Nigeria’s first lady backs Meghan Markle after false claims

Nigeria’s first lady has backed Meghan Markle after internet users said that she criticized the duchess’ fashion choices during a visit to the country earlier this month.

First lady Oluremi Tinubu made headlines in the days after Meghan’s visit when footage of a speech discussing issues facing Nigeria’s youth population was published online. “We don’t accept nakedness in our culture,” Tinubu said. “They are all beautiful girls, but they should be confident to know they are. They don’t want to be like… even they are mimicking and trying to emulate film stars from America.

“They don’t know where they come from. Why did Meghan come here looking for Africa? That is something we have to take home with. We know who we are and don’t lose who you are,” Tinubu added.

This was interpreted by some as the first lady using Meghan as an example, with her reference to “nakedness” being a critique of the duchess’ fashion choices for her visit. Viral social-media posts on the comments were widely spread and reported on by the mainstream media.

However, the first lady’s office has now issued a statement backing Meghan and pushing back on what they consider to be a false narrative. Newsweek approached representatives for Meghan Markle and the office of Oluremi Tinubu via email for comment.

“She meant Meghan appreciates the people we are and hence her coming here,” the first lady’s office told international news agency Agence France-Presse on May 30. “At no point did she say anything about Meghan’s dressing.”

Main: Meghan Markle smiles during a visit to Abuja, Nigeria, May 10, 2024. Inset: Nigeria’s first lady Oluremi Tinubu speaks in New York City, September 18, 2023. The first lady’s office has denied she criticized…

KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images/John Lamparski/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

The vote of confidence from the first lady’s office comes as Meghan and Prince Harry were generally well received during their three-day visit to Nigeria between May 10 and 12.

The couple were officially invited to visit the West African nation by General Christopher Musa, chief of defense staff, the country’s top-ranking military representative. Many of the events Meghan and Harry undertook during their stay were connected with Harry’s veterans sports tournament, the Invictus Games, which Nigeria participated in for the first time in 2023 and one day hopes to host.

Meghan had revealed on an episode of her Archetypes podcast that she discovered through a genealogy test that she is 43 percent Nigerian and thanked Nigerians for “welcoming me home” during her stay in the country.

The couple’s visit raised eyebrows in Britain as it closely mirrored official tours undertaken by members of the royal family on behalf of the monarchy and U.K. government. When Harry and Meghan split from the monarchy in 2020 and stepped down from their roles as working royals, they relinquished their responsibilities to undertake these tours.

The couple’s Nigeria visit, though officially invited and organized by the chief of defense staff, was made in a private capacity as philanthropists and Harry as patron and founder of the Invictus Games, not as members of the royal family.

Meghan’s wardrobe during the visit won praise from the fashion press. However, critics online said that the duchess’ bare-shouldered looks were incongruous with the modest form of dressing adopted by a large percentage of the country’s estimated 50 percent Muslim population.

Meghan Markle Nigeria Fashion Choices
Selection of outfits worn by Meghan Markle for her visit to Abuja and Lagos in Nigeria with Prince Harry, May 2024. The royal’s fashion choices were both celebrated and criticized online.

KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images/Andrew Esiebo/Getty Images for The Archewell Foundation

Though widely considered a successful visit, Harry and Meghan’s Nigeria visit was hit with scandal when it was revealed the couple had used the commercial airline Air Peace for internal travel between the cities of Abuja and Lagos.

Allen Onyema, Air Peace chief executive and founder, is currently wanted in the U.S. on a fraud indictment from 2019.

While it is unclear whether Harry and Meghan were aware of this at the time, commentators have noted that this is a mistake that they cannot afford to repeat if they are to continue making international visits.

James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek‘s royal reporter, based in London. You can find him on X (formerly Twitter) at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek‘s The Royals Facebook page.

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