BY DANIEL IDONOR
ANKARA, TURKEY: WIDESPREAD complaints by many of the over 400 Nigerian prisoners languishing in various prisons in Turkey over their plight is to feature prominently as President Goodluck Jonathan meets the Turkish President, Mr Abdullah Gul.
This came at a time applications for Nigerian visa in Turkey rose to 90 per month, following President Goodluck Jonathan’s drive for foreign investments, which led to the Federal Government’s hosting of Nigeria-Turkish business summit in Abuja last year.
Investigations by Vanguard revealed that the prisoners are complaining that they were not accorded fair hearing during their trials before their conviction and consequent sentences due to language barrier.
A diplomatic source which pleaded anonymity, told Vanguard that “there may be such complaints which President Jonathan may discuss with his host while in Turkey.
“This has become a major challenge to us, especially with the little resources we have at the embassy or at the mission. There is no way we can assist in deporting our people back home. There are so many illegal Nigerian immigrants here.”
According to him, most of the offences by the convicts range from drug to immigration-related, and some of the bad eggs from Nigeria do use Turkey as a transit point.
“We suspect that they use Turkey as a transit point, but you can never tell because there must be an insider for this crime to be happening frequently. The rate at which it is happening is alarming and disturbing”.
“We honestly feel that somebody, somewhere, must be aiding them even to get visa or find their way through Turkey. I think our immigration officers in Nigeria and other security agencies need to do a lot in terms of screening the people coming to Turkey,” the source said.
The source further said that “there are a lot of challenges, especially in the area of human trafficking and drugs. There is hardly a week we don’t get two or three notes on our people arrested at the airport carrying drugs, either going to Nigeria or coming from Nigeria. We have over 400 Nigerian prisoners now in different prisons in Turkey.”
He explained that “there are some that are carrying Nigerian passports but once we engage them, we find out that they are not Nigerians. But the conclusion here is that they are Nigerians because they are carrying Nigerian passports”.
On the official number of Nigerians resident in Turkey, the source disclosed that “there are quite a number of them. We have over 3,000 Nigerians residing in Istanbul and in various parts of Turkey.”
He added that “even in Turkish Cyprus, we have about 1,200 students. All these pose challenges. Especially if there are immigration problems, it is the embassy that always goes up and down to solve the problems, particularly with the Nigerian policy of citizen diplomacy.”
Meanwhile, applications for Nigeria visa in Turkey has risen to 90 per month, even as some 250 businessmen from Turkey were recently in Nigeria, on an investment drive, where they met with their Nigerian counterparts through the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council, NIPC,.
Before President Jonathan assumed office, about eight months ago, the figure of visa request and issuance stood at below 20 in a month, but following the renewal of interest by both countries to increase trade volume, the figure has risen by over 700 per cent per a month.
According highly placed source close to the Nigerian Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, “business between Turkey and Nigeria is improving seriously. There use to be visa requests between Turkey and Nigeria which was below 20 visas in a month, but I can tell you that every month we are now issuing not less than 80 to 90 visas to Turkish people going to Nigeria. There is a lot of investment going on between Turkey and Nigeria”.
Currently, Nigeria and Turkey have a joint Economic Commission which is expected to metamorphose into a Bi-national Commission, with a Nigerian-Turkish Chambers of Commerce, as an off-shoot, as President Goodluck Jonathan and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan seal a bilateral deal on behalf of their respective countries on Tuesday in Turkey, in this regard.
The source which pleaded anonymity, said “recently, there was a big business forum that Nigeria hosted between a Turkish company and NIPC (Nigerian Investment Promotion Council) with Nigerian business people”.
According to him, “before that, there was a group of people from one of the states in Turkey where about 250 business people visited Nigeria and they had a very good and wonderful interaction between the NIPC and the business people. That really helped us in improving the trade relationship between Nigeria and Turkey”.
On commodities of trade, the source disclosed that “the Turkish side buys oil from Nigeria, steel and some agricultural items like sesame seeds and cashew nuts and many other products. On the Nigerian side, we are having more partnership in the construction industry. You know, we are trying to see how we could import their furniture and textiles, but because all these are contraband in Nigeria we are only encouraging them to come and establish their factories or have partnership with Nigerians so that they can produce their products in Nigeria”.
Besides, the source said that cultural ties is also part of the new deal to be sealed by both nations, saying that “ it’s part of the pending bilateral agreements which we hope during this meeting we’ll conclude. There is an agreement on exchange of cultural activities, tourism, defence, education and so many other areas”.
On aviation, he disclosed that “you know it is only Turkish Airlines that flies between Nigeria and Turkey; there is no any airline from Nigeria that flies to Turkey. And they are even working to improve their service, extending it to Abuja — from Abuja direct to Istanbul. So we want to also fly a Nigerian airline to Turkey”.
The Turkish economy continues to wax stronger than that of Nigeria as the Naira is over N150 in exchange for the US dollar, compared to the Turkish lira which stands at 1.60 to the US dollar.
While Turkey and her colony of Cyprus account for a population of 930 million, Nigeria presently maintains a population of over 150 million.