12 February 2020
Nigerian writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani spoke to Washington-based National Public Radio’s Audie Cornish about President Trump’s surprising popularity in Nigeria, despite the country being added to the travel ban.
Transcript of the interview:
Audie Cornish: Immigrants from Africa’s most populous country will be blocked from coming to the U.S. beginning later this month. The Trump administration is denying immigrant visas to Nigerians as part of an expanded travel ban. The administration cited security concerns – ones Nigeria’s government is rushing to address. But one writer in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja says the forthcoming ban hasn’t impacted President Trump’s popularity there.
Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is here to talk more about it. Thanks so much.
Nwaubani: Thank you, Audie. Thanks for having me.
Now, you’ve been writing in a way that makes it sound like the writing has been on the wall for this travel ban – right? – that acquiring a U.S. visa had become more difficult. What were you seeing? What were people saying?
Well, it’s never been easy, and I just haven’t been under any illusion about that. But it’s got a lot more difficult in the past year. People who’ve been travelling to the United States for decades have been refused visas with no explanation. So that has been in the news anyway. But the travel ban is different because it’s targeting people who have families there and want to go and join their families, husbands, wives, spouses, that sort of thing.
I understand that the U.S. State Department met with Nigeria’s foreign minister and that the government has set up a committee to address the security requirements that would get Nigeria off the list. And your reaction to that was interesting, which is that it was sort of a revelation what hasn’t been done in Nigeria along these lines.
Exactly. The original impression we had and most people had was that our country was put on the travel ban list because of issues with security. Maybe the citizens – there was some suspicion regarding Nigerian citizens. But it turned out that it had nothing to do with that. It was simply a punishment to sort of light a fire under the butt of our government because for more than a year, the United States government has been trying to get the Nigerian government to upgrade information-sharing procedures, and our government has been lethargic about it. So the United States government came up with this plan to ban immigrants and then to put us on the travel ban list. And it’s worked because our government has gone into action to upgrade the information-sharing procedure. So it’s a punishment that has yielded some result.
You say Nigerians are unfazed by comments or policies that American critics might consider racist from the president. How do people hear it differently?
Well, the point to note is that the data the Pew Research Center has pulled year after year – and it’s been consistent – Nigerians love Trump. His approval ratings here are high. It’s been like that throughout his presidency. And the most recent polls in January show that almost 6 out of 10 Nigerians approve of what he’s doing and believe he’ll do the right thing. So that is it. Nigerians like Trump.
Usually, when he makes the comments that people in the U.S. regard as racist or whatever, in this part of the world, people tend to agree with him because we think, well, we know these things he’s saying are things that everybody else is thinking. We’re not under any illusion that any country in the world wants to welcome African immigrants with wide-open arms. No Nigerian I know of is under that illusion. No European country is eager to welcome African immigrants. They’re putting policies in place. The data is there. All the EU countries are trying to keep immigrants out. So President Trump is saying the things we know everybody is thinking.
So it sounds like what you’re saying is that people appreciate what they perceive as honesty, that he’s not hiding things that you think other Western or European-led…
…Countries believe but don’t feel comfortable saying in public any longer.
Exactly – and even the average American. I mean, yes, immigrants are beautiful people. They do all sorts of wonderful things. But I don’t think that there are many people sitting down and desiring that their countries are flooded with immigrants. So President Trump is saying, we don’t want more immigrants from this part of the world. Nigerians don’t hold it against him because the impression is that, well, he’s saying what everybody else thinks but just doesn’t say.
Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is a Nigerian writer and journalist based in Abuja. She wrote about this for The Washington Post.
Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you. Thank you.