Why Trump’s remark about Nigerians and ‘huts’ is so appalling

Long before I arrived in the United States in 1997 on political asylum, I’d heard the apocryphal story of the visiting African who was asked by an American whether it was “true that Africans live on trees?”

The well-educated and well-spoken African responded: “Yes, it is true, and the U.S. Embassy is the biggest hut next to my hut!”

It was funny then, until my friend was asked that same question at her school in Washington. President Trump’s reported statement that when Nigerians see America they never want to go back to “their huts” is downright appalling.

I came here in exile as a young human rights lawyer who had been imprisoned and tortured by a brutal military dictator. In recent years, I have helped a number of victims of the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram come to the U.S.

These were simply Christian schoolgirls who had jumped out of Boko Haram’s trucks after they were abducted with hundreds of classmates from their school in the northeastern community of Chibok in April 2014. They were not here because of the American dream. They just wanted to be somewhere, anywhere, they could go to school and not be abducted, raped, converted to Islam or used as suicide bombers. Boko Haram has a set a world record for the most suicide bombers in history — 80% of whom have been women and children.

Ironically, Trump’s remarks undercut his position with a group that has traditionally favored him and the GOP. In Nigeria, Trump is popular for standing up to Islamist terrorism. Strangely enough, even people who dislike Trump are amused he beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who they blame for failing to take action against Boko Haram terrorism and ultimately for foisting Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim, on Nigeria as its president. The optic of former Obama advisor David Axelrod serving as a consultant to Buhari’s campaign was perceived as a Hillary/Obama endorsement of his candidacy.

Jos, the city in northern Nigeria where I was born, is also the birthplace of many missionary kids from America, Canada and England, many of whom are proud of this fact and have asked me if this entitles them to Nigerian citizenship. The oldest American high school on the continent of Africa is located there. The Chibok school, from which the 276 schoolgirls were abducted, was built by American missionaries 70 years ago last year.

Today, as Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy, Nigeria is the United States’ largest trading partner on the continent. Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Exxon Mobil are just a couple of American companies that have extensive dealings in Nigeria, once the fifth-largest oil supplier to the United States. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former President Clinton are other prominent Americans who have earned income in Nigeria through business transactions and speaking engagements.




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