Buhari’s Turkish Trip Averts Lingering Diplomatic Row over Extradition Request


• President returns from Turkey, Osinbajo leaves Nigeria for Indonesia

By Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Turkey to participate in D-8 Summit in Istanbul has helped to avert the lingering diplomatic row between the two countries.

The hitherto disaffection between the two countries was caused by the federal government’s persistent refusal to honour the request by Turkish government for the extradition of over 1,000 Turks living in Nigeria over their alleged membership of Fethullah Movement (FETO).

FETO had been declared as a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government.

But Buhari’s meeting with his Turkish counterpart, President Tayyip Erdogan, on Thursday, in Ankara, the Turkish capital, THISDAY learnt, averted the lingering tension between the two countries as both leaders explored the opportunity of their meeting to thoroughly examine the matter.

Speaking with journalists on the matter at the weekend in Istanbul, at the end of the summit, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, said Buhari deployed “diplomatic skills” in handling the matter and consequently restored mutual relationship between Nigeria and Turkey.

According to him, the president’s skill resulted in amicable resolution of attendant cold war between the two countries, pointing out that Buhari assured Erdogan that the federal government would not allow any group to use Nigeria as a breeding ground for terrorists.

He added that the forum enabled both leaders to decipher the way forward on the matter.

He said: “There was the request for the extradition of some of the Turks in Nigeria who have been given asylum to remain in Nigeria and recognised by the United Nations (UN) as political refugees and the Turkish government requested that we extradite some of them.

“There was also the request that the schools and hospitals established by Gülen Movement should be closed in Nigeria. They now labelled them Fethtulah (FETO) as a terrorist organisation. 

“These were all the issues that were lingering and complicating slightly relationship between the two countries. So, what this visit has been able to do, I think is to put all those to rest and facilitate direct engagement and what I will call agreeing for a way forward between the two countries.

“Mr. President was very very good in that. He is a very good diplomat. Very very skillful diplomat. He was able to really douse the tension between the two sides while not compromising on principles of Nigeria.

“He did it very very well with a lot of diplomatic skills. The result has been that it has improved relationship between the two countries and government. The level of confidence between the two countries has also increased. It is a real diplomatic masterpiece.

“The point was made and Mr. President with regard to the Gülen Movement that under no circumstances would Nigeria allow itself to be a base for the destabilisation of Turkey. And Mr. President came out very strongly in support of the democratic process and institutions of Turkey, condemning the coup attempt in Turkey and reassuring the Turkish government of Nigeria’s total support for the territorial integrity of Turkey, for the democratic governance in Turkey and the security of Turkey.

“Likewise, the Turkish government made that reassurance to Nigeria. So, once they got those different issues out of the way, it was much easier and they were more able to focus on what will transform the lives of Nigerians and the Turkish people.

“With all the outstanding issues, he was able to really skillfully navigate through but at the same time mending all the ruffled feathers and fences.  We were able to void making it what I will call antagonistic.

“The part that he really chatted was to look at those areas where we can cooperate and there would be win-win and would diffuse tension.

“They looked at economic areas, educational areas, economic development, operational areas and agree to allow the normal legal international processes to run their course with regards to the more sensitive issues,” the minister said.

In another interview, Buhari’s spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu said the thrusts of Buhari’s visit to Turkey were “to focus on issues of security and anti-terrorism; agricultural cooperation; trade cooperation; education and health; transport and connectivity; energy sector cooperation and increased private sector participation.”

He added: “The meetings have also helped to enhance momentum in ties between Nigeria and the rest of the D-8 members and the establishment of a positive working relationship especially between Buhari and Erdogan.”

Meanwhile, President Buhari yesterday evening returned to Abuja.

The president returned just as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo left the country on a two-day working visit to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital to participate in a conference of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Beneficial Ownership Conference today and tomorrow.

The president’s return was announced by the presidency on its twitter handle, @NGRPresident, at about 6.40p.m.

The tweet said: “President@MBuhari and Mrs@aishabuhari return to Abuja after the working visit to Turkey and D-8 Summit.”

However, a statement by the vice-president’s spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, said Osinbajo would address the plenary of the conference in Jakarta on a range of issues affecting Nigeria’s extractive industry and general reforms embarked upon by the Buhari administration in the extractive sector of the economy, among other issues.

The statement also said other world leaders and top government dignitaries that will address the conference include: the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo; Indonesian Minister of National Development Planning, Bambang Brodjonegoro; EITI Chair, Fredrik Reinfeldt; among others.

It added that this year’s conference, which will focus on using beneficial ownership information to achieve national priorities for the extractive sector and improve natural resource governance, has as its theme: ‘Opening Up Ownership – Sharing Practice, Building Systems.’

It also said the conference to be hosted by the government of Indonesia and other partners, will discuss challenges, provide peer learning and exchange experiences.

“According to the organisers, the conference is coming in the aftermath of the Panama papers scandal that implicated some highly placed individuals with links to the extractive sector across the world. The EITI last year agreed to adopt new rules on disclosing beneficial ownership for all extractive companies operating in its 52 member countries.

“Nigeria joined the EITI to promote prudent management of revenues from its abundant natural resources to reduce poverty and ensure sustainable development. The NEITI is the Nigerian national sub-set of the global EITI.

“Moreover, the Buhari administration is renowned globally for its position on anti-graft issues, and its campaign against corruption, which is manifest in the reforms initiated across spheres of government business and in key segments of the private sector.

“The EITI has held a global conference at least every three years since 2003, bringing together all stakeholders of the EITI. So far, there have been seven conferences till date.

“While in Jakarta, the Vice President will also hold bilateral talks with his Indonesian counterpart, Jusuf Kalla.

“Osinbajo will be hosted to a state reception by the government of Indonesia. He will also meet with representatives of the Indonesian business community, the Chairman, International Board of EITI, and African Group of Ambassadors accredited to Indonesia.

“The Vice President, who has left for Jakarta, is expected back in Abuja later on Tuesday,” the statement added.