October 8, 2015

What Nigeria can learn from Turkey

Kayode Ibrahim

Despots are not born. They are made. History is replete with examples: Idi Amin Dada, Vlad III, Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong-Il, and many more. And according to a recent report by four senior British lawyers, President Recep Erdogan of Turkey has forced himself into the fold.

The 95-page report was authored by Lord Woolf, the former lord chief justice, Sir Edward Garnier QC, the Conservative MP and former solicitor general, Prof Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, the director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, and Sarah Palin, a barrister specializing in media law.

According to the report, the corruption scandal which fingered then Prime Minister Erdogan and his cabinet members ignited the abuses. The scandal engulfed four principal government officers and their sons, and almost swept away Erdogan’s regime. But how did he survive the heat? He resorted to blackmail. Even though many officials were arrested during the scandal, he accused famous cleric, Fethullah Gülen of fuelling the crisis. Thus, he immediately removed the prosecutors leading the investigations from their positions and reassigned 350 police officers, including many senior officers.

The report said on 25 December 2013, the police refused to carry out orders for the arrest and detention of a further tranche of suspects and the prosecutor leading the second investigation was removed from the case. On the same day, the four ministers who were accused resigned from the Cabinet. Thousands of police and hundreds of public prosecutors, judges and civil servants, perceived by the Turkish government to be followers of the Hizmet movement, have since been dismissed or reassigned, and in some cases arrested and detained in custody.

In September 2014, all charges against the suspects in the corruption investigation were dropped by the newly appointed public prosecutors. Mr Erdoðan attempted to deflect the accusations against him by ascribing them to Fethullah Gülen, and his followers in the state apparatus, mainly those in the police and the judiciary, and accusing them of an attempted coup d’état and of forming what he described as a “parallel structure” which had infiltrated the state to work on Mr Gülen’s behalf.

Since December 2013, the report said, the government has taken unprecedented steps to exert executive control over Turkey’s judiciary, to interfere with and derail the corruption investigation, to stifle criticism in the media and on the internet and to purge supporters of the Hizmet movement from public life and to obstruct their humanitarian and educational institutions and business and professional associations. The government has brought the main institution responsible for the judiciary, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, under its control by purging its members of anyone suspected of opposing the AKP government, including those believed to be supporters of the Hizmet movement and replacing them with loyal supporters. It has introduced a more restrictive internet law, and after leaked audio recordings supporting the corruption allegations emerged on Twitter and YouTube, blocked access to both sites throughout Turkey in the run up to local elections in March and April 2014 and the general election in 2015.

The crackdown practically has its tentacle spread to all sectors in the country. Even members of the bench were not speared. In fact, two judges who released ‘suspects’ because they had no cause to do otherwise, where removed and branded terrorists. According to the report, on May 1, they were arrested and detained in custody by the Bakýrköy 2nd High Criminal Court on charges of “attempting to overthrow the Turkish government or hindering the government’s operation in part or full” and “being a member of an armed organisation”.

Even the voice of the people, the media, was also attacked. The highpoint of this drama was the arrest of the editor of Today’s Zaman, the leading newspaper in the country. Deliberate attempts were made to gag the press. Any media practitioner or organisation that shows any independent spirit has itself to blame. Little wonder Turkey took the front seat among the league of countries that suppress press freedom.

Other individuals also felt the cold firm grip of Erdogan, including members of the civil society. In fact, a young schoolboy that allegedly said uncomplimentary things about Caliph Erdogan was arrest and prosecuted!

Of course Erdogan is doing this to get back at Gulen, the head of the Hizmet movement, a civil society movement consisting of a network of loosely connected individuals and religious, humanitarian and educational institutions. So he has not only called members of this group violent people, but has labelled it a terrorist organisation. And he is telling anyone who cares to listen to him, including Africans, and, if possible, Nigerians.

But I know our people are wiser. Are we not witnesses of the benevolence of Hizmet and its affiliated organisations? Nigerian students have stood tall in international academic contests, particularly the world maths Olympiad, thanks to the Nigerian Turkish International Colleges. Hizmet-affiliated charity, Ufuk Dialogue Foundation, has tried to contribute to peace in the country by promoting interfaith dialogue and unity.

Beyond this, Nigeria should learn from Turkey. Its present president, Erdogan, gained power through a popular mandate. And he initially kept faith with it. But he allowed his initial achievement to get into his head. Thus, he began to attack the very system that threw him up – democracy and the people. And he has taken the battle abroad. He not only called the bluff of the EU and other blocs, he is being accused of supporting international terrorism. And he is working very hard to confirm it.

Published on The Nation, 8 October 2015, Thursday