Media Consultant Cemal Yigit runs a media and production company for a large number of Turkish multi-corporations in Nigeria. In this interview with Chikelu Chinelo, he speaks on the philosophy of the Hizmet movement which gave wings to the multi-corporations and 100 scholarship the Turkish Schools off Nigerians annually as well as the impact of Turkish companies and charitable foundations in the lives of Nigerians and the Nigerian economy.
Are these groups of companies you represent NGOs or profit making organizations?
In a sense, they are NGOs and, they are not because some of them are based on private investments, as seen from our branches of investments, the schools, the university, the hospital and other institutions. Philosophically, however, their mind set (teachings) is charity based.
Why the decision to bring the Turkish organizations under one umbrella?
They are not under one umbrella. There is a company called The First Trust Group of Companies that embodies the schools, Nigerian Turkish International Colleges (NTIC), Nile Turkish University and the Nigeria Turkish Nizamiye Hospital while the others like the UFUK Dialogue Initiative (with focus on interfaith dialogue), Preparatory School, and the Nigerian Turkish Business Associations are independently operated. All are separately run from the foundation (the Nigerian Turkish International Colleges, Foundation, activities range from building bore-holes, small scale schools, and restoration of orphanages).
How locally inclusive are the activities of the Turkish organizations?
All their activities are backed up by the teachings of a global transnational civil society movement called Hizmet. They are inspired by Fethullah Gulen who resides in Pennsylvania State, USA. It is inclusive. It has to be inclusive to be welcomed in about 160 different nations. It is licensed to open thousands of schools around the world including Nigeria. For Muslims, myself included, the inspiration to serve humanity through education is coming from Hizmet philosophy which states ‘Serve human beings irrespective of differences in color, race, ethnicity or nationality, in order to please the creator’. Otherwise, it can be rephrased to read ‘Serve the Created, in order to please the Creator’. This is the mentality of Hizmet movement. As a Muslim, I benefit through fuelling my motivation from my own religion.
For an atheist, he can be motivated to serve based on humanistic perspective. It depends on the individual or group. The important thing is to find commonality, and put them into solution making processes to solve our world’s problem.
Also, to solve our problems, we freeze our differences for a certain period of time. I said ‘freeze’ not ‘drop’ our differences because each person’s differences define them. My difference defines me. In order to recognise each other, we need the differences. However, in order to understand and complement each other, you need to ‘freeze’ so as to build ‘bridges’ and ‘trust’ in each other’s cultures and traditions until we get to a point, where we understand each other without prejudice, bias or misconceptions. Christians and Muslims must come together to find commonality and take this commonality to the grassroots to foster solutions to existing problems. Both religions must present this peaceful and co-existent posture to the grassroots. It is a partial mentality of the Hizmet movement. That is why these institutions I mentioned have no affiliations, at any point in time with the Turkish government or any state government in other countries. The activities of the movement are implemented through education, charity and dialogue.
The movement believes ‘Education is the solution to Ignorance’. Ignorance is our main problem, globally. Knowledge helps you perceive things without prejudice. Through ‘Charity, (and our foundation, the NTIC Foundation), we solve the problem of Poverty.’ How can you advocate this to the rich? In Islamic religion, it is not very difficult to do so. It takes only a strong and Islamic- equipped cleric to preach sermons on the topic and reach the business and transform them into philanthropists. We believe that your riches are given to you by God as a test, to know how you are going to let others benefit from your wealth. Fethullah Gulen created veins in the businessmen, and the answer of those businessmen was positive through donations and contributions to charity and relief organizations. They also donated start-up funds for schools in different countries. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you educate, whether Nigerians, or South-Africans, as long as you educate any individual, you are contributing to the world’s peace process. ‘Dialogue’ counters discord and disunity, which is the problem of the world, today. Most times, it stems from ignorance, other times, from not listening to the other party. We have created clubs, culture centers and thereby encourage diversity, and advocate the possibility of harmonious existence. On this platform, we use Muslim and Christian clerics to teach this. In Nigeria, as an outcome of this philosophy, you can see our three main engagement of Hizmet philosophy is practiced, in Education through (Schools and University), Charity through (NTIC Foundation) and Dialogue through the (UFUK Dialogue Initiative).
You mentioned that the grassroots benefit from the movement. Looking at the prices of the Turkish colleges and universities, they are way too expensive for an average Nigerian family or what the grassroots can afford. How exactly do the grassroots benefit from the activities of the school?
First, there are many opportunities that even if you are coming from the grassroots environment, you could find a place in Turkish International Schools or Turkish International University, because Turkish International Schools have about 20 per cent scholarship students enrolled – though they are not all full scholarships, it depends on the percentage, 10, 20 or 80 percent and students’ background. Scholarship students are ensured to keep up standard to show they deserve the award each year. The scholarship is made possible as a result of the International Mathematical Olympiad, Nigeria. This contest is conducted in all the 33 states of the country with about 33, 000 student participants. From the competition, whoever scores exemplary marks simply comes to the school and they are accepted.
How many students are accepted into the Turkish schools on scholarship?
We accept 100 students every year. Certain quotas are given to the state governments and so they select students from state schools. We are open to every state in Nigeria because, we have found that if you don’t practice diversity, in the long-run you will fail. We are trying to keep our institutions up to that standard of diversity, as diversity gives birth to harmony.
Another scholarship opportunity also exists on the basis of academic success. We assimilate the best graduating students in schools based on grades, and from local and international tests. With those certificates they can apply for scholarships at Turkish Nile University or the Nigeria Turkish International College.
Do the schools’ cater to students of all religion?
There are Nigerian Turkish schools in many different states, Abuja, Lagos, Ogun, Yobe, and Kaduna. In the coming years, we hope to open up schools in Akwa Ibom and Port-Harcourt. There are presently 4,200 students enrolled in our schools in Nigeria. Roughly speaking, 40 to 45 percent of the students are Christians. I have to say Thank God, that these biased perspectives of the school have mellowed. Since, we are Muslims, people believe that the schools are meant for Muslims. Some people still believe so. Yet, we don’t mind what people think. However, what we are practicing in our schools is complete Liberalism and Pluralism. We do want our students to be practicing believers. The students are both practicing Muslims and practicing Christians. We believe religion plays an important role in a person’s character and moral building. We want to benefit from that so that societies can benefit from it immensely. On Sundays, boarding students have Fathers, and Pastors hold sermons for the Christians. Our students study in the same classroom and share the same facilities. We are practicing diversity and showing people that co-existence is possible.
How does the Nigerian Turkish International College, Foundation, source funds for education-based charity programmes?
Coming from an Islamic background, Muslims are obligated to give. Giving is the essence of the religion. You are constantly thinking of your neighbour, your brothers or sisters. Teachings of Fetullah Gulen channels individual focus not on religion, but to the essence of communality – the ‘human being.’ So long as you see the other person as a human being, you feel obligated to help. Since the establishment of the Nigeria Turkish School in Abuja in 2008, the giving spirit was there. It started with ‘Ramadan – A Package’ distribution, initially carried out by the school through collection of donations from philanthropists in Turkey; then Sallah, whereby we repeat the same, among others events. Later on, the volume of philanthropists and that of charity increased, (we are talking about millions of dollars paid back to the society annually) then we established the Nigerian Turkish International College, Foundation in 2013, in order to be more accountable and transparent to Nigerian authorities in terms of conducting all charity activities.
On how we are funded, since the foundation is part of our schools, definitely, the company of the school contributes hugely to any campaign that we launch. Secondly, our parents take part immensely, in our campaigns, especially the ‘Stationery Package Distribution Campaign’, ‘Christmas Package Distribution Campaign’, ‘Eastern Ramadan’ or ‘Sallah Distribution Campaign.’ They simply see that whatever they are giving reaches to the initial goal (beneficiary) promised. They have seen this partnership is trustworthy, so why not do more. In addition, the teachers motivate the students to contribute to say an upcoming ‘Stationery Package Distribution Campaign.’ Teachers tell them to look beyond getting donations from their parents to making individual donations by sacrificing their lunch monies towards students’ who lack stationery for studies. In return, the students experience the pleasure of giving to others. We also include teachers and students at the distribution process of packages to relevant schools, so they can feel the joy of giving; to also make them see that ‘grassroots needs’ exist and soften their hearts to do more.
The director and staff of the foundation also travel from time-to-time to the US to launch campaigns amongst Turkish in Diaspora, and get their donations for our charities. Donations sourced are used for the drilling of boreholes; Ramadan Package Distribution; restoration of orphanages; building of schools among others.
How does the Nizamiye Hospital contribute to the Nigerian Society?
It was initiated by the Nigerian authority. In 2010, Nigerian authorities advised us, that since we have set a standard in the education sector, why not set up poly clinic. Initially, the idea focused on establishing a poly clinic, not a hospital. Later on, once we had studied the demands of the health sector in Nigeria, we saw there are many promising hospitals in Lagos and other states in Nigeria, that are commendable. However, for Abuja, the capital city, it deserves the best, and that is lacking. So, after careful consideration, we decided to increase our investment in the health sector, to come up with a world standard, full-fledged hospital. This was realised in 2013 during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. In the past two years, cardiac operations have been carried out at Nizamaye Hospital. Cardiac open surgeries are one of the top huge surgeries in Hospitals. We have about 15 to 16 Turkish doctors and eight to nine Nigerian doctors at Nizamaye Hospital. Nizamaye has 150 technical and nursing staff at the hospital.
Are the Technical and Nursing staff Nigerians or foreigners?
Most of the nurses, head nurses and practicing nurses are Nigerians. The technicians are foreigners and Nigerians. Most of the equipment is imported from Germany and Europe, and it is difficult to find technicians in Nigeria who can operate them. But along with Turkish technicians, Nigerian technicians are trained to operate the machineries. This is our mentality, and part of the teachings of Hizmet movement. We always transmit our know-how to our Nigerian brothers and sisters. Whatever you know, do not keep it to yourself, or make someone learn what took you two hours to learn in the same number of hours. If I can give it to you in half an hour, why shouldn’t I?
With Nizamiye’s activities, monies which would have gone as revenues to other economies remain in the country. Please estimate, how much does such cardiac operations attract to the Nigerian economy?
I cannot give you a figure. However, we have 15, 000 registered Nigerian patients. Among that list are ministers, officials and ex-officials, local or traditional personalities. That tells us a lot of things. Initially, they travel abroad to treat such minor health issues.
A couple of months ago, I was talking to a highly ranked official. I asked if he was satisfied with the services received at the hospital. He replied, “Young man, I am not only physically cured and healed but I am psychologically healed now.” I asked what he meant, and he said, “Before I used to worry, “what if something goes wrong, where do I go? Where do I take my daughters or my wife if they have health issues, and how fast can I take them there? All these risk-filled plans I had conjured up in my mind are gone.”
We hope and pray that people do not need our services, but if they do need them, we are here.
As a private investment, how does the hospital tackle issues of strike among medical practitioners to avoid working against activities focused towards building better, facilitated hospitals in Nigeria?
Do not underestimate the skillful people in Nigeria. There are a lot of them. The only thing is finding the right person, and letting the right person find the right source. In that sense, we are doing our homework very well. We reach out to the right people in the country, both doctors and nurses.
Presently, some Nigerian hospitals embarked on strike. Some of the demands made by the medical practitioners are focused towards building better facilities in Nigerian Hospitals and to offer better services. How does Nizamiye work to ensure it does not oppose the cause of the association?
Going back to the philosophy of the Hizmet movement – Dialogue is the key. It is focused on dialogue, talking with people to convince them. Talk is the solution to many things. You talk, then walk the talk. Doctors and nurses at Nizamiye are well paid, because the hospital is making money, so why shouldn’t the doctors or nurses make money? I don’t think they can go on strike as a private institution. Personally, I don’t believe doctors should go on strike, not even when they are fighting for a good cause. Otherwise, they should think twice before committing to the Hippocratic Oath.
Tell us about the upcoming cultural festival organized by the Nile Turkish University in collaboration with the National Council of Arts and Culture, UFUK and other local agencies?
The cultural festival is a joint festival organised by Nile Turkish University. In any activity or event we host in Nigeria, we must collaborate with a Nigerian institution whether private or public. Last year, UFUK Dialogue gathered some artworks and exhibited them at the African Union Summit, the United Nations Headquarters, New York, opening ceremony and at Istanbul, Turkey. With the cultural festival, we want to show Nigerians part of the Turkish culture, and at the same time, create a platform where Nigerian ethnic groups can converge and perform dances, songs and their other peculiarities. Last year, we had the Turkish Culture, plus Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa cultures on display. This year, we will have more Nigerian cultures on display. From their traditions to their languages, we aim to keep the cultures alive.
Published on Leadership, 8 April 2016, Friday
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