Turkish Ambassador to Nigeria, Hakan Cakil, speaks with JOHN ALECHENU about the recent deportation of some Nigerians, Nigerian students in Turkish schools, and diplomatic relations with Nigeria among other issues
What is the situation with Nigerian students in detention in Turkey?
There are some reports in the Nigerian media that some students — the number varies — are in custody in Turkey. After it was brought to my notice, I sent an official memo to Istanbul and asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to inquire and inform me about the outcome. I received official information from Turkey on Friday, October 7, that there is no Nigerian student in police custody in Turkey. However, three Nigerians were deported from Turkey. These included a lady and two children. They entered Turkey illegally through the Syrian border on September 27, 2016. The children had valid passports and the mother had an expired passport. They were taken to court. The courts released them on the condition that they would be deported. They were transferred from Kilis, a border town close to Syria to Istanbul Deportation Centre, on October 3. The Nigerian Chargé D’ affaires, Ibrahim Isa, was granted consular access to this lady and her two children. He visited them in the deportation centre in Istanbul and on October 7, they were sent back to Nigeria. Besides this, no Nigerian has been deported yet. However, four Nigerian PhD students were in the Istanbul Deportation Centre.
Why were they detained at the centre?
I don’t know the legal grounds because the Immigration Department of Turkey did not share the reason with us. I wish to reiterate once more that there are no Nigerian students in police custody in Turkey or in the custody of any security agency. According to our law in Turkey, we have only one security agency besides the Turkish National Police, which is the Turkish National Intelligence Agency. It is an equivalent of the National Intelligence Agency and the Department of State Services in Nigeria. According to our laws, the Intelligence Security Agency has no right to detain anyone. They can survey, observe, monitor and report to the police; only the police can carry out the arrests. But to be on the safe side, I officially wrote to Istanbul and I was officially informed from Turkey that the Turkish Intelligence Agency has no Nigerian in its custody. There are no Nigerian students in police custody or any security agency in Turkey.
You talked about a woman and her two children; since they were came into Turkey through Syria, were they linked to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria?
I cannot say because I don’t have any evidence. It is a case of the lady and her two children coming into Turkey from Syria illegally. They were arrested on Turkish soil.
What about Nigerians studying in universities linked to Fethulah Gulen, who is accused by your government of sponsoring the July 15 coup in Turkey?
There were 294 Nigerians studying in the closed universities of Fethulah Gulen Movement. The Nigerians were placed in state-owned universities in the same state where they are studying. Let’s give an example; if they (Nigerian students) are studying in Kayseri and the university is closed down, they are placed in a state university in Kayseri. The placement of students has been continuous and there are no inconveniences. All their educational rights will be protected by the government of Turkey. I can assure you of that. This is the real situation in the field. I don’t know how the number 50 or thereabouts came up to the news reports here. Never were 50, 30, 40 or 60 Nigerian students arrested in Turkey. I haven’t received information after I officially inquired on this matter. I would like to assure all Nigerians that Turkey has never pursued a policy of revenge against any country. It is against our foreign policy, and it is against our laws.
That allegation that Nigeria refused to close schools associated with Fethulah Gulen, therefore Turkey started to pursue a policy of revenge, is not true. We are saddened by this news; we never engaged in a revenge policy either to Nigeria or to any other country. It is out of the questions. It is against the main policy of the Turkish Foreign Policy. It is against our ethics. As an ambassador of Turkey, who represents his President and Government here, I am assuring the Nigerian public that we never adopted a policy of revenge. On the contrary, as an ambassador of Turkey, I have been exerting a lot of pressure on enhancing our bilateral relations with Nigeria in every field, including education. With my personal efforts beginning from this academic year, the Turkish government started to allocate scholarships to Nigerian students studying in state-owned universities. This year, we have already given 29 scholarships to Nigerian students who just finished high school. They are about to start their education at different Turkish universities. I will continue to do my best to increase this number as much as possible for the next academic session. We are encouraging Nigerian students to come to study in Turkey.
How many Nigerians are studying in Turkish Universities?
We have about 3,000 studying in different universities in different states in Turkey. Only 294 were studying in the closed universities. Before I came here, I met with some private Turkish universities. They said they are happy with their academic performance. I met with some Turkish businessmen and universities and I asked about the performance of the students — they are very happy about the performance. Some of them performed so well that after their studies, they were retained as academics in our universities. Our universities are meticulously selecting brilliant Nigerian students to study in our private universities. They are also offering them scholarships. The issue of revenge policy does not exist at all. We sincerely love Nigeria and its people. Nigeria is our strategic partner in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria is one of Turkey’s main liquefied natural gas provider countries, besides Algeria and Qatar. I am encouraging as many Turkish investors as possible to invest in Nigeria. We have more than $650m investments in Nigeria, through Turkish companies. $450m of this amount is direct Turkish investments; the rest are joint ventures. We did not provoke any country, including Nigeria. We are partners. We respect the sovereignty of Nigeria. We love Nigeria and Nigerians. We will not adopt any provocative policy against Nigeria or Nigerians. The criticisms against our country in this matter are unjust. We are looking for ways to improve our relationship with Nigeria. Two weeks ago, a big Turkish company signed an agreement with a Nigerian group in Lagos. I recently spoke with the Director General of Consular Affairs of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I told you about four Nigerian PhD students that were at the deportation centre, about to be deported. They have just been released; they are now free in Turkey.
There were reports that thousands of policemen, soldiers and civil servants were arrested and detained because of the coup. Is the situation in Turkey as volatile as being reported?
The situation is not volatile. In fact, I was at home about two weeks ago. The situation is calm. Turkish citizens have been carrying on with their daily lives in a peaceful manner. Yes, there are thousands of arrests like you mentioned. Those arrested will be taken to court. There is an ongoing investigation of those alleged to be involved in the coup. Therefore, the situation is under control. All of them are Turkish citizens.
Is your home government still insisting on Nigeria closing down Turkish schools associated with Fethulah Gulan in Nigeria?
We are in close contact with the Nigerian authorities on that issue. I do not want to make any more comment on that.
On the average, how many Nigerian visa applicants does the Turkish Embassy in Nigeria attend to?
We receive about 100 to 120 applications daily. We issue about 900 visas every month on the average. Our application is online for Nigerians who have valid United States and United Kingdom visas. They can get Turkish visas on arrival in Turkey after paying the necessary fees. We welcome Nigerian businessmen and investors in our country.