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The Vie Internationale of last week Sunday focused on the ‘Coup in Turkey, Turkish Schools in Nigeria, and Implications for Nigeria’s National Security.’ Emphasis was placed on the allegation of the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, against the 77-year old Fethullah Gulen that he owned the Turkish schools in Nigeria, which allegedly, were used as accessories to the July 15, 2016 failed coup in Turkey. Consequently, President Erdogan formally requested the Federal Government for the closure of the 17 schools and colleges, as well as hospitals owned by the Turkish in Nigeria.
Two critical points are noteworthy in the request for our further reflection here: alleged use of Turkish schools for terrorism and the level or status of relationship (reported strategic partnership) between Nigeria and Turkey. These are the main rationales for the request for closure of the schools. On a closer look at the two rationales, it can be rightly argued that they are also good dynamics of or pointers to future insecurity in Nigeria. They are likely to be a major source of strategic insecurity in the very near future for two considerations.
Let us admit a first hypothetical scenario that the allegations against the Turkish institutions are not true. Is the same untruth also valid for other foreign institutions and hospitals in Nigeria? For instance, United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, etc have cultural training institutions in Nigeria. To what extent are they under security surveillance? To what extent is special attention being paid to the use of soft power by foreigners in Nigeria? Some of the institutions are directly under diplomatic missions, hence they fall under the rule of ex-territoriality, and therefore they do not fall under Nigerian law and control. Those institutions that are not under diplomatic protection, are they really free from being used for terrorism? This is one question indirectly posed by the Turkish request that should be addressed.
If we also admit a second hypothetical scenario that the allegations are valid, how do we explain the fact that there are several security agencies in Nigeria, and yet none of the agencies could not access the information for decision-taking in Nigeria? The United Bank for Africa was reported to have been the correspondent bank in the movement of funds for the coup plotters in Turkey. The bank said it would soon make a statement on the allegation which is being awaited. While still awaiting, why is the level of security consciousness unnecessarily too low in the country?
On the issue of strategic partnership between Nigeria and Turkey, what is its place in the overall foreign relations of Nigeria? Without doubt, strategic partnership is a concept that came into general use following the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s. Most African countries were aligned either with the West or with the East. When the Cold War rivalry came to an end, the aligned countries had to seek new forms of relationship: special, privileged, partnership, special partnership, strategic partnership, essential, etc.
What is particularly noteworthy is that, from 1810 to the 2000s, only eleven entries can be found in the Corpus of Historical American English and the British National Corpus for the use of the expression ‘strategic partnership.’ As noted by Luis Blanco of the Bielefeld University, only 5 entries could be found in the 1990s, relating to the bilateral ties between the United States and some other partners, and the first entry as from 1992 was the US-Turkey strategic partnership. This is to suggest that Turkey might have been in the business of strategic relationships for a longer time than Nigeria.
Besides, The Hindu of January 17, 2012 has it that ‘nations define their relations with other countries variously…but when two countries describe their relations as strategic, their ties are deemed to have risen to a new level.’ In the context of Turkey-Nigeria strategic partnership, it theoretically means that both countries have agreed to relate by way of mutual consultation and cooperation with one another on the basis of sovereign equality in different areas of development for the purposes of attainment of a long-term common goal. But what is this goal and what does Nigeria-Turkey strategic partnership really imply in terms of national security? In fact, what is security?
President Alassane Ouattara of the Côte d’Ivoire has it that ‘in French, when we use the word “security” we tend to think of the police and other related internal security services. But national security, as you know, entail far more than purely military or traditional security interests. The holistic concept of national security relates to the identification of all threats to the range of national interests…’ President Ouattara cannot be more correct. The truth is that the quest for national security has not been taken as the business of every Nigerian without exception. In fact, the people of Nigeria do not take national security as a serious burden for them, hence the outbreak of increasing threats to national security in Nigeria. If Turkey has accused the Gulenists in Nigeria, there must have been an arrière-pensée for it, but what is it?
Competent Nigerian Perspectives
Security expert and President of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria (AISSON), Dr. Ona Ekhomu, does not believe in any conspiratorial theory and therefore does not see any goodness in the quest for closure of the schools. As he sees it, the Turkish government does not have the authority to request for the closure of the schools in the absence of proofs. Even if there are proofs, especially in terms of involvement of the proprietors of the schools, the accused must still have the right to self-defence, meaning that, legally speaking, they are still presumed innocent until the contrary is proved in the law court. More significantly, on the role of Nigeria’s security agencies, he argued that it is not the responsibility of Nigeria’s security agencies to monitor the threats to the national security of Turkey in Nigeria, especially in the absence of preliminary Key Intelligence Question (KIQ) and that the request for closure is nothing more than an implacable witch hunting.
The immediate past President of the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria and one of the First Eleven Pioneer Diplomats ever produced by Nigeria, Ambassador Omotayo Ogunsulire, posited that there is no proof of any involvement of the schools in the attempted coup and that the schools were registered under Nigerian law. More importantly, he argued that it is a case of ‘quid quid planta tur, solo solo cedit.’ that is, ‘whatever is attached to the land belongs to the land.’ The schools are Nigerian therefore.
For former Director General of the NIIA and former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Israel and United States, Professor George Obiozor, establishment of schools is an important instrument in the promotion of diplomatic entente in international relations. He recalled the efforts made by Ataturk in the period from 1919 to 1939 in ensuring the entrenchment of democratic values as a model to be emulated from Turkish schools in Nigeria. He therefore argued against the closure of the schools.
Ambassador Dapo Fafowora, an Oxonian and academic diplomat, considered that there is need to put foreign influence under check even though he agreed that Turkish schools are doing well. He considered that Muslims are even divided on the need for existence of such schools in Nigeria, and therefore advised Government to seize the opportunity of the moment to objectively assess the issues and close them, if need be.
The perspective of another plenipotentiary to Namibia, Japan and France, Ambassador Edward Abiodun Aina, is interrogative: why did the Turkish ambassador wait until now to know that the schools bearing Turkish names are being used as platforms for terrorism? Why should the Turkish mission keep silent or look the other way round regarding the activities of the schools in Nigeria? In other words, why did it take so long a time to know that the schools are not governmental and have been using ‘Turkish’ as an official name? In the thinking of Ambassador Aina, there is nothing to suggest that the Turkish ambassador to Nigeria had not been condoning the schools as instruments of terrorism, and therefore, consciously undermining Nigeria’s national security.
The perspective of Dr. Istifanus Zabadi, Provost of the Centre for Strategic Research and Studies at the National Defence College and visiting Professor of International Relations at the Bingham University, is not different. He argued that since the Turkish literature has claimed that Turkish influence or empire once extended to Borno Empire in Nigeria, there is the need to be suspicious of whatever Turkish activities and intentions in Nigeria. He advised that there should be more emphasis in articulating the implications of the use of soft power in Nigeria’s international relations.
Professor Victor Ariole of the University of Lagos posits that if a country is threatened, such a country should be entitled to the right of legitimate self-defence. In this regard, such threats cannot be said to exist at the level of Nigeriano-Turkish relations. In his eyes, Gulen is a businessman and Nigeria is under a civil dispensation. Government should learn from the experience of the Chagouris who were declared non grata under General Sani Abacha regime but later allowed to return to the country. More significantly, the Turkish schools and hospitals are investments. They are properly registered and do pay their taxes. There is therefore need for caution.
Additionally, from this same perspective of security consciousness, Professor Michael Obiboha Maduagwu of the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, asked how would a foreign country know more of happenings than the people in Nigeria, especially the security outfits. He observed that if the Turkish schools were all properly registered in Nigeria, there cannot be any good basis for any country to dictate to Nigeria what to do about its own institutions. His suggested answer to the request for closure of the schools is simple: ‘thank you, we will investigate.’
And true enough, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khadija Ibrahim, has said that Turkey’s request ‘is a diplomatic issue and would be handled diplomatically’ (The Punch, July 30, 2016, p.54), meaning that greater emphasis would be placed on negotiation. But on what issues would the negotiations be? Will there be joint investigations on the allegations? Does the cooperation under the strategic partnership between the countries cover this?
Without doubt, on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 Nigeria and Turkey signed a Memorandum of Understanding on trade and economic partnership. As understood by Nigeria’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr Okechukwu Enelamah, ‘the relationship between Turkey and Nigeria is an opportunity we won’t waste. Our trade volume currently stands at $2.3 billion. We have already advanced our discussions with them, at the diplomatic level. Currently, government is facilitating discussion with up to 150 Turkish businessmen and key representatives of the private sector in Nigeria to explore more areas of investments.’
More significantly, Mr. Enelamah noted further that ‘we are open for business and we must find multiple ways of collaborating with Turkey. Every obstacle in this partnership, we must address using all the machinery while carrying the private sector along. We are looking forward to investment that would diversify our economy in key areas of agriculture, solid minerals, and defence industries.’
And perhaps most importantly, President Muhammadu Buhari added: ‘looking at the population of Nigeria and Turkey, we are talking about 260 million people and this is a very important market. Our total trade volume is currently at $1,145 billion, our export is $314 million. As you can see, the result is to the favour of Nigeria.’
From the perspective of Turkey, Mr. Omer Cihad Varen, the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey President, ‘we looked toward strategic partnership and cooperation in the health sector, aviation and air transport. Nigeria’s 170 million populace and Turkey’s 80 million are an advantage to us. Nigeria is strategic in Africa. we must keep improving relationships of both countries and preparing ground for the business and chamber of both countries to deepen such relationships.’
From the foregoing, emphasis in the partnership is placed on the business aspects. There is little or nothing on the security sector, the implication of which is the vacuum created. Nigeria is currently located at a junction of confusion and indecision: if the allegations against the Turkish schools in Nigeria are true, can the quest for strategic partnership hold? If government maintains a policy of silence or inaction, will Nigeria not also be seen as having aided and abetted the coup in Turkey? If the allegations are found to be valid and if the schools are sanctioned in Nigeria, will the coupists, also referred to as terrorists, not come back to take their own pound of flesh? Can the closure of the schools really put an end to Gulenist activities in Nigeria now and in the future? What about the challenge of strategic insecurity?
The Challenge of Strategic Insecurity
Strategic insecurity is about adoption of strategies of containment of diagnosed and expected insecurity in the long run. Consciously or otherwise, situations of insecurity are created in such a way as to recreate a new situation of strategic insecurity. The expected strategic insecurity is possible dismantlement of Nigeria. In these threats of dismantlement, there are three principal actors: southerners who want restructuring, northerners who are opposed to it, and international observers with vested interests on both sides.
The Niger Delta militants are wrapped up in the glory of their alleged ‘international support.’ True or false, many countries have favoured the disintegration of Nigeria. If any opportunity is therefore given by the militants, there is no reason not to believe that advantage would be taken of it internationally.
Consequently, prompt efforts should be taken to raise the level of security consciousness in the country, especially through public enlightenment in the primary and secondary schools to begin with. The directive given by former President Olusegun Obasanjo that the Nigeria Immigration Service and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps should establish offices in all the 774 Local Government capitals should be urgently implemented.
The implementation of the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and of Goods allows all the Community Citizens the right of establishment after 90 days of stay without visa. In this regard, many foreigners reside in the interior and there is no effective monitoring of their activities. There is the need to reinforce the presence of all the security agencies in the hinterland in particular and the urban areas in general if the problem of strategic insecurity is to be meaningfully contained on a permanent basis. In this regard, the challenge will not only be to identify the use of soft power by foreign powers in Nigeria but also to prevent untoward activities through public education. Uncontrolled increasing number of militant groups is a pointer to strategic insecurity in the foreseeable future.