Suleiman Uba Gaya is the vice president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and a member of the World Editors Forum. In this interview with select journalists, he bares his mind on why he had to write a petition to the Nigerian National Security Adviser, warning the country of the possibility of Turkey engaging in espionage against Nigeria.
As a journalist and editor, you are not supposed to be a partisan or take sides on the Turkish matter. Why did you feel compelled to breach this principle by sending a petition to the National Security Adviser?
You are right. But there are basically two reasons informing that. First, we are talking about national interest and security. Since my participation in the World Association of Newspaper Congress in Washington DC in June 2015 where I was one of about 800 editors from 120 countries that signed a petition asking Turkish President Erdogan to stop the reign of tyranny against free press, I have been monitoring developments in that country. About a month ago, I read online this disturbing news in a pro-government newspaper published in Turkey, saying in very clear terms that Diyanet, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, was engaging in spying activities through some Imams in Nigeria, Germany and 36 other countries.
What are they spying on, and which newspaper is that?
The newspaper is called Hurriyet Daily News. It is a core pro-government newspaper supporting the president of that country. According to the report, which can still be accessed on their website: www.hurriyetdailynews.com, the act of espionage was meant to track the activities of the followers of US-based Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who is better known by his group which is openly engaged in selfless service called Hizmet. But how sure are we that it is the only thing they are spying on? Germany did not take the matter lightly. And even if they have limited it to that, is it lawful for a foreign country to engage in espionage against a friendly country? If members of Hizmet have done anything wrong, since they are in Nigeria, the Turkish government, through its embassy here can report them with hard evidence to the Nigerian security service. The fact that they have resorted to underhand tactics means they have nothing credible against these innocent fellows that they have been antagonising and even denying citizenship.
Don’t you think the Nigerian security services you referred to are probably taking action on the espionage claim?
It is possible, they were already silently doing that even before my petition was sent. But then I needed to be sure. When Germany got wind of the report, they immediately announced further investigation on the matter. I do not believe it is right for any country to so brazenly abuse our sovereignty in the way Turkey does. My petition also offered additional insight on the matter, such as the planned establishment by Turkey of an NGO to be named as Maarif Foundation. That is one organisation that will almost certainly give rise to new levels of intolerance in this country. Recall that a few days to Christmas last year, pro-government clerics in Turkey started fouling the air by calling on Muslims to resist the celebration of Christmas and New Year in that country. It was that preaching that saw to the unfortunate situation where an extremist took an assault rifle and killed tens of innocent people in a club on New Year’s Eve.
Does Islam encourage that kind of teaching?
It does not. Islam is a religion of peace. The Holy Prophet is known to have lived in absolute peace with Christians and Jews. In his treaty with Christians of St. Catherine Monastery, Prophet Muhammad was categorical that Christians were his own, and that till the end of time, it is the duty of Muslims to defend Christians and protect their place of worship.
Why then are we having endless cries between Muslims and Christians especially in Nigeria?
That is being driven by ignorance. There are also clerics who have studied the extreme brand of Islam that have been instigating that kind of thing. We do not consider them as true Muslims. Majority of Muslims in Nigeria are very tolerant. But they remain to be the silent majority. For me, for example, my father took me to a boarding primary school belonging to Christian missionaries at age seven. That has helped in shaping my cosmopolitan worldview. There were many like that. In all the newspapers I worked at, I never discriminated against any Christian subordinate. Not even once. And even when mostly-Muslim editors from the North decided not to support the candidature of Mr Femi Adesina for the presidency of the Nigerian Guild of Editors in 2013, I was one of few who defied that and actively supported him to win the election. These acts of intolerance are being perpetrated by a tiny minority, and it stands condemned by all men of goodwill.
But how will Maarif Foundation give rise to intolerance?
On the surface, it is going to look inviting and harmless. The law setting Maarif up provides that it is going to take over all foreign investments in Nigeria and elsewhere by sympathisers of Fethullah Gulen. But these are law abiding citizens of Turkey who have never breached any of our laws here. It is for that reason that the Nigerian government turned down Turkey’s request for their schools and other investments to be closed down.
As we speak, Turkey has convinced the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to provide the funding for Maarif. Purportedly, they want to be giving scholarships to indigent Nigerians. They know that Saudi will be interested in introducing the concept of Wahabism to Nigeria and as many countries of the world as possible. Many see that as an extreme brand of Islam that breeds intolerance. Already, Nigeria is getting more and more divided along religious lines. What more if we have a platform that encourages that? We could end up with an insurgent group that could well make Boko Haram a child’s play. Countries that succeeded in preventing insurgencies always make sure they give no room to religious intolerance, however mild. We must, as a nation, follow suit.
We therefore have a duty to make sure Maarif does not come here, and to also inform Saudi Arabia that they probably don’t know the person they are dealing with. This is a president that has sacked over 100 thousand civil servants for no reason other than they are Hizmet sympathisers. President Erdogan always wants to be perceived as a sort of Caliph and Islamist. But go to Turkey especially during Ramadan, restaurants and even brothels are open and people indulge in these as much as they like. That is not Islam. Also, a young Muslim woman studying political science and international relations in Turkey at Malikseh University, was detained in a cell with men when she returned from Nigeria to continue her studies in Turkey at 8am in September. Her offence, ridiculously as it sounds, was that she attended a Hizmet-inspired school in Nigeria.
But the Turkish government claims that these schools belong to terrorists.
Where is the evidence? It was because they could provide no evidence that most countries of the world, including Nigeria and the United States, refused to listen to Turkey’s desperate calls for those schools to be closed down. If you allege, you proof. Besides, there has never been even one case of a former student of those schools engaging in terrorism or even violence anywhere in the world.
Do you have any other reason to show that the allegations on Gulen or Hizmet are not true?
There are countless reasons, but let me cite this one: in 2012, I was one of 10 title editors of the top 10 newspapers in Nigeria that were sponsored on a trip to Turkey. All the editors are alive and holding very key editorial and media management positions. In Istanbul, the president of the Journalists and Writers Foundation cautioned us strongly against according prominence to activities or attacks of Boko Haram on the front pages of our newspapers in Nigeria. ...
Published on Leadership Nigeria, 17 February 2017, Friday