It took the dehumanising deportation of Nigerian students for the federal government to wake up to the reality that Turkey is not its friend and that whatever they have by way of relationship is borne out of necessity. The federal government has now said it would summon the Turkish ambassador to Nigeria, Hakan Cakil, to demand explanation for the deportation of Nigerian students.
The deportations are just one of the daring insults Turkey has heaped on Nigeria since a faction of the Turkish Army attempted to overthrow Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier in the year. A bellicose Turkey had made accusations that the coup was financed from Nigeria. Its diplomatic indiscretion was to the extent that it requested that the federal government shuts down legitimate businesses owned by the Turkish community here on the flawed allegation that the Turkish businessmen who owned these enterprises were part of the coup.
Whatever our anger is over Turkey’s behaviour our real headache is that country’s neighbour to the east, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Where Turkey attempted to mask its actions with some senses of legitimacy, like branding its nationals on our soil as terrorists, Iran totally dispensed with finesse and allegedly chooses outright subversive activities.
It was Iran that has, contrary to international convention, been allegedly fuelling the rise of Shia extremism in Nigeria. This was evident in the magnitude of all round support that its former ambassador to Nigeria, Saheed Koozechi allegedly offered to the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). There have been talks that the support allegedly included provision of firearms and other materials that gave the extremist group an arsenal remarkable enough to embolden them to challenge the Army to battle. The intelligence community would do well to investigate this possibility.
Koozechi, at his prime, was also allegedly involved in using Nigeria media to incite insurrection against the secular government. He even infamously alluded to Nigeria pouring fuel on fire because Iran’s proxy and IMN leader, Ibraheem El-Zakyzaky was arrested in the wake of a military operation. Proof that the erstwhile ambassador did not act independently was evident in the other senior administration officials that were making similar calls back in Tehran. Had Koozechi been speaking out of line he would have been recalled earlier than was the case; Iran only recalled him when protests against his continued stay at that post had become a daily affair for Nigerians that are averse to their nation being colonised and structured along sectarian line.
It however turned out that Koozechi’s recall, taken to lull Nigeria into having a false perception of contrition on the part of an unrepentant Iran, was a ploy. His replacement, Ambassador Morteza Rahimi Zarchi was only able to manage a few weeks of calm before he launched into offensive mode. He may think he has sufficiently camouflaged his operations to strengthen Shias above other Nigerians but the tell-tale signs are glaring for all to see.
Acting from a manual that could only have been authored in Tehran and implemented by its ambassador, Zarchi has not been able to sufficiently distance himself nor his country from the so called trek by IMN members to Abuja demanding the release of El-Zakyzaky. The trek was a desperate grab at attention after planned protests across several major cities in the north failed to make impact for the mere reason that IMN is known to citizens as the corporate arm of a terror movement.
It therefore cannot garner the sympathy that Zarchi and Iran desperately need to legitimize their interference.
The frustration from this has driven IMN, which also means the Iranian Embassy, into desperation. The extremists under ‘Save Zakzaky’s Life Group of Nigeria’, citing the expiration of a 14-day ultimatum for the release of El-Zakyzaky, said they would storm Abuja with protests. The euphemism for unleashing their trademark violence should not be lost on anyone as they are not known to be capable of peaceful expression of discontent when spurred by Iranian propaganda and logistics.
The federal government must not allow Nigeria to be reduced to this level. It must be decisive in dealing with Iran the same way it has been decisive in dealing with Turkey, for which it brooked no nonsense. Should the infractions of both nations be appropriately weighed, it is glaring that Iran has hurt Nigerian interest a thousand fold of anything its neighbour is guilty of. The response must also be commensurate.
— Sandra Awulu human rights activist contributed this piece from Washington DC, USA