Pro-Biafra websites pounced on the tweet, attempting to extrapolate Trump’s support for Biafran independence from it, claiming it was “a direct message to Nigeria” that it should “allow Biafrans to go”. 

Trump’s Islamophobic pronouncements have also appeared to resonate with Biafra activists, who sometimes blame Nigeria’s northern Muslim leadership for oppressing their people over the decades.

After Trump’s election victory, one spokesman proclaimed: “Since Mr Trump is our choice, who will say no to Muslim colonization. It was the prayers of the Biafrans that stopped Hillary Clinton from winning the presidential election.” Pro-Biafra activists on social media are amplifying this and other anti-Islamic narratives, merging them with pro-Trump and anti-Buhari messages.

Pro-Biafra activists commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Nigerian civil war
Pro-Biafra activists commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Nigerian civil war
Image: EPA/Legnan Koula

Though extreme and at times unhinged, this rhetoric reflects the perception among some Nigerians that the Obama administration was unduly close to president Buhari and that it somehow facilitated his 2015 election victory. Six months into Trump’s term, however, Biafran activists are beginning to express some disappointment that Trump has yet to acknowledge their plight and has instead cultivated a cordial relationship with their perceived archenemy: president Buhari. 

As Trump enters his seventh month in the Oval Office, his administration’s policy toward Nigeria—or toward Africa writ large—hasn’t coalesced. Trump has yet to appoint the two people who will heavily shape his approach to Nigeria: the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and the Senior Director for Africa on the National Security Council. Even more telling, Washington insiders have little sense of when he will name them or who they will be.

In the meantime, US policy toward Nigeria will largely be steered by US Ambassador to Nigeria W. Stuart Symington, an affable career diplomat and former ambassador to Rwanda. Since arriving in Abuja last year, Symington has worked hard to cultivate relationships across the federal and many state governments.

Unless Trump—via a tweet or unscripted public musing—disrupts the US Nigeria policy consensus that guides diplomats like Symington, his Nigerian fan base may become increasingly disillusioned with a man they hoped would rally to their cause.

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