Nigeria: A Second Coming?

Washington, DC — Among a cross section of Nigerian Christians, support for former US President Donald Trump remains stubbornly strong.  

On Sunday March 31, President Joe Biden posted the following message on the social platform X, formerly Twitter: “Today, On Transgender Day of Visibility, I have a simple message to all trans Americans: I see you. You are made in the image of God, and you’re worthy of respect and dignity.”

The message drew immediate condemnation from various U.S. evangelical and right-leaning groups. House Speaker Mike Johnson, aggregating the opinion of many of such groups, accused President Biden of “betraying the tenet of Easter by proclaiming Sunday, Easter Sunday, as Transgender Day.”

Although the White House noted in its response that Transgender Day had been celebrated on the same day since 2009 and that the coincidence with this year’s Easter was simply that, it did nothing to staunch the backlash. On the contrary, for many Christians, it was the latest manifestation of the Biden presidency’s unprovoked hostility toward Christians primarily and religious liberty more broadly, an attitude seen in the “guidance” to children of National Guard members participating in the 2024 Easter egg decorating contest that submissions “must not include any questionable content, religious symbols, overtly religious themes, or partisan political statements.”

If the backlash from conservative U.S. groups was to be expected, the outrage from Nigeria could not have been more surprising. Yet, not only did many Nigerian Christians take umbrage at the White House for its perceived disrespect of a day that is sacred to Christians the world over, instructively, many had expressed their anger and disappointment with a pathos that U.S. evangelicals closer to “the scene of the crime” would have struggled to match. While some commenters worried that “America has become the most perverse and morally depraved nation on earth,” others warned the United States not to delude itself into thinking that “what happened to Sodom & Gomorrah” could not happen to it. Still more compared “atheist” United States unfavorably with “Christian” Russia, while others prayed in earnest that come what may, “The Lord will build His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Why did many Nigerians, albeit only a cross section of Nigerian Christians, react so passionately to a controversy that, from all indications, resonated among and was closely followed by only a section of Americans?

Nigerians’ unique attachment to America is one reason. Indeed, if there is one country that Nigerians are as emotionally invested in as Nigeria itself, it is the United States. Whether in an individualism that sometimes borders on outright sedition, or a risk-taking that often verges on self-immolation, Nigerians see in the United States an admirable analogue of their own buccaneering spirit, and nothing is more regularly invoked in quotidian conversation than American politics and mores, the better to shame a political elite that many see as the most formidable obstacle to the country’s progress. For this and other reasons, Nigerians take a special interest in American political affairs.

A second reason is the coincidence of interest between Nigerian (and more broadly African) Christians and American evangelicals; what African Christians see in Trump, American evangelicals see in Africa. In the final analysis, both share a feeling of being simultaneously persecuted by secular authority and pressured by a cultural momentum that, particularly in matters of sexuality and gender, puts Christians at an unfair disadvantage through a ceaseless demonization of Christian belief. Although he eventually came up short, Nigerian Christians’ angst at their perceived marginalization fed into the support for Labor Party (LP) candidate Peter Obi during the last presidential election in the country, with many still quietly seething at a Muslim-Muslim ticket that they see as proof of their disregard. If American evangelicals see the plight of Nigerian Christians, especially ethnic minorities across the country’s Middle Belt, as an opportunity to draw attention to the Boko Haram insurgency and the perils of Islamism more broadly, Nigerian Christians gratefully welcome an interest that gives them the best hope of not being completely forgotten amid the swirl of global events.

At any rate, their relationship continues to be lubricated by a continuous circulation of ideas, individuals, and institutions. Leading American and Nigerian Pentecostal pastors trade crusading missions, and, judging by the wares of Lagos traffic vendors alone, the theological output of Pastor T.D. Jakes, who revealed his Igbo-Nigerian ancestry to Nigerians’ collective delight back in 2017, has never been more popular. At the same time, U.S. Christian non-profits like Africa Arise USA and others sympathetic to the Christian cause in Congress continue to draw attention to the constraints of religious liberty in Nigeria by spotlighting the fate of ethnic minority Christians displaced by the Islamist insurgency in the northeastern part of the country.

Nigerian Christian attitude toward former President Donald Trump—and vice versa President Joe Biden—must be appreciated against this backdrop. To begin with, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it hews closely to overall African evangelical love for Trump. The former president is viewed as a defender of family values, an agent of “global peace,” a symbol of masculinity in an age menaced by a rampant effeminacy, an ally of Israel (Trump’s relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018 sparked wild celebrations in many African countries with large evangelical Christian majorities), and last but not least, an “imperfect vessel” ordained by God to accomplish His end times will.

Be that as it may, Nigerian Christians seem to have their own specific reasons for gravitating towards Trump. Many remember him as “the ONLY President that has spoken up for the Christians that are being butchered in Nigeria,” and apparently no one has forgotten his pointed question to former president Muhammadu Buhari during the latter’s visit to the White House in April 2018: “Why are you killing Christians?” For such people, the likelihood is that, were Donald Trump president at the time of the Nigerian presidential election last year, “Tinubu would not have happened,” hence a vote for Donald Trump in the U.S. election in November “is a vote for Christians in Nigeria” and a way to attract “more international attention to the extra-judicial killings of Christians in Nigeria and around the world.”

Contra Trump who “would have spoken up against the current massacre of Christians” and incidentally “was more concerned about the genocide against Christians than Buhari as President,” President Biden “and his liberal party are anti-Christians and pro-jihadists” who are “working against the inerrant word of God.” Biden may have done further damage to his reputation among Nigerian Christians by his decision to remove Nigeria from the U.S. Department of State’s Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list shortly before a visit to the country by Secretary of State Antony Blinken in November 2021, reversing a Trump-era decision to add Nigeria to the list for the time in 2020. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had expressed “disappointment” at the decision and continues to recommend CPC designation for Nigeria.

While many Nigerian Christians are obviously partial to Trump for the reasons outlined above, it should be realized that Nigerian Christians are far from homogeneous. Significantly, too, Biden himself remains popular among Nigerians. A Pew Research Center survey shows that “71 percent of Nigerians say they have confidence in Biden, up from 58 percent for Trump four years ago.”

Still, it would be unwise to dismiss the reality of Christian concern about their perceived persecution, something that, legitimately or not, they see Trump as channeling. If there are corners of Nigerian, nay African, Christianity where fervent prayers are being said for Trump’s second coming, the reasons are not far-fetched.

Reina Patel contributed to the research for this article.