Thank You For The Epithet, Mr. President

Image: Diana Ejaita, Cremona, Nigeria via The Washington Post

Worldwide outrage followed reports that President Trump had described Haiti and most African nations as “shithole countries” during an Oval Office meeting in 2018. In Nigeria, however, opposition politicians welcomed the comment as a missile targeted at the government of Muhammadu Buhari. “President Buhari laid a very bad foundation for all the bad impressions people have about Nigeria as a whole,” said Diran Odeyemi, a spokesman for the main opposition party, the PDP.

The epithet has remained a weapon in the PDP’s verbal arsenal. “It’s only in a shithole country that you can see this kind of thing,” said Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue state, when threatened with impeachment. Seriake Dickson, governor of Bayelsa state, found the term useful when complaining about national security before the general elections in February: “A country where lives and property are not protected is a failed state. That is a ‘shithole’ country. So, nobody should blame President Donald Trump when he said African leaders were presiding over shithole countries.”

Other Trump expressions have found their way into Nigeria’s political parlance, too. The Financial Times reported that after meeting with Buhari in April, the U.S. president described the Nigerian leader as “lifeless.” This “lifelessness” was a main theme during the hard-fought but failed campaigns to root him out of government in February’s election. Dozens of Nigeria’s more than 70 opposition parties wielded the disparagement to highlight Buhari’s poor performance on the economy and his much-publicized health issues. (The Nigerian government dismissed the “lifeless” comment as “fake news.”)

Not to be outdone, the military justified its use of fatal force against protesters in November 2018 by tweeting a video of Trump suggesting that immigrants could be shot if they threw rocks at U.S. soldiers. “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back,” Trump said in the video. The Nigerian military claimed that its soldiers opened fire because the protesters threw stones. “We released the video to say if President Trump can say that rocks are as good as a rifle, who is Amnesty International?” an army spokesman told the New York Times. “What did David use to kill Goliath? So a stone is a weapon.”

If Trump’s words are popular in this deeply religious nation, the most populous in Africa, the man himself is more so, perhaps because of his blunt, tough-guy image. Almost 60 percent of Nigerians believe he is a positive influence on world affairs, according to the Pew Research Center. And Nigeria is among the top five countries that make up his 67 million Twitter followers.

In the recent election season, some politicians tried to take advantage of Trump’s popularity. The PDP hired as a strategist Brian Ballard, who chaired the Trump Victory organization in Florida. And the campaign of Atiku Abubakar, the party’s presidential flag-bearer, adopted the slogan “Let’s Make Nigeria Work Again,” an obvious echo of Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” He lost.