The July 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey was followed with a massive shake-up in all aspects of the country. The higher education sector was one of the hardest hit in the radical measures taken by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against the alleged mastermind of the coup attempt – Fethullah Gülen.
President Erdogan launched a far-reaching clampdown on all academic institutions associated with the Gülen Movement including primary, secondary, and tertiary schools. As of August 2016, it was reported that fifteen universities had been closed and over 1000 secondary schools shut down. The government further arrested a number of academics suspected to have links with the Movement.
The Nigerian students studying in Turkey estimated at 15,000 were also affected by the crackdown. According to reports in the local media, about fifty Nigerian students were detained by the authorities at the Ataturk Airport in October 2016. A huge number of the students were also left stranded after their schools – believed to be associated with the outlawed Gülen Movement – were suddenly shut down.
The Nigerian Academia spoke with Salim Hamza Ringim, the President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Turkish Zone, to give a detailed account of the situation of the Nigerian students after the bloody political event in Turkey.
TNA: There were media reports that about fifty Nigerian students were detained in Turkey after the foiled coup attempt, but this was denied by the Turkish embassy in Nigeria. Could you give a true account of what really transpired?
Salim: It is true that fifty students and even more were detained in Turkey. Two months after the coup, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and made it clear that all those that were associated with the Gülen Movement including foreign nationals will be caught and deported back to their countries. At the time, all educational and non-educational institutions inspired by the Movement were immediately shut down. Most, if not all, the students that either acquired education from the Gülen-inspired schools in Nigeria or on their scholarships were terminated. Their residence permits were also cancelled. According to our contacts in Gaziantep, Turkey’s attitudes towards Nigerians [radically] changed after the coup.
TNA: What were the efforts made by the Nigerian government to secure the release of the students and also ensure the safety of other Nigerian students in Turkey?
Salim: One of the factors that led to the release of the detained students by the Turkish Intelligence could be because the Nigerian embassy in Ankara [swiftly] reacted to the actions of the Turkish government. As far as I could remember, there are also students from other nationalities in the Gülen -inspired schools such as Faith University and Zirve University, but those students were neither detained nor ill-treated like Nigerians were treated. The Turkish Mission in Abuja’s denial of the detention of Nigerian students at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport is nothing but negligence.
TNA: Are you satisfied with the intervention of the Nigerian government in the matter?
Salim: The Nigerian Embassy in Ankara represents our government based on the rule of exterritoriality as encapsulated in international law. They intervened on behalf of our government, insisting that our students be released by the Turkish government. I must say that I appreciate the immediate response of the embassy to the detention of our students, but I am unsatisfied with the efforts regarding our students’ scholarships. Some of our students were almost in their last year, while some were in the middle of their studies. According to our partner union schools, the education data of many of our students were lost. Students’ representatives in various schools addressed the Ministry of Education, hoping that Nigerian students that were in the universities that were shut down could be allowed to complete their education in other universities. Only some of these students were lucky to get a positive response. I believe that if the Nigerian embassy had put in more efforts, the predicament of our students would have been meaningfully resolved.
TNA: We also read that some students were moved to other universities after their previous institutions were alleged to be associated with the Gülen Movement. Were the Nigerian students successfully relocated to new schools and what reactions followed the action?
Salim: Nigerian students in some cities of Turkey such as Gaziantep, Istanbul and Bursa who had concrete financial proofs that their studies are connected to a bilateral agreement have been given access to the finances they deserve on a monthly basis. However, there are still students that are still stuck in the situation of neither being accommodated in the absence of scholarship nor even accepted to further their education.
TNA: What message do you have for the Nigerian government as regards the plight of the students in Turkey?
Salim: We will like our government to be aware of the limitations we are experiencing as the mother body of the students beyond Nigeria, and the security of our students abroad can only be assured if our embassy in Ankara is further pressurised to strengthen ties with the Student Unions. Secondly, there are lapses in the functions of the Embassy in Ankara. We demand accountability and adequate monitoring of the functions of our representatives in Ankara, by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.