The Nigerian Army on Friday seized on the inflammatory immigration rhetoric of President Donald Trump to justify shooting at about 1,000 protesters in the capital city of Abuja earlier this week.
Trump on Thursday used what was purported to be a policy announcement on the asylum system to lash at Democrats, the slow-moving group of Central American asylum-seekers making its way through Mexico, and the immigration system at large in a move that was largely seen as a campaign speech. The president said that if migrants threw rocks at the U.S. military guarding the border, officers should “consider it a rifle.”
Trump eased off his statement on Friday, but his words reverberated across the globe. In Nigeria, the Army’s official account posted a video of Trump’s comments on Twitter with the caption, “Please Watch and Make your Deductions.”
The Army, which is the largest branch of the Nigerian Armed Forces, had come under heavy international criticism for its decision on Monday to quash a peaceful protest by Shia Muslims by firing at them. An investigation conducted by Amnesty International, a human rights watchdog group, concluded that the military had used automatic weapons in dispersing the assembly, shooting people as they fled.
“Those injured were shot in different parts of the body — head, neck, back, chest, shoulder, legs, arms — and some of them had multiple gunshot wounds. This pattern clearly shows soldiers and police approached [Islamic Movement of Nigeria] processions not to restore public order, but to kill,” said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, in a statement released Wednesday.
Amnesty International also said that at least 45 people had been killed, contradicting the Nigerian Army’s claim that only three protesters had died.
“They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back,” Trump says in the video the Nigerian Army posted.
On Friday, spokesman for the Nigerian Army John Nagim justified the gunfire by claiming the protesters had set military vehicles ablaze.
“We released that video to say if President Trump can say that rocks are as good as a rifle, who is Amnesty International?” he told The New York Times. “What are they then saying? What did David use to kill Goliath? So a stone is a weapon.”
The protest, which blocked traffic in the capital, was organized by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, a religious and political organization whose leader has been jailed since 2015. The demonstrators were calling for his release.
This is not the first time foreign leaders have used Trump’s words to justify undemocratic acts. In January, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte branded a media outlet that had been shuttered as “fake news.” Trump has also spoken fondly of authoritarian leaders such as Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Duterte.