Last week, the Nigerian military used President Donald Trump’s words to justify shooting Nigerian protestors armed with rocks. After firing on the Islamic protestors, the army received criticism from human rights organizations like Amnesty International, and in response, the army released a video on Twitter of Trump saying that throwing rocks is comparable to being armed with guns. Afterwards, John Agim, spokesperson for the Nigerian military made an official statement saying that, “We released that video [of the rock comment] to say if President Trump can say that rocks are as good as a rifle, who is Amnesty International?”
These comments may seem bizarre to some Americans, but the admiration some Nigerians hold for Trump’s rhetoric is alarmingly high; his hateful message is being absorbed by the people of Nigeria, and because of that, his casual words can hold a lot of weight — enough weight to send bullets flying. These are effects that Americans should be more aware of, as they debate the merits of Trump’s politically incorrect, incendiary platform.
Without viewing it yourself, it can be hard to recognize the extent to which some people in Nigeria believe in the American ideal. I can picture long talks in rural Nigeria with cousins who knew every American reference I made instantly. I can remember being nervous to speak in public because people would eagerly flip their heads around, strangers sometimes even running up to me just to ask if I was American. At times in Nigeria, excitement, respect and admiration were given to me because of nothing more than the fact I was an American citizen. I can’t imagine the adoration heaped on the president by these same people, but this shooting has given us some inclination.
Trump is very popular among many Nigerians. Polling shows that 58 percent of Nigerians believe that “President Trump would do the right thing in world affairs.” Fifty-five percent believe Trump is someone who “cares about ordinary people,” the highest out of any of the countries in the survey.
There’s debate about why this is the case. Some speculate that Nigeria, a country that only had its first democratic transition of power during 2015, enjoys forceful leaders. In fact, current President Muhammadu Buhari previously maintained power in a military coup in 1983, but was still welcomed back and elected president in 2015.
For people who support Trump, or even those who hate Trump but support his commitment to politically incorrect speech meant to cause controversy, I urge you to reflect on the ramifications of his actions that may be harder to see. We can’t just consider actions in a vacuum, or through a singularly American lens. The reason Trump’s failure to condemn dictators or verbally recognize human rights abuses is so troubling is not just because of some abstract idea of what’s right or wrong. It is because leaders in Nigeria’s newer, more rocky democracy are watching intently, waiting to take to their cue.
As a Nigerian-American, I am constantly worrying about the effect of Trump on both of the countries I call home. Nigeria, a new democracy, has a lot of potential, and the world should be investing in its success. Incidents like this recent shooting have shown us that something as small as an off-hand comment from a U.S. president can have major repercussions in Nigeria. Now it is just a matter of whether Americans choose to keep that information in mind next time they are at the ballot box.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 12 print edition.
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