Nigeria versus Turkey: Finding ways out of diplomatic row

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan / AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan / AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

The reported arrest, detention and eventual deportation of some Nigerian students from Turkey, on government orders in the wake of a failed coup attempt in that country, nearly ruffled diplomatic feathers between both nations. Many of the affected were students of Fatih University, one of the schools shut down by the Turkish government, after the failed attempt to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Though the Turkish envoy to Nigeria, Hakan Cakil, denied the arrest, and maltreatment of Nigerian students, as a way of retaliating over the failure of Nigerian government to shut 17 schools linked to Fethulah Gulen, Turkish exile in the United States and suspected kingpin in the coup, as requested by Turkish authorities, the Federal Government had warned that no Nigerian student should be mistreated under whatever guise.

Head of Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos State, Prof. Charles Dokubo, told The Guardian that if the Turkish government has sufficient information that funds sourced from Nigeria were used in trying to upstage the government, then the step taken is not a hostile one.

“Definitely, Turkey has the right to deal with unwanted people that are interfering in their country. If there is a proven evidence showing that Nigerians were involved in the coup in Turkey, which thereby negatively impacted on the relationship between the two countries, then the Turkish government has the right to take action to protect its independence, integrity or interest,” he said.

In the wake of the failed coup, over 2, 000 persons, including top military personnel, have been arrested and hundreds killed. For Dokubo, the sack of military officers, teachers and some other workers in Turkey is an internal thing.

He said: “if something like that had happened in Nigeria, the same thing would have been done, as you cannot remain alive after a failed coup attempt. That is the Nigerian situation. You must be killed for attempting that. Turkey also has its own rights. If really, which I strongly doubt, some Nigerians were involved in the Turkey issue, then Turkey will definitely have to make Nigeria see reasons why her citizens were sent packing.”

Dokubo, who described going to Turkey to study by Nigerians as a new normal, stressed: “Other established countries that have been having Nigerian students studying in their countries for years would not have taken the kind of action Turkey did. I think the idea that Nigerians were involved in the Turkish coup should be taken with a bucket of salt, because I doubt if Nigerians were really involved.”

Only recently, and in the wake of the summons extended to the Turkish envoy, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said the Federal Government was ready to explore all diplomatic channels to ensure that every Nigerian held in that country was released unhurt.

Asked how long Nigeria can wait before demanding the immediate release of any student detained in connection with the coup, Dokubo said: “The fact is that Nigeria will try, as much as possible, to use the various diplomatic channels to see that its citizens in other countries are protected. In terms of being locked up, they must appear before the court of the land to make sure that they are given justice. The Nigerian ambassador to Turkey should try as much as possible to see that he provides all necessary avenues for them to have sufficient legal representative and others, so that Nigerians are not just sent to jail like that.”

The majority of the Nigerian youths attended the Fatih University, founded by United States-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey has blamed for a failed military coup on July 15. Istanbul University is among thousands of educational buildings Turkey has shut down following the failed coup.

Rukkaya Usman, a final year student of Political Science at the University of Melikseh, who was recently deported to Nigeria, said the Turkish government did not give any reason for its action. Usman, who arrived in Turkey to resume her studies on September 26, was held for 10 hours and then placed on a flight back to Nigeria. She told The Cable that her passport was seized, when she arrived in Turkey for a new academic session and she was sent back to Nigeria as part of a “new law.”

The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Sola Enikanolaye, while reacting to the issue, said Nigerian students arrested in Turkey might have been paying for the refusal of the Nigerian government to shut down Turkish schools and other institutions in Nigeria.

Also, the Charge D’Affaires of the Nigerian Mission in Turkey, Ibrahim Isah, said two Nigerian students had been in detention for more than two months at the Silivri Prisons in Istanbul, Turkey, for allegedly being members of the Fethulla Organisation, which the Turkish government has accused of being responsible for the coup attempt.

The deportation came months after Turkey reportedly asked Nigeria to close 17 Islamic schools linked to the Gulen movement – an Islamic religious and social organisation known as Hizmet. The diplomat alleged that the schools were being used to recruit terrorists.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, also said the Nigerian government has asked its Turkish counterpart to free the students.

Onyeama, who said that Nigerian strongly condemned the arrest, detention and deportation of some of its students from Turkey’s capital city, Instanbul, over the botched coup in the country, added that the harassment and intimidation of the students by the Turkish government over a matter that does not concern them is undiplomatic and utterly reprehensible.

He said the Turkish government should not visit the punishment for the alleged actions of its political enemies on innocent Nigerian students, as “our students should not be victims of that country’s high-handedness and authoritarianism.”

Onyeama, who noted that summoning of the Turkish envoy by the Nigerian government is a step in the right direction, demanded the immediate release of the arrested students. He said what the Turkish government has done is against the spirit of diplomacy, as innocent Nigerian students should not be singled out for punishment for a crime they did not commit.

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