Subscribe

Global Voices Truthdig Women Reporting

Countering Violence Against Women

TD originals

Voices From a ‘Shithole Country’

A street scene in the Nigerian city of Ibadan. (Patience Ogbo)

Truthdig is proud to present this article as part of its Global Voices: Truthdig Women Reporting, a series from a network of female correspondents around the world who have been hailed for their courage in pursuit of truth within their countries and elsewhere.

Back in January, the president of the United States infamously declared that a number of the world’s nations—including Nigeria, where I live—were “shithole countries.” Many thousands of people in the U.S., Africa, Haiti and elsewhere had something to say in response. Although I read dozens of reactions on social media in the wake of the remark, I wanted to learn more, so I set out to interview some of my fellow citizens.

In the 11 weeks since the “shithole” explosion, I have collected the thoughts of ordinary Nigerians. But before we get to that, it’s worth considering what Nigerians thought about Donald J. Trump before he slurred their nation.

Nigerians never were warm to the idea of Trump being president of the U.S. For example, before the 2016 election, Michael Adeniyi, former president of the Organization for the Advancement of Nigeria, which addresses the needs of the Nigerian community in the U.S., said: “As secretary of state, [Hillary] Clinton visited many countries in Africa; she understands what goes on in the continent and, in her capacity, dealt with those issues. You can’t compare her with somebody who does not have any affiliation with Africa. I don’t think Trump has ever been to Africa or even knows anything about Africa.”

Yetunde Odugbesan-Omede, a professor of global affairs and political science at Rutgers University in New Jersey and Farmingdale State College in New York, projected a Clinton win and said, “Nigerians in diaspora and Africans [who are U.S. citizens] will be voting for Clinton. We have some minority who will vote for Trump, but over 90 percent majority will vote for Clinton.” She added: “Trump’s stance on migration, how he feels about Africans, Latinos, Muslims and other minorities is bad.”

Nigerians’ feelings about Trump didn’t improve after he was elected. Soon after he was sworn in as president, he announced his so-called Muslim travel ban. Although Nigeria—where Muslims make up about half the population—was not one of the countries affected by the notorious restriction, some Nigerians reported being humiliated, detained and even deported upon entering the United States with valid visas in the early days of the Trump presidency.

As if Nigerians didn’t have enough reasons to be wary of Trump after he issued the travel ban, the president reportedly insulted them directly in the Oval Office during a June 2017 meeting about immigration. (Later, the White House denied he spoke the offensive words.) According to a report in The New York Times, Trump was reading aloud from a document given to him shortly before the meeting. The document listed how many immigrants had received visas to enter the United States in 2017 despite the president’s stance on immigration, and Trump did not like what he saw in the papers he was holding. The Times wrote:

More than 2,500 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president complained.

Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They “all have AIDS,” he grumbled, according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there.

Forty thousand had come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added. Once they had seen the United States, they would never “go back to their huts” in Africa, recalled the two officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive conversation in the Oval Office.

It is pertinent to point out to President Trump that if he indeed made those comments, or thought so in his heart, among the Nigerians who refused to return to their “huts” after seeing the dazzling lights of American cities are Dr. Olayinka Olutoye, who operated on a baby in utero in Texas; Dr. Bennet Omalu, the first authority to publish findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in U.S. football players; Dr. Olurotimi Badero, the world’s first cardio-nephrologist; John Dabiri, biophysicist and professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at Stanford University; and Hakeem Olajuwon, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

And to counter the often repeated claim that these Nigerians excel in the United States thanks to an enabling environment there that Nigeria lacks, Wole Soyinka was a professor of comparative literature at the University of Ife when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986; Agbani Darego became the first black African Miss World in 2001 while studying computer science at the University of Port Harcourt; Oluchi Onweagba went from hawking bread on the streets of Lagos to winning the Face of Africa modeling competition in 1998; Femi Kuti, a versatile musician, was nominated for Grammy Awards four times; and singer-songwriter Wizkid rose to global prominence from the Nigerian music scene.

Trump’s “huts” remark, however offensive, was overshadowed several months later by the statement he reportedly made Jan. 11 in the Oval Office during a discussion of U.S. visa and immigration policies. That was when he allegedly called Haiti and African nations “shithole countries” and slammed the idea of restoring protections for immigrants from those regions. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” the president said, according to The Washington Post.

Nigerians, both common people and officials, reacted strongly. Some of those reactions were not what might be expected. One came from Gbenga Balogun, a self-employed Nigerian, who commented on Facebook: “… For me, there is truism in his assertion, especially from the Nigerian angle. The ‘shithole’ comment should be seen as a wake-up call to our politicians and top civil servants, who corner our common patrimony with impunity and turn-around to lord it over us. …”

Some politicians took a similar approach to make political hay out of the Trump comment. Diran Odeyemi, a spokesperson for the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said, “President [Muhammadu] Buhari laid a very bad foundation for all the bad impressions people have about Nigeria as a whole. So if Trump comes out to say anything bad about us, it is the outcome of what our president has said in the past.” Femi Fani-Kayode, former aviation minister and a vitriolic foe of President Buhari, said: “The bitter truth is that we are a ‘shithole’ country, with a ‘shithole’ government and a ‘shithole’ president. It is left for us to clean up our shit, wash our arse, flush Buhari down the toilet, open the windows, get rid of the stench and make Nigeria a cleaner and better place.”

Those sentiments were both echoed and contradicted in the Truthdig interviews, conducted in person and by email. Here are some excerpts, which have been edited and, in some cases, condensed.

Mr. Tobi, banker:

The shithole comment is a wakeup call for Nigeria. If Donald Trump says we are a shithole country, we should make it known to him that shit business is good business. If someone calls your country shithole, it means you have a lot to offer but you are not doing well to make good use of what you have to offer. It is a message for our leaders to start putting things in place.

For instance, in the environmental sector, we should start recycling our waste. The recent incident in Lagos state where a dumpsite caught fire, if government had put things in place, people would not live close to the dumpsite, people would not build houses and factories there, and there will be a way to harness the energy from the waste and convert it to electricity.

[Trump’s] comment is fair, very fair in my opinion. Anything that happens in Nigeria, we are always comparing ourselves with America. Even though we are using the same democratic system of government, we should remember that it took them years to get to where they are today. We should first put a good system in place in our own country.

Click below to listen to Mr. Tobi’s interview.

 

Justus Uche Ijeoma. (Photo by Patience Ogbo)

Justus Uche Ijeoma, attorney:

The shithole comment is not befitting of a world leader of Trump’s stature. However, the statement calls for re-examination and re-evaluation from Nigerian leaders and African leaders at large. When a person passes derogatory comments on you, the first thing to do is to weigh the comment against your reality.

What’s a shithole? A shithole is a place that stinks, a place that is not habitable, a place that is not accommodating. Weighing that with our situation in Nigeria, you can almost forgive Trump. For instance, Nigeria’s economy at independence in 1960 was at par or even better than that of the Asian Tigers. Look at Singapore, Japan and the others today. Compare their economy, literacy level, life expectancy and other markers of development and progress with ours and you have your answer to the question “Is Nigeria a shithole?”

Bukola Aina, fashion designer:

President Donald Trump made a correct statement when he called Nigeria a shithole country. Let’s ask ourselves: Can we sincerely say that our country does not have enough problems to be referred to as a shithole country? For instance, our law favors the rich against the poor. If a poor man steals something little, he will be jailed. But our leaders continue to steal from us without consequences. What are we doing to people who are robbing our nation blind?

President Trump made a correct statement. It is left to our leaders to check themselves. They travel abroad and they see the order in these other countries, but they are not ready to replicate the good things they see in those countries in our own country. Yes, it is true that America’s democracy is older and more sophisticated than ours, but God has blessed Nigeria with enough resources to make good as a country. Our problem is leadership, not how long we have been practicing democracy. …

Musbau Agbodemu. (Photo by Patience Ogbo)

Musbau Agbodemu, human rights activist:

We are deceiving ourselves that Nigeria is practicing democracy when in the real sense we are practicing autocracy. President Trump is very correct. The man is telling the future because Nigeria will soon become a shithole and even worse than a shithole if things continue this way. Some people are feeding fat on our collective wealth. The wealth of the country is not trickling down to the masses, and that’s a sure recipe for disaster.

Ignatius Iginla, shoe trader:

We should not be bothered about what President Trump said about our country. He is not God. Anyone can say whatever they feel like, but it is what God calls you that matters. President Donald Trump is a human being, and he spoke his mind. But Nigeria is a wonderful place. A million Trumps cannot change that.

Click on this video to view Yomi Oygunsanya’s  interview.

Yomi Ogunsanya, lecturer at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan:

It is not for an outsider to tell us that we are a shithole. Unfortunately, that is how we have presented ourselves to the world, and instead of us [being] indignant, we should ask ourselves how we are going to change the situation. It does not really matter if we are just starting. If we are learning the right things and doing the right things, nobody will condemn us or have negative words to say about us or call us shithole. When people say ours is a young democracy, I laugh. … There are many older democracies we can learn from.

In fact, we are more fortunate than them (America) because they did not have others they could refer to and learn from. They were evolving, making all the mistakes and correcting all the mistakes all alone. But we have a long history of democracy in other countries to fall back on, and if we are not doing that, we are just being clever by half.”

Grace Obinna, restaurant owner:

President Donald Trump knows what he is talking about. He is right because Nigerians are suffering. They are dying, and some are begging for food. We can say, yes, America’s democracy is greater than ours, but we are not doing what can make us great. How can we progress like this?

Marcus Isah. (Photo by Patience Ogbo)

Marcus Isah, soccer player:

We have what it takes to be OK as a country. We can feed this country, but Nigerians are hungry. Many Nigerians are relocating from the country. Why? Because there are no jobs. Even those who are employed are not being paid their salaries regularly. Some have not been paid their salaries for one year, two years and upward. But in America, people are being paid per hour of work. Who wouldn’t want to relocate to America? Here in Nigeria, we work like goats from morning til night yet we get nothing to show for it. President Trump is free to call our country a shithole, and we should not blame him. Really, is Nigeria not a shithole?

Former president Barack Obama went to Ghana, but he did not visit Nigeria. That is a black president, so what do we expect from President Trump, who is a white man? President Trump should not have used the word shithole, but I feel he only expressed his mind because he is appalled by what is happening in Nigeria and other African countries and that is why he referred to them as shithole countries. He is angry with our government and leaders because they are not doing what they are supposed to do to make their citizens comfortable, and those citizens are fleeing to America and creating problems for the rulers and citizens of that country. What do you expect him to say? He called us shithole probably because he thinks using such a harsh word will force us to change.

Raymond James, gas dealer:

The “word shithole” is not a good word and should not come from the mouth of a president. That word is not good. How can the president of a country call another country shithole? That is not right. But he said that because of what he is hearing and seeing about our country. His comment confirms that we should change. There is corruption everywhere in this country. Government and citizens need to change now. It’s not a matter of how long we’ve been practicing democracy. It’s the corruption and stealing that needs to end. Let our leaders stop stealing. Let them use public funds to develop our country instead of stealing them and carting them away to Europe and America …

Click on this video to view Mrs. Comfort’s interview.

Mrs. Comfort, businesswoman:

The comment is true. Look at a situation where a civil servant went into a woman’s kitchen to steal yam flour meal and ate it with his family, even without soup. Can you imagine the hardship that family must have been going through? That civil servant’s salary has probably not been paid for months.

Since president Buhari came into power, life has not been easy for Nigerians. Look at the way they are killing Nigerians in the northern part of the country. Trump’s comment is fair.

Emeka, pharmacy owner:

I’m doing well in Nigeria. My business and my family are prospering and doing well so I have nothing really to say about President Trump’s shithole comment. Nigeria is good for me, and I am happy here. My good situation, however, is not because our government created a favorable or enabling environment here. I’m just doing the best that I can against all odds, which is what I think Nigerians should do instead of fleeing to Europe and America and causing the government and citizens of those countries to heap insults on our country and its honest citizens.

Our leaders are horrible, really. But one can do well in spite of the unfavorable situation here. Government can do whatever. I don’t care. I am not bothered. I’m thriving. I’m doing well. Nigeria is not a shithole for me. It’s a land flowing with milk and honey.

Deacon Adebayo Obatugashe. (Photo by Patience Ogbo)

Deacon Adebayo Obatugashe, community leader:

I don’t know if U.S. President Donald Trump has been to any African country. I don’t know what he knows of African countries to make such a statement. His statement is simply a reflection of white supremacy complex. God created us black and we are proud to be black. Unfortunately, we have enslaved ourselves to the white man.

Before the white man colonized us, we had our system of government. We changed it because we want to modernize and follow the ways of our colonial masters. But the Chinese refused to follow the ways of the white man, and look at where they are today. They are even richer than Europe and America.

I feel Donald Trump called us shithole because he wants to satisfy those who put him in power, the white separatists and supremacists. That is his own opinion. It is not a reflection of who we are. I am proud to be black and I am proud to be a Nigerian.

Dammy Ope, businesswoman:

Life is difficult here, no doubt. But President Trump has a bad mouth. Tell him, his mouth is the shithole here. But, frankly, we are the ones that brought the insult on ourselves. He has reasons to call our country a shithole. He occupies a vantage position in the global scheme of things, so I’m sure he knows what he is talking about.

Apart from the corruption and inefficiency of our leaders, look at the fraudulent way some Nigerians behave in other countries. It’s enough to give our country a bad name. I don’t blame President Trump for referring to Nigeria as a shithole. It’s part of human nature to feel bad when people tell us the truth. That’s probably why we feel bad about what President Trump said.

It’s true that America’s democracy is much older than ours. But I don’t think Nigeria can be like America even if our democracy is a thousand years old. And we can never get to America’s level if we keep coming up with the type of leaders we elect. It’s a tragedy for our nation really, to be led by the present crop of politicians that are in power. Even when these ones finish their terms of office and leave, they will be replaced by their family members the way things are going. They are busy scheming for their family members to go into government because that’s where the money is. …

Grace Ibidapo, job seeker:

President Trump surely has diarrhea of the mouth. He shouldn’t have referred to Nigeria as a shithole country. A good leader should talk with more tact and decorum. But can you blame him? The problems that plague our nation are numerous, and they continue to increase by the day. If we continue this way, we cannot make progress whether Trump abuses our nation or not.

I’ll finish with a few choice quotes I found on Facebook.

Natasha Oladokun, Nigerian poet and visiting professor of English at Hollins University in Virginia, @NatashaOladokun: “As a Nigerian, I can honestly say that our air-conditioned huts with fully functioning entertainment systems offer a much better situation than whatever flatulent policies this rancid orange keeps popping out … but that’s none of my tea.”

HENRY Okelue‏ @4eyedmonk: “I am currently in my #shithole, sitting under air conditioning. I came here not on a chariot drawn by mules, but a V6 engine car. Oh, I quickly checked my LinkedIn and found I am more educated than the POTUS. Donald Trump, aint shit{hole}.”

fessus_intellectiva: “It’s a moot point whether or not Trump’s statements were true or not. It’s nothing a President should ever say. It’s like he’s reading from a book titled ‘How to be terrible at foreign relations.’ ”

mask2697: “An uncomfortably large amount of this seems to just be white supremacy in denial.”

Nigerian journalist Patience Ogbo, a mentee in Truthdig’s Global Voices series, contributed to this article.

Gbemisola Olujobi
Contributor
A journalist since 1984, Gbemisola Olujobi is the editor of Saturday Mirror, a weekend newspaper based in Lagos, Nigeria. Previously, she was a Pulitzer Fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication and…
Gbemisola Olujobi
Patience Ogbo
Patience Ogbo is a senior crime correspondent at National Mirror Newspapers in Lagos, Nigeria. She previously worked as a reporter at Next Newspapers, also in Lagos. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in…
Patience Ogbo

Now you can personalize your Truthdig experience. To bookmark your favorite articles, please create a user profile.

Personalize your Truthdig experience. Choose authors to follow, bookmark your favorite articles and more.
Your Truthdig, your way. Access your favorite authors, articles and more.
or
or

A password will be e-mailed to you.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles and comments are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.