Nigeria and President Donald Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban

February 8, 2020—President Donald Trump expanded his Muslim travel ban to six additional countries on January 31, 2020, including to Nigeria, a West African nation that is Africa’s most populous country and hosts Africa’s largest economy, which I refer to as Nigerian capitalism, according to the Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC: 2/1/20, p. 7A) and the New York Times (New York, NY: 2/1/20, p. A9, via Proquest digital full-text). In this blog post, I will examine President Trump’s claim of failed security standards in Nigeria, according to secondary sources reported from the country; consider the impact on the lives of ordinary people in Nigeria; review current responses to the expansion of the policy, including from leading Democrats in the United States and from Nigerian diplomatic officials during this past week; and I will take a position on Nigeria’s inclusion on this list of pariah nations, and state my opinion on the Muslim travel ban, in general. I take a heightened interest in Nigeria, myself, since I traveled there myself in 1990. In this blog post, I feature a few photos, digitally reproduced from the prints, that I took, myself, while traveling there in 1990.

President Donald Trump’s reasoning for expanding the travel ban was that the six countries added to the list failed to meet security standards set by the United States, according to U.S. officials, as cited by Colleen Long and Nomaan Merchant in the news article, reported from Washington, DC and published in the Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC: 2/1/20, p. 7A). The new ban is not a total travel ban, but applies to immigrant visas for the U.S., and not travel visas, designed for a temporary stay. Long and Merchant described the new restrictions “as part of an election-year push to further restrict immigration.”

Let us review the security situation in one of those six nations, Nigeria, to see whether President Trump’s assertion is true, in the first place. In a New York Times article by Emmanuel Akinwotu, entitled “Deadly Lack of Security Plagues Nigeria as President Seeks Re-election,” reported from Gusau, Nigeria, and published in 2018, the writer identifies multiple security threats from the people of Nigeria against the people of Nigeria in Nigeria (8/15/2018, p. A5, via Proquest digital full-text). Among those security issues, which include a radical Muslim terrorist insurgency by the group Boko Haram, in and local to Nigeria; groups of armed bandits, who may be Christian of Muslim but do not identify by their religion as a motivator for their crimes; disputes between cattle herders and farmers; and a recent upsurge in secessionist urges in the Eastern region of Biafra. That sounds like a lot to be concerned about. Let me say, first of all, when I traveled in Nigeria in 1990, I experienced none of these supposed threats, myself. I had a very good experience in Nigeria. In 1990, however, there was no Boko Haram, the armed bandits had not grown to be as powerful as they were recently reported to have become, there were no violent disputes between herders and farmers, and Nigerians living in the Biafra region were not trying to secede, once again. Remember, there had been a vicious civil war in Nigeria at the end of the 1960s, when those in the Biafra region did in fact secede and form the Biafran Republic. The Biafran Republic was aligned with the Soviet Union, although the Soviets did not support Biafra as much as the West supported the capitalist country of Nigeria. In fact, the Soviets hardly supported Biafra, at all, thus avoiding a hot war between the United States and the USSR at the end of the Sixties, during the global Cold War between Communism and Capitalism. In Nigeria, the West won, Biafra fell, and Nigeria made peace with itself, re-united as one country, Nigeria, once again. That Nigerian Civil War was a deadly, brutal affair, with mass casualties and refugees. By all accounts, that Civil War was a humanitarian disaster. In all of the push for Nigeria to improve its own, internal security situation, as an independent nation, and as a former colony of the British, like the United States, only different; in all of this current push by the current U.S. administration to improve security in Nigeria, it is important for all of us, especially those in Nigeria, to remember the Nigerian Civil War, and to avoid a repeat of the mistakes of the past. I trust the Nigerian government, currently, knows this. Nigeria is capable of peace, and they would do well to continue to live in peace, as much as possible, regarding Nigeria, itself. Can they improve security, internally? Probably, yes, they can. They must be careful, however, above all, and they know this. They are being careful, and some would wish they would be even more careful.

In 2014, for example, Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission accused the Nigerian government of killing eight civilians in a raid on a supposed sleeper cell of Boko Haram in the capital of the country, Abuja. The Human Rights Commission disputed that those killed were terrorists, or even armed, according to a report in the New York Times (4/8/2014, p. A12, via Proquest digital full-text). The Nigerian government is prosecuting a war against Boko Haram, therefore, we can see. The Human Rights Commission in Nigeria wishes the government would be more careful in the prosecution of this effort, however, so as not to harm innocent civilians in Nigeria.

Apparently, we cannot count President Donald Trump of the United States as among these people. He is calling for simply increased security in Nigeria, in general, lest any of this violence in Nigeria were to harm Americans, in the United States.

What, then, is the state of the insurgency by the radical Muslim group, Boko Haram, not vis-à-vis the United States of America, but vis-à-vis the Nigerian government? I would like to point out, at this point, second to my first point, about what I experienced or did not experience in the recent past in Nigeria, I would like to point out here that the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, was in fact re-elected in a democratic, national election in Nigeria to another term. Although Nigeria has been, in the recent past, a military dictatorship, it is currently a civilian republic with a democratically elected regime. Nigeria is a liberal, bourgeois, capitalist, democratic country, as is the United States. The President remains Muhammadu Buhari, who was re-elected to another term by Nigerian citizens, with the current balance of power and imperfections in the Nigerian state in place, as is, now.

We will take Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election as a given, at this point. Still, what is the state of the Islamist insurgency against his government? We should note, at this point, that Nigeria is a country made up largely of Christians, Protestant and Catholic, and Muslims. Boko Haram is basically a small threat to the Nigerian state. Nigeria has a powerful Muslim characteristic in the government, itself, historically and currently. Also, Christians do have power in the Nigerian state, as well. It is important to remember this aspect of the Nigerian government, itself, when considering the extent of the threat by a radical Islamic and terrorist insurgency in Nigeria.

Let us look, once again, to a more recent report from the New York Times for further information. Remember, when I visited the country, in 1990, Boko Haram did not exist yet. There was no radical Islamic insurgency then against the Nigerian government. Let us look to this more recent report from the New York Times, however, for more current information. “After Mr. Buhari took office in 2015, he made advances in pursuing Boko Haram, but he has not delivered on his promise to defeat the group once and for all. Even as the war rages, he has repeatedly claimed victory, prompting outrage by some over exaggerated proclamations,” Akinwotu writes, from Gusau, Nigeria, in the New York Times (8/15/2018, p. A5, via Proquest digital full-text). Boko Haram, therefore, remains a threat, but the Nigerian government, to give credit where credit is due, is already on it. The government simply has not actually won, entirely, against Boko Haram.

Boko Haram is the only kind of security threat in Nigeria that could potentially impact Americans in the United States in any real way. From the looks of things from my perspective, having spent time in Nigeria, myself, and from reading more recent news reports, I think the United States is not, at this time, in any grave risk from Boko Haram, in the United States, itself. Although the Nigerian government has not stamped them out in Nigeria, as long as the Nigerian government remains vigilant, the threat from Boko Haram should not be able to reach the United States, itself. This presumed safety in the United States does extend to the air, also, including civilian airlines and civilian air traffic. The Nigerian government is already fighting Boko Haram, and is at fault, already, for abusing civilian human rights in Nigeria, in the process. As long as the Nigerian government continues to keep Boko Haram in check, as they are doing, according to recent reports from the New York Times, then the United States can breathe a sigh of relief, at least concerning Americans in the United States, itself.

The administration of President Trump, therefore, is exaggerating the security threat emanating from Nigeria against the United States, at this time. Although Nigeria does face security concerns, the Nigerian government is being somewhat careful, at this time, not to institute too much of a military state, which they have done in the recent past, since independence in 1960. After independence, also, there was a brutal civil war, which was resolved with the continuation of the capitalist, Western central government, Nigeria, which dates back to independence, itself, either as a military dictatorship or as a democratic, capitalist republic. It would behoove President Trump of the United States not to fall ill with a case of the hiccups, regarding the current state of Nigeria. That is not up to me, however. That is up to President Trump.

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Muslims walking to the mosque for Muslim prayers, Kaduna or Kano, Nigeria, 1990, rainy season (late Spring or Summer in North America). Photo by me, Nicholas Patti

Next, let us consider the impact of the Muslim travel ban to the United States on the ordinary people of Nigeria. This is President Trump’s current, new stated policy, after all. Remember, this travel ban only applies to immigration, not short-term travel to the United States. Essentially, this U.S. travel ban would prevent Nigerians, among the citizens of the other five nations newly named to the list, from “resettling, finding work or reuniting with their families in the United States,” according to Zolan Kanno-Youngs, writing in the New York Times from Washington, DC (2/1/20, p. A9, via Proquest digital full-text). Although Nigerians can still attempt to live a better life in Nigeria, struggling to advance themselves under Nigerian capitalism, immigrating to the United States for work and a better life, here in the United States, has just been cut off by the Trump administration. This new Trump administration restriction is set to take effect on February 22 of this year, unless the U.S. President removes Nigeria from the list by that time. This last option is possible. Over the past week, Nigerian diplomats and the United States have been working to find a solution in which Nigeria could be removed from this list of pariah states, as defined by the U.S. government, and not by me (New York Times, 2/1/20, p. A9; New York Times, 2/5/20, p. A6, via Proquest digital full-text).

As long as there is still trade with the United States, Nigeria can rely on the United States economy to assist with bolstering Nigerian capitalism to give ordinary people in Nigeria a chance to better their lives in Nigeria. Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s foreign minister, encouraged bolstering trade between Nigeria and the United States, this past week, according to the New York Times (2/5/20, p. A6, via Proquest digital full-text). Some have wondered, recently, as well, whether the United Kingdom will take a renewed interest in Nigeria, also. Finally, according to Lara Jakes, Nigeria could look to China, Russia, and Turkey for increased trade, also (New York Times, 2/5/20, p. A6, via Proquest digital full-text). Nigerian capitalism is strong enough to continue to adapt and create opportunities in Nigeria, as long as the merchant capitalist global system remains intact, which it is, at this time. Lara Jakes even describes Nigeria as Africa’s largest economy, although I would argue that South Africa would be a contender for that title, as well, traditionally speaking.

There is one problem with this economic analysis. It fails to register the current, presumed pain in the Nigerian economy, today. Since oil exporting moved in and began to dominate the Nigerian economy, at least in terms of bringing international capital to the country, the oil sector has become crucial, according to recent conventional wisdom and the word on the street. In an earlier, academic work of political economy that I wrote, on Nigerian industrialization since independence, I found that attempts to industrialize had not, in fact, substantially transformed the nature and role of the Nigerian economy in the post-colonial world economic order. Nigeria is still dependent on merchant capitalism in the global economic order to raise capital in its own, national economy, that is. As such, it is particularly, although not entirely, dependent on oil exporting and the price of oil to bring cash into the Nigerian economy. The price of oil is currently low, and has been for a few years, now. Therefore, the simple fact would be (although I have not confirmed this) that there is substantially less capital available at this time throughout the Nigerian economy. There is less capital now, that is, as compared to when the price of oil is higher, and people in the United States, in particular, and around the world, are still buying oil. Therefore, people may be struggling, financially, at this time, in Nigeria. This would be largely, although not wholly the case. Checking on the value of the currency, the Naira, would reveal this relative economic health or unease, also, although I have not checked the current value of the Naira, the currency of Nigeria, against the U.S. dollar and other major currencies around the world, at this time and historically, stretching into the prior century.

Remember, the country became independent in 1960. The economic relations between Nigeria and the rest of the world have not changed, appreciably, since the decolonization period, under colonialism. That may change, however, as trade patterns and trading partners shift, or rather, do not shift.

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Two Nigerian boys, and cattle being herded through the city streets of Kaduna or Kano, Nigeria, 1990, rainy season (late Spring and Summer in North America). Photo by me, Nicholas Patti

When I visited the country in person, also, in 1990, I should note that I visited auto assembly plants in Nigeria. Assembly manufacturing does occur in Nigeria, and there are cars on the roads, for example. In my earlier research, I was concerned with the mass domestic market, essentially.

Also, local markets still thrive in Nigeria. When I visited, in 1990, the price of oil was also low. Capital was rare, as compared to when the price of oil had been higher, previous to 1990. You could see this in half-finished, abandoned construction projects dotting the landscape, abandoned promptly when the money vanished with the decline in the price of oil. That said, the local markets, traditional to the Nigerian economy, were still thriving, despite this broader economic hardship. I imagine these markets continue to thrive, today.

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My friend, Wolfgang (sp.?), from Germany, with Nigerian girls and women, in the Central Market, Ibadan, Nigeria, 1990, rainy season (late Spring and Summer in North America). Photo by me, Nicholas Patti

Nigerian capitalism is still functioning, therefore, but the economy may be experiencing less capital influx, due to the low price of oil. At times when the economy may be struggling, more people would tend to want to immigrate to a place such as the United States, where higher-paying jobs may be available. Emigration for a better life, economically, at least, would serve as a relief valve for the society and economy of Nigeria during harder times, financially. Cutting off the possibility of emigrating to the United States, therefore, would hurt the Nigerian people, especially when capital may be scarcer in Nigeria, itself.

Although Nigerian capitalism still offers some opportunities for Nigerians to do well in Nigeria, then, cutting off the possibility of emigrating to the United States for a better life, economically, would hurt the Nigerian people. It would be cold and unfeeling, and should not be done, on this basis, at this time. This is my opinion. The policy of ending immigration visas to the United States to the people of Nigeria hurts the people of Nigeria, at this time. What it essentially does is to take an unfair trading relationship, based on economic relations that date back to colonial times, and locks the people on the lower end of that unfair trading relationship to the lower end of that legitimate trade. Perhaps even more importantly, it disconnects the people from one another on both sides of this trading relationship, and hurts both sides of the relationship, socially, between the people of the United States and the people of Nigeria. If you wish to promote international peace, I think one would wish to promote cross-cultural communication and exchange. It was under this umbrella, essentially, that I traveled to Nigeria for an independent study abroad as an undergraduate student three decades ago. I promote continued cross-cultural communication and exchange, and I feel strongly about this. This exchange benefits both the people of the United States and the people of Nigeria. Although I am happy that temporary travel visas may continue, including under the new travel ban, I would hope that immigration visas would be allowed to continue, as well.

Reaction to the new policy has been quick, both by the political opposition in the United States of America, and by the Nigerian government, itself. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the U.S. House of Representatives denounced the extension of the travel ban, in a statement. “President Trump and his administration’s continued disdain for our nation’s national security and our founding ideals of liberty and justice dishonor our proud immigrant heritage and the diversity that strengthens and enriches our communities,” she was quoted as saying in the New York Times (2/1/20, p. A9, via Proquest digital full-text). In this statement, Nancy Pelosi stands up for immigrants in the United States, in general, and for more liberal immigration policies, as well.

Nigerian diplomatic channels have been somewhat different. Nigeria’s foreign minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, told of his initial surprise and dismay at hearing his country was being placed on the list, but said he is working with President Trump and the U.S. administration to address the concerns of the United States, and for his country to be removed from the list, as soon as possible. “We were somewhat blindsided with the announcement of the visa restrictions by the U.S.,” he was quoted as saying in Washington in the New York Times (2/5/20, p. A6, via Proquest digital full-text). He said he was trying “to tick most of those boxes” raised by U.S. officials, and that, “hopefully, once that has been achieved, we look forward to being taken off this visa restriction list.”

Mr. Onyeama identified the sharing of personal data on visa applicants, including immigrants’ criminal histories, passport info., and any potential links to terrorism, as issues of increased cooperation with the U.S. government on potential visa applicants. He said, also, that Nigeria was already working on the security issues in his country that U.S. officials had identified.

Although I worry about international sharing of personal and criminal issues on visa applicants between countries, in general, I do hope that Nigeria and the United States can work together so that Nigeria would be removed from the list, even before February 22, when the new immigration restrictions are set to be implemented. I share the U.S. Secretary of State’s, Mike Pompeo’s hope, and the hope of the Nigerian foreign minister, that this could happen. Mr. Pompeo described his feeling as “optimistic” that an agreement could be reached, although he did not mention a timeline, according to Lara Jakes of the New York Times (2/5/20, p. A6, via Proquest digital full-text).

I am against the Muslim travel ban, in general. The original version of this ban was enacted immediately after President Trump took office. The ban was challenged and adjusted, but it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion argued that the ban was not in fact a Muslim ban, due to the inclusion of Venezuela and North Korea on the list, and the granting of “exemptions,” according to the New York Times (2/1/20, p. A9, via Proquest digital full-text). I think that despite the application of the travel ban to significant numbers of non-Muslims, it remains largely a Muslim travel ban. I think the original language should continue to be used so that we remember the broader import of this reactionary, anti-immigrant policy, and whom, primarily, is targeted by this restrictive policy.

Once again, I am against the Muslim travel ban, and against the recent expansion. I hope Nigeria can work with the United States to achieve removal from this list. Either way, I encourage continuing and increased trade between the United States and Nigeria. I think the new expansion of this travel ban on immigration to the United States from Nigeria does hurt the people of Nigeria. I think the Nigerian government is working to address security concerns in their country, and that they are being appropriately careful on not applying too much militarism in their society, in the process. I feel sorry for the increased pain on the people of Nigeria, especially economically, at this time, and I hope the government of Nigeria respects human rights in fighting to achieve increased security in their country.

For that matter, I call on the United States of America to mind our own human rights record in this country, inside the United States of America, as well. This is also important. It is not enough to look at the human rights record of other nations in the world, from the United States, and call them out for their human rights abuses. We must strive to end current human rights abuses in the United States, as well. We must do this as we acknowledge that the United States, and most other nations in the world, are trying to deliver security to their people, and most are doing this, especially, at this time, under capitalism.

—Nicholas Patti

Charlotte, NC

USA

 

World Book Student, 2020, was also accessed for basic facts and information about Nigeria. See Onwudiwe, Ebere. “Nigeria.” World Book Student, World Book, 2020. www.worldbookonline.com/student-new/#/article/home/ar391300. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.

 

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King tree, by the roadside, probably in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1990, rainy season (late Spring or Summer in North America). Photo by me, Nicholas Patti
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The tops of trees under the African sky, probably Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1990, rainy season (late Spring or Summer in North America). Photo by me, Nicholas Patti

—Nicholas Patti

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