By Olasunkanmi Akoni, Godwin Oritshe, Abdulwahab Abdulah & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—ONE thousand Turks are facing extradition from Nigeria on the request of the Turkish government, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, has said.
The 1,000 Turks facing extradition were suspected by the Turkish government of belonging to Fethullah Movement, FETO, which had been declared a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.
The request for the extradition had before now generated tension between the two countries, following the federal government’s refusal to grant the request.
But the Federal Government might have changed its position to concede to the request, after President Muhammadu Buhari’s meeting with his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, last Thursday, in Ankara, where President Buhari had gone to attend the D-8 Summit.
But human rights activists, including Femi Falana, Tokunbo Mumuni and Malachy Ugwumadu, cautioned the government against taking such action, if there was no extradition treaty between both countries.
They also noted that if an extradition treaty was hurriedly put together by both countries to pave way for the extradition, it must pass through the National Assembly.
However, speaking with journalists, weekend, in Istanbul, to wrap up President Buhari’s four-day visit to Ankara and the D8 meeting in Istanbul, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, said the federal government was considering the Turkish government’s request.
He noted that the matter would have led to a frosty diplomatic relations between both countries but for the “diplomatic skills” of President Buhari.
The minister said: “There was the request for the extradition of some of the Turks in Nigeria who have been given asylum and recognized by the United Nations as political refugees and the Turkish government requested that we extradite some of them.
‘’There was also the request that the schools and hospitals established by Gülen Movement should be closed in Nigeria. They now labelled Fethtulah as a terrorist organization.
“These were all issues that were lingering and complicating slightly, the relationship between the two countries. So, what this visit has done, I think, is to put all these to rest and facilitate direct engagement and what I will call agreeing for a way forward between the two countries.
“Mr. President is a very good diplomat. Very skillful diplomat. He was able to really douse the tension between the two sides while not compromising Nigeria’s principles.
Buhari’s diplomatic skills
“He did it very well with a lot of diplomatic skill. His intervention has improved relationship between the two countries and government. The level of confidence between the two countries has also increased. It is a real diplomatic masterpiece.”
The Minister said President Buhari assured President Erdogan that Nigeria would not allow its territory to be used as a breeding ground for any terrorist or group of individuals with the aim of destabilizing Turkey.
“The point was made and Mr. President with regard to the Gülen Movement said that under no circumstances would Nigeria allow itself to be a base for the destabilization of Turkey.
‘’Mr. President came out very strongly in support of the democratic process and institutions of Turkey, condemning the coup attempt in Turkey and reassuring the Turkish government of Nigeria’s total support for the territorial integrity of Turkey, for the democratic governance and the security of Turkey.
“Similarly, the Turkish government also promised to reciprocate the gesture. So, once they got those issues out of the way, it was much easier and they were able to focus on what will transform the lives of Nigerians and the Turkish people.”
Other areas that would have sparked off diplomatic crisis that President Buhari amicably resolved with President Erdogan, the Minister stated, included the refusal of visas to some Turkish security personnel, the IPOB issue, and the delay in the issuance of Turkish visas to Nigerians and the request to increase the number of flights of Turkish Airlines into Nigeria.
He said: “With all the outstanding issues, he was able to really, skillfully navigate through but at the same time mending all the ruffled feathers and fences.
“The path that he really charted was to look at those areas we can cooperate and there would be win-win and would diffuse tension. They looked at economic areas, educational areas, economic development, operational areas and agree to allow the normal legal international processes to run their course with regard to the more sensitive issues.”
Also speaking with journalists in a separate interview, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said the thrusts of Buhari’s visit were “to focus on issues of security and anti-terrorism; agricultural cooperation; trade cooperation; education and health; transport and connectivity; energy sector cooperation and increased private sector participation.”
Shehu said: “The meetings have also helped to enhance momentum in ties between Nigeria and the rest of the “D8” members and the establishment of a positive working relationship, especially between Buhari and Erdogan.”
He further stated that the two governments agreed to support each other in the fight against terrorism, human trafficking, drugs trafficking and arms trafficking.
He said: “Turkey specifically mentioned the menace of the Fethullah organization “FETO” which they accused of terrorism and involvement in the abortive coup plot last year, which the Turkish population gallantly resisted.
“There are more than 1,000 Turkish citizens in Nigeria, many of them accused of belonging to this organization and for which reason, their passports have been declared invalid by their country.
“On the issues of the suspected terrorists of Turkish origin in Nigeria, President Erdogan received the best assurances from our leader that Nigeria will not allow any person or organization to use its territory for any subversive activities. President Buhari used every given opportunity to denounce the failed coup attempt.
“The Turkish citizens, who have sought and already obtained assistance from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNCHR, since they became stateless persons, have been warned not to engage in any political activities while they are in Nigeria.
“Turkish authorities on their part, gave all assurances that no subversive activities against Nigeria will be permitted of their citizens or on their territory.”
AGF must apply in court before it can be effected —Falana
Reacting to the issue, Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, said: “There are conditions which have to be complied with before any alien has to be deported legally from Nigeria. In other words, an application has to be filed by the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, stating out why the person has to be extradited. And if there is any fear of political victimisation, the application may not be granted.
“Also, we have to find out whether there is an extradition treaty between Nigeria and Turkey, even if one is signed by the President now, the National Assembly will have to domesticate it before it can take effect.”
If no extradition treaty exists, President cannot repatriate them —Mumuni
In his reaction, Lagos Lawyer and activist, Tokunbo Mumuni, said: “There is an agreement among nations called reciprocal mutual agreement which has to be signed by two countries if they have decided to work together in that area.
‘’If such mutual agreement is not in place, such repatriation cannot be effected and will be difficult for President Buhari to carry out such action.
“However, if such agreement is existing between the two countries, there is little anybody can do regarding whether they will be repatriated or not.”
Speaking on the development, President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Right, CDHR, Malachy Ugwummadu, said for Nigeria to oblige Turkey’s request, it must ensure that there is a treaty between both countries for the repatriation of their citizens that are found wanting.
He explained that the position of international law on issues such as this is that both countries must have a treaty to effect such demand.
“The position of the law is that once there is a treaty between both countries, each is obliged to obey the other’s request.
“It is a simple contract, it also bothers on security, the way Nigerians are killed around the world has become worrisome.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria must carry out its investigation to ensure that culpable Turkish citizens leaving in Nigeria are the ones that are repatriated.’’
If there is bilateral agreement, then it’s in order — Mamora
Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora said in his reaction: “Well, if Nigeria has such a bilateral agreement with Turkish government, then it will be in order. There should be reciprocity in agreement.”