May 20, 2015

'Nigerians and their leaders won't fall for Erdogan's harebrained gambit'

Mohammed Haruna

…since at least 1998 Turkey has established its presence in Nigeria as one of the biggest outside forces for development in our education and health sectors. Today its 16 non-denominational Nigeria-Turkish international primary and secondary schools spread across Nigeria in Abuja, Kaduna, Lagos, Kano, Ogun and Yobe states - and with plans for more - are among the very best in the country. So also are its Nile University, which is part of a global network of 26 universities in America, Europe, Asia and Turkey, and its state of the art Nizamiye Hospital, both based in Abuja.

The inspiration behind these institutions is the Gulen Movement, after its founder, Fethullah Gulen, the world renowned 74-year old Turkish Islamic scholar, author and poet, who has lived in self-exile in Philadelphia, America, for decades to escape persecution from the secular civilian and military regimes that had dominated Turkish politics and society up until 2002.

The Gulen Movement, which has since renamed itself the Hizmet Movement, after its founder's pronouncement that it was rather presumptuous to have had it named after himself, has meant different things to different people. It sees itself as a social and spiritual movement which completely eschews politics but which lays emphasis on religious dialogue and even more so on education, inspired, it says, by Prophet Muhammad's (Peace be upon him) saying that "The ink of a scholar is more sacred than the blood of a martyr" and the fact that the Arabic word "ilm" (education) is, according to experts, the second most used word in the Holy Qur'an, after Allah.

Others see the movement differently. Even though it has no formal leadership or sheikhs or structure and even though it has no ceremonies or procedures for initiation into its membership, many, including militant secularists in Turkey, see its members as closet radical Islamists who secretly want to establish an Islamic State of Turkey.

On the other hand, radical Islamists accuse it of being too open to Western ideas and creeds. It therefore, in their eyes, poses a grave danger to the Islamic renaissance in Turkey which has since trumped Ataturk's century of secularism.

Whatever the movement is, its alliance with AKP in 2002 in their opposition to military dominance of the country's politics and society was universally acknowledged as probably the single greatest factor in AKP's triumph.

Sadly, that alliance has gone sour, at least since 2013, so sour that today Erdogan sees the Hizmet Movement, whose members believe he has reneged on his commitment to consolidating plural democracy and transparency in Turkey and has, instead, become too self-serving, as the single biggest obstacle to his dream of becoming an imperial president.

Such is the bitterness with which he views the movement that he now calls its members terrorists and has embarked on a campaign of seeking the shutting down of their institutions wherever they exist, by labeling them as fronts for terrorism. The most recent was his call last week on the authorities on the neighboring Muslim Albania during a visit there last week to close down the movement's schools in the country, a call that was promptly rebuffed. Before then his country's diplomats in our neighboring Benin Republic had tried the same gambit with predictably the same result.

Hizmet Movement is not the only one at the receiving end of Erdogan's anger against any opposition to his dream. The media and opposition parties in the country also are. Yet, he and his party remain favorites to win the forthcoming election by a wide margin, if not by the margin he desires to turn his country into an imperial presidency under his leadership.

In the likely event that he does win, the Nigerian authorities should expect his diplomats to come calling sooner or later with pleas to shut down the Turkish-Nigerian institutions in our country because, of course, they are "fronts" for terrorism.

Good thing is, Nigerians and their leaders are simply too smart to fall for such a harebrained gambit.

Excerpted from the article published on The Daily Trust, 20 May 2015, Wednesday