By Reuben Abati
I was shocked by the trenchant reaction to my piece on the July 15 attempted coup in Turkey from at least two persons. The piece titled “Nigerians and the Failed Coup in Turkey” (The Guardian, Sunday, July 17) had fetched a mail and direct messages from a concerned Nigerian who objected to my description of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a bad guy- an intolerant, arrogant, temperamental dictator who after July 15 could become even more authoritarian. The fellow praised Erdogan and spoke glowingly about how well the Turkish economy has fared under his watch. I also got a list of current economic indicators on Turkey sent to me.
I assured the fellow that I was not in any way in support of any anti-democratic move, and that the article was not about the Turkish economy but Erdogan’s politics and leadership. I added that while he was perfectly entitled to his admiration of Erdogan, I had no reasons to change my views and that he should beware of Embassy propaganda. It was a polite, private discussion. But there was nothing polite about the other reaction that caught my attention. It was in form of a scurrilous, very badly written press statement titled “Reuben Abati Should Keep His Stinking Pen” by a so-called Center for Human Rectitude, posted on Facebook, and signed by one Yusuf Jimoh Aweda, with the pompous title of a Director.
Aweda’s abusive statement praises Erdogan, defends Turkish Airline, and lists Erdogan’s achievements as the President of Turkey. I smiled, wondering why Aweda is yet to relocate to Turkey. Since the failed coup, President Erdogan has behaved true to prediction. Over 15, 000 persons have been detained in connection with the coup. More than 140 media houses have been shut down. Arrest warrants have been issued for about 90 journalists. A total of 934 schools, 15 universities, 104 Foundations, and 35 health institutions have also been closed down. Over 60, 000 civil servants have been sacked; 50, 000 passports have been cancelled. More than 40% of military chiefs have been fired. Erdogan obviously has more enemies outside the coup plotters.
Curiously, any foreigner who has tried to criticise or advise the Turkish government and Erdogan has also been told to mind their business. “Some people give us advice. They say they are worried. Mind your own business!” says President Erdogan. As at last week, about 18, 000 persons have been detained at various times since January, for allegedly insulting President Erdogan – the victims include a German satirist, a Dutch-Turkish journalist, a former Miss Turkey and a UK artist. But in what he calls “a one-off gesture of goodwill”, Erdogan now says he will “withdraw all the cases regarding the insults made against him.” How magnanimous! Yusuf Aweda certainly knows that it is “an act of felony” to say anything against President Erdogan, and so, he had to tell Abati to keep his stinking pen and mind his business. Sorry to disappoint you, Erdogan lover, your hatchet piece is in the dustbin where it belongs.
The attempted coup in Turkey stands condemned, nonetheless, and it is perfectly within the rights of the Turkish government to fish out the perpetrators and ensure that justice is done, but it seems Erdogan is personally using this as an opportunity to witch-hunt his perceived enemies and enforce a form of “political cleansing.”
The official Turkish position is that the brain behind the coup is US-based, Islamic preacher and writer, Fetullah Gulen, 75, founder of the Alliance for Shared Values and the Gulen Movement (known as Hizmet Hareketi in Turkey). Gulen is Erdogan’s arch-rival and nemesis. He has been accused at various times in the past of trying to topple the Erdogan government in conspiracy with the American CIA and FBI. Ironically, Erdogan and Gulen were both friends until they fell out in 2013, and Gulen became a marked target, and Turkey’s “most wanted man.” He fled to the United States. Erdogan has asked for his extradition but the Americans do not believe that Gulen, who has spoken openly against violence, and terrorism, and who is a progressive Muslim, with a large following in Turkey, is the terrorist Erdogan claims he is. It also does not matter that both Gulen and the United States promptly condemned the July 15 coup attempt and that US authorities have spoken about how important Turkey is to the United States.
Erdogan has ordered a witch-hunt of anyone or any institution associated with the Gulen Movement. Turkish officials, trying to give a dog a bad name to hang it, refer to the movement as Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), thus reducing Turkish politics post-July 15 to a contest between two prominent political rivals.
Erdogan is perhaps the most popular Turkish leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and the people of Turkey who are opposed to the crazy act of July 15 have every reason to be angry, but even in identifying and punishing the culprits, basic standards of justice and fairness must be met, and whatever allegations made must be proven to be true and correct. This is important not just for Turkey but also the rest of the world, as the Turkish inquisition against Fetullah Gulen and associates has assumed an international dimension, with countries like Nigeria now involved.
Nigeria has been mentioned twice in the Turkish drama. First, it was the Nigerian bank, the United Bank for Africa (UBA). Second, the reference was to Turkish schools and institutions in Nigeria. With regard to the former, US General John F. Campbell (rtd), a former Commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, was said to have channelled over $2 billion to the coup plotters in Turkey as part of a CIA operation, through the UBA. The bank has denied any form of involvement but the Turkish authorities will expect an investigation. Nigerian laws do not support terrorism in any shape. But could any Nigerian bank have moved $2 billion in the last six months without the Central Bank knowing?
Besides, the Turkish ambassador to Nigeria, Hakan Cakil, has formally asked the Nigerian government to shut down 17 schools and other institutions in Nigeria allegedly associated with the Gulen Movement. YeniSafak News, a pro-government Turkish newspaper was in fact categorical in its headline: “Turkish envoy seeks closure of Gulen schools in Nigeria” (July 29). But are they really Gulen schools? Interestingly, some Nigerian newspapers reported that Turkey has “ordered” the Nigerian Government to close down some schools! Can an Ambassador or any country give orders to the Nigerian government?
Hakan Cakil says: “We are starting some legal procedures to take the name ‘Turkish’ out of the name of the schools,” he added. “They are not the schools of the Turkish government. According to the ambassador, there are other establishments run by the Gulen group in Nigeria such as hospitals. He said all the FETÖ-linked bodies raised funds that were used to further the group’s interests.” Is this evidence-based? Evidence, please!
Nigeria has cordial relations with Turkey. Diplomatic protocol requires Nigeria, in the face of a formal complaint as stated, to look into the allegations. Besides, Nigeria frowns at terrorism and so it would be expected to act on the request from Turkey. As a member of the Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), Nigeria may also soon find itself confronted with a draft resolution that formally designates FETO as a terrorist organization, and Fetullah Gulen as a terrorist. The only problem is that it is only the Erdogan government and its supporters who are referring to the Gulen Movement as a terrorist organization. I urge caution. Nigeria must resist the temptation to join the solidarity bandwagon. It must conduct its own investigations and insist on credible evidence.
The Turkish authorities have also appealed to other countries to close down businesses, schools and other institutions that may be in any way associated with the Gulen Movement. Some of the countries promptly obliged. Jordan, Azerbaijan, Somalia, Niger, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, have shut down many schools so labeled claiming the need to act in solidarity with Turkey and promote bilateral relations. A similar request has also been tabled before Cambodia, Japan, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Turkey’s position is that the Gulen Movement or what they call FETO uses education to conscientize young people, globally, to prepare them to become anti-state elements, and that Gulen’s strategy is to infiltrate all sectors of Turkey and go beyond to build an international network. The insistence that the cleric is a terrorist will obviously be of grave interest to the international community, terrorism being the scourge of the moment. Still, we should not act based on Turkey’s say-so, in the name of solidarity. A proper understanding of the political sub-text to the Turkish drama recommends this as the best option in the circumstances.
For the record, the proprietors of the Nigerian Turkish International Colleges have fought back dismissing the request by the Turkish Ambassador as “spurious, baseless, unfounded, of poor taste and a display of crass ignorance.” They insist that the “NTIC is not a Turkish government-run institution but a privately funded institution by a group of Turkish investors.” What can be said is that these investors who have built 17 schools in Nigeria, a university (The Nigerian Turkish Nile University -1998) and a hospital (The Nigerian Turkish Nizamiye Hospital, Abuja- 2013) have done more to promote good people-to-people relations between Nigeria and Turkey than all the diplomats ever posted to Nigeria from Turkey.
They have promoted international friendship and helped to build the Turkish brand among the Nigerian consumers of the high quality services that they offer. More importantly, they do not have any sordid reputation as terrorist havens, instead they are very popular among Nigerians. From a strategic viewpoint, we need such investments in Nigeria and should not jeopardize the interest of many Nigerian students (who enjoy scholarships in those schools by the way) and the many middle-class patients who rather than travel abroad take advantage of the quality services at the Turkish hospital in Abuja. What we may well be dealing with is blackmail, not terrorism, given what we know. Erdogan should by all means look for his coup plotters, but he should not shut down Nigerian schools and institutions. Having stayed for so long in power, he is definitely guilty of what Fetullah Gulen calls “power poisoning”. Yusuf Aweda, chew on that and drink water on top!
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