” Nigerian journalist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani told Newsweek of Trump’s support.
“Some think that Trump has used very hard words on Nigeria and Africa but are they not true?” asked Anglican vicar Emeka Ezeji. “In African nations, the leaders are selfish, corrupt and presidents who want to remain in power till they die with nothing to show for it. If they had transformed the African nations, I don’t think the president of any country will refer to African countries in a derogatory manner.”
Newsweek concluded by recalling something else President Trump said about Nigeria, something forgotten by most of the American media outlets obsessed with the “shithole countries” imbroglio but perhaps remembered by many Nigerians: when President Buhari visited the White House in April 2018, Trump remarked that Nigeria is “the largest democracy in Africa” and an “amazing country” he would like to visit someday.
“In certain ways, I hear from the standpoint of the beauty of a country, there’s no country more beautiful,” he said.