Turkish Ambassador to Nigeria, Amb. Hakan Cakil, in this interview with IHEANACHO NWOSU dispelled claims that 50 Nigerian students are in police custody in Turkey over the failed coup in the country. The envoy also spoke on other issues including the request for the closure of Turkish schools in Nigeria, the relationship between his country and Nigeria, the reason Turkish authorities are seeking the extradition of the leader of Fetullah Gulen movement.
Turkey’s relationship with Nigeria seems to be threatened in the last couple of months due to the reported detention of 50 Nigerian students studying in your country after the failed coup. What is the true picture of things at the moment?
We have good relations with Nigeria. The report is false, totally untrue. No Nigerian student is being held in Turkey. The two countries are working together on all fronts. I have been working to ensure that Nigeria gets what other African countries enjoy from Turkey.
We were providing government scholarships for students from neighbouring African countries like Ghana and the rest, but Nigerian students weren’t benefitting. So, l began the process of correcting that last year. Due to the little hiccups we had, we missed the window for the last academic year.
At the beginning of the 2016/2017 academic year, we were able to secure government scholarships for 29 Nigerian students.Though the number was below what some expected but it was just the beginning. Better days lie ahead. The Turkish embassy in Nigeria is committed and working assiduously to double the number of beneficiaries of government scholarships in the academic years ahead.
It is noteworthy that all the benefitting Nigerian students have settled in Turkey and began their academic journey in different state universities in Turkey. Though we have a lot of good private universities but the honest truth is that the state universities are much better equipped both in facilities and academic standard. And our scholarships are strictly for state universities only.
In the days ahead, Istanbul will host businessmen from across Africa for a Turkey/Africa business forum. It is geared towards bringing Turkish and African businessmen together under a roof to discuss ways of helping each other in several areas that would be beneficial to both parties.
It is expected that each participating country would dispatch their businessmen and one government official to the forum. Owing to the high regard that we have for Nigeria and the need for strong presence of Nigeria in the forum, the Turkish government, and the organisers have approved two government delegations from Nigeria. Each from the Ministry of Trade and Investment and Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC).
It would be a great opportunity for Nigeria to showcase to the world, the great investment opportunities that abound in Nigeria. Turkish President sponsored the event and he would host the delegates to a banquet at the end.
What is your aim for such investment forum?
We consider Nigeria and other sub-saharan countries as not only partners in progress but in diplomatic relations. We want to establish a strong relationship that would be based on win-win situation. What that means is that for Nigeria to win, they must attract Turkish business people and otherwise for investment purposes.
Just few weeks ago, Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami was in Turkey for an international law congress which had Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in attendance. It’s an indication that we are committed to maintaining our decades of cordial relationship with other sub-saharan African countries particularly Nigeria.
Nigerians want a convincing evidence that 50 Nigerian students in Turkey are not in custody?
Some weeks back, I was surprised to see several media platforms awash with the news that over 50 Nigerian students were detained in Turkey on allegation of involvement in Fetullah Gulen movement. We became worried about the source of the information because we are aware that nothing of such existed. I tried as much as I can to explain to the people that the news was false.
At a point, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) staged a peaceful protest in front of the embassy. After the protest, I invited the leadership of the students and told them that no student was under detention in Turkey. We had to send one of them to Turkey to confirm, and he returned few days back very convinced.
Besides, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had invited us twice for clarifications. I have also made enquiries and we confirmed to them that no Nigerian student is under detention in Turkey.
It is important to know that all Nigerian students and businessmen living and studying in Turkey are not under the security of the government except they run foul of the law. In fact, our target now is to increase the number of both students and scholarship opportunities in Turkey. I am also in a process to establish a close and stronger link with the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) on how we can boost our relationship.
There are insinuations that Turkey is on revenge mission against Nigeria due to the country’s refusal to close down Turkish schools in Nigeria as directed by the Turkish government. Didn’t Turkey make such request after the coup?
Turkey can never pursue a case of revenge. In fact, it is against the foreign policy of Turkish government. It is out of place for someone to have such thought. Turkish government has high regard for Nigeria, as evident in the special recognition in every diplomatic discussion, including the forthcoming business forum. Also, we are 100 percent behind President Muhammadu Buhari government and we are ready to do anything to support him to succeed.
Apart from students, how many other Nigerians are in detention in Turkey at the moment?
I don’t have such information as regards Nigerians who are in detention under any circumstance. Besides, as an Ambassador of Turkey to Nigeria, I am more concerned about the welfare of very small Nigerian community in Turkey, including students, business people some of whom are married to Turks. I sincerely don’t have such information.
What is your assessment of the behaviour of Nigerian students in Turkey?
Their behaviour is absolutely impressive. They are very good students, law abiding and committed to their academics. They are excellent in what they do. I have interacted with some private universities that visited Nigeria during the summer recess to promote their universities.
And the evaluation and response I got about Nigerian students was quite excellent and encouraging. They told me that due to their excellent academic performance, the institutions either for academic job or something else retain some of the students.
Why did your country ask Nigerian government to close down schools alleged to be affiliated to the Gulen movement?
We consider Gulen movement as a terrorist organisation. They staged an unsuccessful coup few months ago. The military officials who are members of this group wanted to topple the democratically elected President of Turkey but they failed.
The movement runs schools in sub-saharan African countries including Nigeria. Shortly after the incident, we contacted Nigerian government in this regard and I won’t like to make any more comment as regards the issue.
What is the state of Nigeria/Turkey relations following the refusal of Nigerian government to accept the request of your country’s authorities to shut Turkish schools in Nigeria?
First of all, Turkish government never had any friction with the Nigerian government. Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that of Education in Nigeria did a professional job in handling the matter. So, our relationship is cordial and so will it be.
Can Turkey account for the whereabouts of Nigerian students in the schools shut in Turkey ?
The Turkish and Nigerian governments know the whereabouts of the students. NUC is in the know too. The Gulen movement has 15 universities in Turkey, aside secondary and primary schools that they run. They were all closed down on the order of the Turkish government.
There are 249 students in the closed 15 universities. All of them were transferred to state universities closest to where they were schooling. They were also given extra time to regularize their resident permit. So, we have informed the Nigerian government about their whereabouts. I am also following the development to ensure that they are comfortable in their schools.
But in transferring the students, did you consider the quality of the schools considering the wide gap between private and state universities?
In Turkey, the education quality of public universities is good. It is equal to that of private universities. Nevertheless, in taking the decision to transfer students to state Universities, no Nigerian student was forced to accept the offer of the state universities. We only informed them that the only available option was state universities. The parents were aware and were very much free to transfer their children to any other universities of their choice.
What is the official number of people that were arrested in connection with the failed coup?
As regards the actual number of arrests, the Turkish Ministry of Justice recently announced that 27,000 people that were connected to the Gulen movement were arrested and they would be charged to court in due time.
You have spent over 15 months in Nigeria, what has been your favourite Nigerian food?
Jollof rice is my favourite. I also like pounded yam but Jollof rice remains my favourite.