October 30, 2015

Why African leaders must beware of Amsterdam

Musa Tijani *

I was completely taken aback to see an otherwise respected international lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, accepted to be ‘Mr. Fix-it’ for Turkish dictator, President Recep Erdogan. When an unknown whistleblower within Erdogan’s government first broke the news that Amsterdam had been employed by the Turkish ruler, I didn’t believe it. Not until I saw the lawyer confirming this in a video posted on his personal website about a press conference he organised in the United States.

Why I have no expertise, or interest, to discourse his allegation concerning the activities of the Hizmet Movement or its affiliates in America, I am disturbed by Amsterdam’s comments about such activities in Africa. Let me quote here what he said. “Recently, the agency related to the Hizmet movement, has signed a deal for 1000 schools to be built in Africa. 1000 schools, which one can only predict will have the same lack of transparency, lack of clarity, which we have seen in the United States.”

The MOU is not a secret document. I took my time to obtain it and peruse it thoroughly. It was signed by the African Union and the Hizmet Movement affiliated NGO, Kimse Yok Mu. Therein, it is clearly stated that the 1000 schools Amsterdam referred to would be built by Kimse Yok Mu but would be handed over to the local authorities to manage. The AU would however determine their locations. Nigeria happens to be one of the targeted countries.

Probably, most of the schools allotted to Nigeria would be sited in Northern states where over 10 million children are out of school. In the long run, this will replete the (human) raw material available for the Boko Haram metamorphosis. My question is, why is this lawyer-turned international detective comparing the American charter school system with a clear charity effort aimed at taking out-of-school children off the streets of Africa? Why is he giving the impression that African leaders (at the AU) are too ignorant to notice a ploy. Africans must rise up against such a collective insult.

Amsterdam also said that the Movement’s affiliated schools in Africa “are not meant to serve the underprivileged”. “The difference of the schools in Africa, as compared to what we have in the United States,” he said, “is that they are not meant to serve the underprivileged. In fact they are meant for the middle class and the elite. And this becomes of serious concern.” I am amazed. Why should that be of “serious concern”? Is that a crime? Well, I am not a spokesperson for the schools. However, I have friends and colleagues who have children in these schools, called Nigerian Turkish International Colleges (NTIC) in Nigeria. To start with, they, I suppose, are legally registered private institutions. They are neither public schools nor NGOs. Is it the duty of Amsterdam to propagate what he feels should be the social focus of a private venture?

For all known intent, there is no comparison between the 1000 charity schools proposed by a Hizmet-affiliated NGO and the private investment in education by another. And there is no comparison between both and the American charter system. I felt embarrassingly shocked that a lawyer of Amsterdam’s status cannot spot the difference. I think it was deliberate.

Now let’s even look at the effect of these ‘elite’ schools to our economy and the quality of our education. In the 2015 International Mathematics Olympiad participated in by 101 countries with 560 contestants, Nigeria came 3rd. Who made that possible? Mainly students of the NTIC. Three out of the six students were of the NTIC. A student from the school, one Master Ayomide Andrae Bamidele, also helped the country get the bronze medal in the International Physics Olympiad last year.

Every year, Nigeria loses billions of naira to Ghana and other countries as parents here send their children there for a ‘better’ education. And they pay through their nose. That money goes to those countries and never returns. Meanwhile, with the existence of the NTIC and other indigenous schools, this trend is bound to change. That ‘high’ school fees will no doubt stay with us and contribute to our economy. Moreover, the establishment of the schools also reduces unemployment as many Nigerians are employed to work there.

Amsterdam also delved into politics. Hear him, “When one looks at the conduct of Gulen, not only in the United States, relating to many allegations of mismanagement… but also of political donations. It is an organisation that is determined to, by hook or by crook, obtain political involvement, in every region, in every country and every locale they in which they are operating. For that reason alone, an investigation into this non-transparent organisation globally, is long overdue.”

What is this man really up to? Because I have not seen a Turk seeking for an election in Nigeria or other African countries. And they are not known for interfering in local politics. While many organisations congratulate victors of elections in Nigeria, for example, I cannot remember seeing any one from the Turkish group. In fact, I remember the paper I worked for during the last election approached the group to place congratulatory message for winners at the polls and they declined. They wouldn’t get politically involved.

It is apparent that Amsterdam, who has turned himself into Interpol, has another mission he was not willing to reveal in his press conference. It may as well be true the allegation by the Turkish whistleblower that he was hired on a propaganda mission to African leaders against investments of Turks whose only crime is criticizing their government. I know President Muhammadu Buhari and his counterparts in other African countries are not what he thinks they are. They are not naïve.

*Tijani is an Abuja-based journalist and international affairs analyst.

Published on The Guardian Nigeria, 30 October 2015, Friday