By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump has become the favorite punching bag of Nigerians on the Internet. All manner of bizarre things are now attributed to him on dodgy, fringe Nigerian websites, and lots of credulous Nigerians believe them.
Here is a random sample of headlines from Nigerian websites: “Trump to Buhari - You Say Biafra Is a Joke, Compare Your Change with Corruption,” “WHERE IS THE CHANGE!!! DONALD TRUMP INSULTS NIGERIA ADMINISTRATION,” “Donald Trump throws heavy blow at Nigerian leaders.”
In internet jargon, this is called clickbait—that is, intentionally false, provocative, or hyperbolic headlines designed to compel people to click on links so as to attract web traffic and advertising dollars to websites.
Donald Trump has become the biggest anchor for clickbait on fraudulent Nigerian websites.
Perhaps the most widely spread hoax about Trump in Nigerian cyber sphere is the “If-I-win-you-leave” meme. It’s been shared by traditional news sites like Leadership, AIT, and by many otherwise clearheaded social media influencers.
Well, Donald Trump has never ever said he will deport Nigerians in America if he gets elected president. That was an internet hoax that began life as a satire and given wings by gullible, simpleminded Nigerian Internet users. In a January 8, 2016 post, Snopes.com, the American-based fact-checking website, said the quote attributed to Trump was false.
“[…] Trump did not have a rally in Wichita, Kansas, as alleged by the above-quoted article, at any point in January 2016. The quote has also not been recorded by any major publications at any point. In sum, this is nothing more than yet another fictional quote falsely attributed to a politician,” Snopes said. I shared this clarification on my Facebook timeline on January 18 and hoped that people would stop sharing this transparently fake news.
However, several Nigerians continue to peddle the falsehood that Donald Trump said he would deport Nigerians should he get elected president of the United States. I was particularly surprised when I found that as recently as April 1, 2016, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, a respected retired bureaucrat and Daily Trust columnist, shared the same discredited falsehood on his Facebook page. Several people who look up to him not only believed the hoax but continue to circulate and lend it credibility. That’s sad.
As I pointed out in January this year, one doesn’t even need any verification from any fact-checking site to know that the quote was a hoax. There are just too many red flags. For starters, Nigerians aren't even numerically significant enough in the US to deserve Trump's attention. (As of 2013, according to Pew Research Center, there were only 228,000 Nigerians in the United States. That’s not a lot of people in a country of over 320 million people).
Secondly, there is no discernible reason why Trump would single out Nigerians for anything. In other words, no occasion called for Trump to focus his attention on Nigeria or Nigerians. It's obvious why he singled out Muslims, Mexicans, and the Chinese for xenophobic verbal attacks.
His outrageous statement about temporarily halting Muslim travel and immigration to the US was actuated by the Syrian refugee crisis AND the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, 2015. The attack, perpetrated by Muslims, ignited a debate here about Muslims, and Trump was reacting to that debate.
Hispanics are the largest minority group (and the fastest growing demographic group) in the US who share a common boundary with the United States. American conservatives have always been concerned about (illegal) immigration from Mexico (America’s next-door neighbor to the south) and other Latin American countries. Trump was merely playing to the American conservative gallery when he stereotyped Mexican immigrants in the United States as rapists, killers, and drug dealers.
China is America's biggest business partner to which it is greatly indebted, so Trump regularly punches the country in his speeches.
So why would he pick on Nigeria and Nigerians? Absolutely no reason. Nigeria has zero consequence for America’s national interest. In fact, I doubt that Trump is even aware that there is a country called Nigeria.
But, most importantly, every racist and obnoxious comment Trump has made since the beginning of his campaign has videographic corroboration. None of the websites that carried the "news" of his remarks against Nigerians showed a video clip. In this era of ever-present cameras it should stretch anyone's credulity that Trump would say something as stupid as saying he would violate his country's constitution by expelling citizens of another nation resident in the US for no apparent reason.
If he actually said that, there would be a frenzied debate in the American and international media, (as there was when he said the stupid things he said about Muslims, Mexicans, and Chinese people), not necessarily because of the Nigerians he allegedly said he would expel, but because of the ignorance of the constitution that would betray--yet again. He would have been the butt of late-night jokes.
Additionally, I expect any averagely educated person to at least check the websites of American news organizations for corroboration before sharing the "news" of what Trump allegedly says. It doesn't take a lot to do that.
In all of this, what worries me the most, though, is the astonishing willingness of Nigerians to believe anything that is published on the Internet.