It is less than three weeks till the US presidential elections and as expected, campaigning is at fever pitch. As usual, when the United States catches sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold – it is not unusual to find Nigerians discussing the elections and their preferred candidates, whether it is in physical groups or online platforms.
While the Republican nominee has been receiving quite a bashing literally from the start of the campaign for his ridiculous statements and policy ideas as well as revelations of demeaning things he said as far back as a decade ago, he seems to enjoy a lot of support from an unusual demographic in Nigeria: Christians, especially those from the North, Middle Belt and the South-East.
This support is evident in discussions on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. It is even making its way to Nigerian Christian magazines and sites,like this article first published on Today’s Challenge, a Northern Christian magazine by a former House of Representatives member praises Trump, calling him America’s Cyrus – that is, someone who though is not ‘born-again’, will save Christianity.
If you ask these Trump supporters why they support him, they will point to his opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion as the reason for their support, even though Trump is a recent convert in opposing them. But then, this begs the question – why did Ted Cruz or other GOP candidates who also oppose these things not enjoy the same support, especially as this support for Trump did not start after he won the nomination?
The difference is that unlike these other candidates, Mr. Trump stands out in his stereotyping of countries (calling Mexicans rapists and criminals) and his call to ban Muslims (or ‘extreme vetting’, as he recently termed it), the latter particularly appealing to his Nigerian supporters.
Why does the Islamophobia from Trump appeal to these groups of Nigerian Christians? These groups have been victims of religious violence from sectarian crises or have been targeted by Boko Haram. Decades of anger and frustration has coalesced and is seeking outlets. I can emphathize with them being a Northern Christian who has also seen my fair share of sectarian violence and the evil that Boko Haram has done in my state.
However, Trump’s solution of banning Muslims from the US or ‘extreme vetting’ is not a solution either, because what he does is a sweeping generalization of an entire religion of 1.4 billion people. It is not that they are not politically correct; it is that they are hate statements that are more capable of inciting than of solving a problem.
There is also the little bit of problem of Trump’s ideas not achievable – denying all Muslims entry into the United States. But even if it were, what would he do about the 3.3 million Muslims based in the US – herd them into camps repressively like Japanese-Americans were after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan? Such moves will also deeply alienate Muslim communities and Muslim-majority countries, many of whom are American allies and are also concerned about Islamic extremism in their own countries.
But let us come back home – you might be wondering ‘wetin consign agbero with overload’? How is this our business?
Well, it is our business because it shows how much we are at the risk of demagoguery – politicians can easily exploit our fault-lines to their electoral advantage; indeed, some already have.
It also shows how there is a lot of anger among these groups and who are unlikely to wait for our law enforcement agencies to solve crimes and will rather take the law into their hands and mete out what they consider to be justice – a clear example is how the attack this week on Godogodo community in Kaduna State by suspected Fulani herdsmen saw reprisals happen across some parts of the state. And in a country where every issue has the likelihood of being viewed from an ethno-religious prism, every issue becomes a tinderbox we are sitting on.
This is very scary, and hopefully should provide food for thought for those in authority.