By Emman Ovuakporie and Johnbosco Agbakwuru
It was anger and lamentations galore on the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday after news broke about the arrest and detention of about 50 Nigerian students by the Turkish government for alleged terrorism. The students were said to have been arrested over the coup attempt in Turkey, although the students have not been accused of any form of involvement in the said coup.
The matter was reported through a motion of urgent national importance sponsored by a member of the House Committee on Diaspora, Solomon Maren.
And to express resentment on the action of the Turkish government, the House not only mandated the Nigerian government to wade into the matter and explore all diplomatic options to secure the release of the students from detention, it also gave the Turkish government a seven-day ultimatum, expected to elapse on Tuesday, to release the students.
The House further mandated its Committees on Diaspora, Education, Foreign Affairs and Interior to investigate the circumstances surrounding the students arrest.
Maren, in the motion, drew the attention of his colleagues to the hardship, extortion, torture and even death which, according to him, Nigerian students go through as they seek for education abroad.
He said that since the failed Turkey coup of July 15, there had been a clamp down on 2099 schools in Turkey, over their alleged involvement in the coup.
“The Turkish government had also come had on Institutions associated Islamic Schilar Fetullar Gulen linked with the coup, and had also called on the federal government to shot down 17 Turkish schools in Nigeria for alleged links with the Hizmet movement that also masterminded the coup”, the lawmaker said.
He recalled how a Nigerian student was murdered in Dubai, another Julie bedridden in Italy following alleged torture and maltreatment and another student killed in Malaysia because his travel documents could not be updated on time.
In his contribution to the motion, Rep Raphael Nnana Igbokwe, who represents Ahiazu/Ezinihitte Mbaise Federal Constituency of Imo State, called for the consolidation of the motion with a previous motion which called for an investigation of the involvement of Turkish schools in Nigeria in the coup, adding that Turkey came hard on Nigerian students because the country failed to close down Turkish institutions in Nigeria as was recommended by the Turkish government.
Igbokwe further disclosed that, according to the Ministry of Education, Turkish International Schools is privately owned, just as he queried the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, for allowing a private entity to register as an international entity.
However, another member of the House, Jagaba Adams Jagaba, from Kaduna State, advised the House to apply caution over the matter as it involved the diplomatic relationship between Nigeria and Turkey.
Jagaba said it would be counterproductive for the lawmakers to pre-empt the actions of the executive which has the traditional duty of diplomatic relations with foreign nations. But Rotimi Agunsoye said Nigeria should openly reprimand Turkey for detaining the students and demand an apology.
The House learnt that out of the 120 countries that have students in Turkey, only Nigerian students were detained.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, Chairman, House Committee on Diaspora Matters, Rep Rita Orji, said that the detention of the 50 students was an insult to Nigeria.
Orji, who represents Ajeromi-Ifelodun Federal Constituency of Lagos State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party,PDP, said the arrest of the students would have been understandable if there was any conflict between Nigeria and the Turkish government.
“This is not the first time Nigerians based abroad are being dealt with this way. It was so sympathetic that students left their homes to where they are studying, if there is any conflict involving the two countries, it would have been understandable, but the issue of taking them right from the airport to detention and collecting their passports, I think this is the height of insult to the sovereignty of a nation”, the Committee Chairman said.
“This is not the issue of parents of these children, it is the issue of how you respect the sovereignty and dignity of where they come from.
“It is just a terrible outcry on insinuations, a mere allegation that they are studying or they are linked to any of these schools they said the proprietors or the owners have link with government overthrow or the coup.
“It is terrible because even here in Nigeria, the Turkish Ambassador attended the graduation ceremonies of students of those same Turkish schools that are purportedly to be shut down on the order of their government.
“So, you ask, where is our sovereignty if on this level, do we really have a diplomatic relationship? Couldn’t they have called on the government of Nigeria before taking such drastic action.
“They are not ruling Nigeria for us, Nigeria is a sovereign nation and as such we are not taking instructions from Turkey. The students are in a lawful course. Non of the students has been listed as a terrorist, none of them has been mentioned as a terrorist and none on the list of wanted persons.
“It is high time we rose up to this challenge so that people will know that the life of every Nigerian matters, this is not the issue of black life matters that is in the United States, but this time life and rights of every Nigerian student abroad matters.
“It is unfortunate that it is happening at this critical time but I know the government of Nigeria is going to do due diligence. I believe this is an insult and assault on the dignity of persons and if not for any reason, African Charter respects life. We have freedom, it cannot based on your own assumption, hound people and detain them.
Continuing, she said, “This case is premeditated, you can’t tell me it is sudden. These students were targeted and waited for arrival. It is not that it is something that happened without their knowledge, it is an orchestrated attempt to tarnish the image of Nigeria.
“I think the relevant authorities should stand up for the defence of these students and that will save our other students in other countries because this is Turkey today, it could be another country tomorrow, that will wake up again and do the same thing against our people.”
Also commenting on the matter, Chairperson of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnena Elendu- Ukeje, said Nigeria will not normally interfere in the internal workings of any country especially when it involves a situation that seems to threaten their democracy.
She went on: As a country, we also owe a responsibility to our citizens to know exactly where they are or how their doing in their host country. But we would draw the line when it comes to that number of our citizens who have been arrested in a foreign country and especially charged with treason.
“It is pretty heavy, and any responsible country and parliament would want to find out exactly what the true status is, and that’s what we intend to do, moving forward.” Aggregate opinion in the House is that the Nigerian government should use all diplomatic means to ensure that the ‘innocent’ students are released from the Turkish cell. Besides, it has been argued in some quarters that Nigeria should review its diplomatic policies and ensure that she puts a stop to the rampant harassment and intimidation of her nationals doing genuine business and with valid travelling documents in any part of the world.