Nigerians are generally dismayed by his latest travel ban, which severely restricts immigration to the United States from our country and five others. The reason given for this collective punishment is our government’s failure to share certain relevant security information with the United States and international security agencies. But the ban is not likely to dent the prevailing attitude towards Trump here. The data has been consistent for the past three years, and the most recent survey, published by the Pew Research Center in January, shows that almost 6 in 10 Nigerians believe that Trump will “do the right thing regarding world affairs.”
Trump has spread more hatred of immigrants than any American in history
Trump once described African nations as “shithole” countries. Many Africans agree. Ask the multitudes risking death by drowning to escape to Europe. In 2017, the bodies of 26 Nigerian young women and girls were recovered from the Mediterranean Sea, following their attempt to reach Europe in a rubber boat. Out of 181,000 migrants who arrived by sea in Italy from Libya in 2016, about 11,000 women and 3,000 children traveling alone were from Nigeria, according to the United Nations. In 2015, the European Union agreed to a nearly 2 billion-euro trust fund for African countries to help stop migrants from reaching Europe. “EU development aid is increasingly being spent to close borders, stifle migration and push for returns of migrants to Africa,” according to a report published by Oxfam in January. “European governments seem determined to prevent migration at any cost,” said Raphael Shilhav, who wrote the report. Trump is giving voice to a sentiment apparently shared silently by others.
Nigerians have never been under any illusion about the world wanting to welcome random Africans with wide-open arms, but that has not stopped us from dreaming and trying anyway. In a 2018 Pew survey, 45 percent of Nigerian adults said they planned to move to another country in the next five years — the highest percentage of any nation surveyed. On reporting trips between 2016 and 2018 to Edo state in the south, the origin of most Nigerians crossing the Mediterranean, I came across villages where the majority of the youth had left for Europe, and the people who remained were mostly elderly.
I saw advertisements for church services proclaiming themes like “Abroad Must Favour My Family This Year!!!” Across Nigeria, religious meetings offer special prayers to influence the hearts of consular officials. Those seeking divine intervention in their migration plans or visa applications are invited to attend.
How Trump changed Nigeria
In the past year, Nigerians have had cause to pray for God’s intervention, after acquiring a U.S. visa suddenly became a task more herculean than ever. People who have travelled freely to the United States for decades were suddenly being denied visas without explanation. Newspaper columns registered their shock and anger, and local media covered the alarming situation widely. Even securing an appointment at the U.S. Embassy has become difficult, with applicants sometimes waiting up to five months for a chance to be interviewed
International media reports on the travel ban have described Nigeria with glittering phrases: It’s “Africa’s largest economy” with a “booming tech ecosystem,” whose migrants are “among the most educated and successful immigrants in the United States.” But it is also a greatly diverse country that has produced the Boko Haram terrorist group, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and now parades as its West Africa arm; the “Underwear Bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear on a flight headed to Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009; and the crowds that poured into the streets of northern Nigeria (a mostly Muslim region) to celebrate the attacks on the twin towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. In a recent chat with a group of people in Abuja, everyone agreed that it would be unwise for Trump to pretend that threats from northern Nigeria don’t exist. He needs to protect Americans from Nigerians whom even we Nigerians need to be protected from.
Most local frustrations about the travel ban are directed at the government of Muhammadu Buhari, rather than at Trump. Multiple local media reports have said that the Trump administration tried for more than a year to work with the Nigerian government to upgrade our country’s information-sharing procedures and avoid the ban.
But Nigeria failed to meet the minimum-security requirements for verifying travellers’ identities and singling out those who may pose a national security threat. “The current Nigerian administration may have its deficiencies and deep faults,” said Atiku Abubakar, an opposition leader and former presidential candidate, in an open appeal to the United States on Twitter, “but the Nigeria people ought not to be punished for their inefficiencies.”
As soon as the ban was announced, quick action replaced lethargy. Buhari immediately set up a committee to “study and address” the security requirements that will get Nigeria off the list. In a meeting with the U.S. State Department this past week, Nigeria’s foreign minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, promised that the government would soon complete the process of making information on criminal history, links to terrorism, stolen passports and the like available to Interpol and other relevant international agencies. It’s frightening to think that none of this was being done before now. Nigerians’ romance with Trump may end someday, but not over this travel ban, not when it is so difficult to prove beyond any doubt that Trump’s motive was simply bigotry and malice.
During the 2016 presidential election, a prominent Nigerian politician tweeted that it would be good if Trump won because America would become too busy dealing with him and his drama to poke its nose into other countries’ affairs. That joke went viral in Nigeria. Perhaps that is another reason Nigerians love Trump: With all the outlandishness his presidency has unleashed, he has shown that America isn’t some ideal place where leaders and the media and the opposition always conduct themselves with decorum. He has exposed the “African” in all of you.