Why I Warned About Turkish "Espionage" On Nigeria

As a journalist and editor, you are not
supposed to be partisan or take sides on
the Turkish matter. Why did you feel
compelled to breach this principle by
sending a petition to the National
Security Adviser?
You are right. But there are basically two
reasons informing that. First, we are
talking about national interest and
security. Since my participation in the
World Association of Newspaper
Congress in Washington DC in June 2015
where I was one of about eight hundred
editors from 120 countries that signed a
petition asking Turkish President
Erdogan to stop the reign of tyranny
against free press, I have been
monitoring developments in that country.
About a month ago, I read online this
disturbing news in a pro-government
newspaper published in Turkey, saying in
very clear terms that Diyanet, Turkey’s
Directorate of Religious Affairs, was
engaging in spying activities through
some Imams in Nigeria, Germany and 36
other countries.
(Cuts in) What are they spying on, and
which newspaper is that?
The newspaper is called Hurriyet Daily
News. It is a core pro-government
newspaper supporting the President of
that country. According to the report,
which can still be accessed on their
website: www.hurriyetdailynews.com,
the act of espionage was meant to track
the activities of the followers of US-
based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who
are better known by their group openly
engaged in selfless service called
Hizmet. But how sure are we that is the
only thing they are spying on? Germany
did not take the matter lightly. And even
if they have limited it to that, is it lawful
for a foreign country to engage in
espionage against a friendly country? If
members of Hizmet have done anything
wrong, since they are in Nigeria, the
Turkish government through it embassy
here can report them with hard evidence
to the Nigerian security service. The fact
that they have resorted to underhand
tactics means they have nothing credible
against these innocent fellows that they
have been antagonising and even
denying citizenship.
Don’t you think the Nigerian security
services you referred to are probably
taking action on the espionage claim?
It is possible they were already silently
doing that even before my petition was
sent. But then I needed to be sure. When
Germany got wind of the report, they
immediately announced further
investigation on the matter. I do not
believe it is right for any country to so
brazenly abuse our sovereignty in the
way Turkey does. My petition also
offered additional insight on the matter,
such as the planned establishment by
Turkey of an NGO to be named as Maarif
Foundation. That is one organisation that
will almost certainly give rise to new
levels of intolerance in this country.
Recall that a few days to Christmas last
year, pro-government clerics in Turkey
started fouling the air by calling on
Muslims to resist the celebration of
Christmas and new year in that country.
It was that preaching that saw to the
unfortunate situation where an extremist
took an assault rifle and killed tens of
innocent people in a club on New Year’s
Does Islam encourage that kind of
It does not. Islam is a religion of peace.
The Holy Prophet is known to have lived
in absolute peace with Christians and
Jews. In his treaty with Christians of St.
Catherine Monastery, Prophet
Muhammad was categorical that
Christian were his own, and that till the
end of time, it is the duty of Muslims to
defend Christians and protect their place
of worship.
Why then are we having endless cries
between Muslims and Christians
especially in Nigeria?
That is being driven by ignorance. There
are also clerics who have studied the
extreme brand of Islam that have been
instigating that kind of thing. We do not
consider them as true Muslims. Majority
of Muslims in Nigeria are very tolerant.
But they remain to be the silent majority.
For me, for example, my father took me
to a boarding primary school belonging
to Christian missionaries at age even.
That has helped in shaping my
cosmopolitan worldview. There were
many like that. In all the newspapers I
worked at, I never discriminated against
any Christian subordinate. Not even
once. And even when mostly-Muslim
editors from the North decided not to
support the candidature of Mr, Femi
Adesina for the presidency of the
Nigerian Guild of Editors in 2013, I was
one of few who defied that and actively
supported him to win the election. These
acts of intolerance are being perpetrated
by a tiny minority, and it stands
condemned by all men of goodwill.
But how will Maarif Foundation give rise
to intolerance?
On the surface, it is going to look inviting
and harmless. The law setting Maarif up
provides that it is going to take over all
foreign investments in Nigeria and
elsewhere by sympathisers of Fethullah
Gulen. But these are law abiding citizens
of Turkey who have never breached any
of our laws here. It is for that reason the
Nigerian government turned down
Turkey’s request for their schools and
other investments to be closed down.
As we speak, Turkey has convinced the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to provide the
funding for Maarif. Purportedly, they
want to be giving scholarships to
indigent Nigerians. They know that Saudi
will be interested in introducing the
concept of Wahabism to Nigeria and as
many countries of the world as possible.
Many see that as an extreme brand of
Islam that breeds intolerance. Already,
Nigeria is getting more and more divided
along religious lines. What more if we
have a platform that encourages that? We
could end up with an insurgent group that
could well make Boko Haram a child’s
play. Countries that succeeded in
preventing insurgencies always make
sure they give no room to religious
intolerance, however mild. We must as a
nation follow suit.
We therefore have a duty to make sure
Maarif does not come here, and to also
inform Saudi Arabia that they probably
don’t know the person they are dealing
with. This is a president that has sacked
over one hundred thousand civil servants
for no reason other than they are Hizmet
sympathisers. President Erdogan always
wants to be perceived as a sort of Caliph
and Islamist. But go to Turkey, especially
during Ramadan, restaurants and even
brothels are open and people indulge in
these as much as they like. That is not
Islam. Also, a young Muslim woman
named….. Studying political science and
international relations in Turkey at
Malikseh University, was detained in a
cell with men when she returned from
Nigeria to continue her studies in Turkey
at 8am on September….. Her offence,
ridiculously as it sounds, was that she
attended a Hizmet-inspired school in
But the Turkish government claims that
these schools belong to terrorists.
Where is the evidence? It was because
they could provide no evidence that most
countries of the world, including Nigeria
and the United States, refused to listen to
Turkey’s desperate calls for those school
to be closed down. If you allege, you
proof. Besides, there has never been
even one case of a former student of
those schools engaging in terrorism or
even violence anywhere in the world.
But even more importantly is the fact that
the current Minister of Energy of Turkey,
………. Who is married to President
Erdogan’s own daughter, had his
children, Erdogan’s grandchildren, in one
of the Gulen-inspired schools in Turkey.
They were only removed recently.
Do you have any other reason to show
that the allegations on Gulen or Hizmet
are not true?
There are countless reasons, but let me
cite this one: in 2012, I was one of ten
title editors of the top ten newspapers in
Nigeria that were sponsored on a trip to
Turkey. All the editors are alive and
holding very key editorial and media
management positions. In Istanbul, the
President of the Journalists and Writers
Foundation cautioned us strongly against
according prominence to activities or
attacks of Boko Haram on the front page
of our newspapers in Nigeria. He
reminded us that in Turkey, though the
government was already antagonistic
towards them, they were always
publishing the victories or attacks of the
terrorist PKK deep inside the papers,
mostly as a brief. Zaman was one of
their newspapers, and it was publishing
1.2 million copies daily. Neither me nor
any of the nine other editors could be
convinced that these same guys; these
same advocates of peace, are part of a
phoney coup attempt.
You seem to think of President Erdogan
as a kind of monster. Why is this so?
I like him as a person. He brought a lot of
development to Turkey especially in the
early years of his administration. But he
allowed himself to be derailed by a
consuming ambition to be president for
life. He has thus weakened every
institution in that beautiful country. It is
because the rule of law no longer exists
in Turkey that the European Association
of Judges has justifiably been
condemning the man.
Also as a journalist, I strongly detest the
way and manner with which he has killed
freedom of press and turned Turkey to
the “worst jailer of journalists in the
whole world”, to quote the President of
the World Association of Newspapers.
About a month ago also, Turkey reminded
the free world of the unprecedented
dictatorship taking place in that country
when it deported a senior correspondent
of The New York Times for no just cause.
It is because of the terrible things the
Turkish President has been doing to
muzzle the press that all respected
organisations globally have been
condemning him.
They include the World Editors Forum,
the Reporters Without Borders, the
Freedom House, the World Association of
Newspapers and News Publishers, etc.
Even here in Nigeria, the Nigerian Guild
of Editors has issued communiques
condemning the Turkish President for
making life a real hell for journalists. It is
for this reason I have taken it upon
myself to as much as possible enlighten
Nigerians and the rest of the world about
the real danger President Erdogan poses.
There is absolutely no harm in a
journalist taking sides with the truth. I
cannot rest when close to two hundred
media houses have unjustifiably been
closed down, and almost the same
number of Turkish journalists, are
prisoners of conscience in that country.
Amnesty International recently released a
report saying those colleagues are being
severely tortured in prison.
Any lessons for Nigeria?
Several. But the most instructive is that
the Nigerian media should unify and
defend democracy at whatever cost.
They should also encourage national
integration. We owe that to millions of
our people. We should not, even in a
dream, have the likes of President
Erdogan ruling us in this country.
Source: The Nation.