Erdogan, Turkey’s coup and Nigeria

AS last week’s aborted coup in Turkey unfolded, my mind raced to the country’s relationship with Nigeria which is quite close on the political, economic and military spheres. It has grown particularly from the early part of the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to the present day. I was with the former president on a two-day state visit to the country in 2011 as he was hosted by the then President Abdullah Gul. It was his first ever state visit to any country. That was indicative of the bond between the two countries.

With a direct air link from Nigeria, Turkey has been a favourite destination for Nigerian traders, in particular, who procure merchandise including fashion, furniture, building materials among others, for the Nigerian market. Presently, Turkey’s total trade volume with Nigeria is put at $1.145 billion with the country’s export to Nigeria being $314 million while Nigeria’s export to Turkey is worth $831 million. Turkey offers advance technology in building and construction which Nigeria has benefitted from, just as it provides educational opportunities at various levels for Nigerians, including undergraduate scholarships.

I recall that it was the need to bolster the already warm relations that Jonathan undertook that trip, leading a 15-man Federal Government delegation, comprising state governors, ministers and captains of industry. The business gurus participated in Turkish-Nigerian Business Forum. There were bilateral talks which led to the signing of historical agreements with the potential to heighten trade volume between the two Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and Developing 8 (D-8) member-nations to over $2 billion.  An agreement to open up the economies of the two countries to each other for agreed business relations was also formally announced.

Before Jonathan’s visit to Turkey, there had been a history of high-level traffic of officials to and from the two nations, continually striving to better the relations including the one made by President Gul to Nigeria in July 2010. Late Ojo Maduekwe as Nigerian Foreign Minister, was in Turkey in 2008. Former Turkish Minister of state and deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek was also in Nigeria in November 2010 just as its former Minister of State, Zafer Çaglayan, was in Nigeria in December 2010. Former Nigerian Foreign Minister Aminu Wali, was also in Turkey in December 2015 to explore new cooperation opportunities in various fields and subsequently completed the legal basis for bilateral relations between the two countries with the signing of agreements in political, military, economic, commercial, cultural and educational fields.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the target of last week’s putsch, was received at the presidential villa, Abuja by President Muhammadu Buhari for an official visit to Nigeria between March 1-3 this year at the head of a large Turkish delegation including Turkish Foreign Minister, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Minister of Economy, Minister of Environment and Urban Planning and Minister of Defense. Erdogan was keen to stress that Nigeria was an important partner to Turkey as a regional and global actor and was confident that the bilateral agreements signed between both countries during that visit would help strengthen their relations. During the last Eid-el-Fitr, he was the only foreign leader on record to send goodwill message to Nigeria Muslims.

In power for 14 years, Erdogan has brought immense progress to his country and is at the verge of clinching a European Union (EU) membership for it.  But he has also been accused of becoming increasingly despotic, with his repressive government muzzling the press, curbing freedom of speech even though the same media he had constrained was what saved his neck from the dangling sword off Damocles that night. Gradually, he is shedding Turkey of its secular status in favour of an Islamic state. He has initiated laws including on anti-terrorism that make it hard for opposition to thrive. These foibles were what the putschists sought to latch upon to oust him.

Many Nigerians must have watched with horror and apprehension as the revolution was televised that night, taking cognizance of the close affinity Erdogan’s Turkey had developed with Nigeria. But around the world, there was a sense that some governments wanted to see the backs of Erdogan and thus, quietly hoped that the coup succeeded. That explained the tepid or lack of prompt condemnations of the military action from particularly Western nations.

Pundit after pundit celebrated the fact that one more strongman was about to see the end of his empire and some even suggested that Erdogan might have already fled the country to seek political asylum in an undisclosed country.  His supporters at home and many people in Nigeria would no doubt have been relived that democracy and power of the people prevailed. But for Erdogan himself and other authoritarian leaders, the experience of the night would have proved an invaluable lesson.