Nigeria and Turkey are two countries with an ancient history of relations beginning from the late 16th century, when the Mai of Kanem-Bornu (an empire in the Sahel centred in Northeast Nigeria and spread across the region up to Southern Libya and Eastern Sudan), Idris Ali Alooma dispatched a diplomatic mission across the Sahara and Mediterranean to the court of the Ottoman Sultan in Istanbul. This development was before both countries became modern day states. Official diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Turkey began in the 1960’s. When Istanbul opened an embassy in Lagos, then capital of Nigeria in 1962.
The relationship soured during the Nigerian civil-war when Turkey maintained a position of neutrality and refused to sell weapons to the Nigerian Federation. However, in the 1990’s the relationship between Turkey and Nigeria improved through cooperation in foreign policy and membership of Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and D-8 also known as Developing-8, an organisation for development co-operation among 8 countries.
Direct flights from Istanbul to Abuja, Kano, Lagos and Port-Harcourt have enabled many Nigerians to visit Turkey to shop for the holidays and for medical tourism. Presently, the trade volume between both countries stands at 2 billion USD as remarked by Nigeria’s Minister for Trade and Investment, Adeniyi Adebayo. Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his state visit to Nigeria few months ago, which is his third in the last six years says “We hope and pray that we will be expanding our trade volume up to 5 billion dollars immediately”.
President Erdogan’s most recent visit to Nigeria was the last leg of his mini-tour of three African countries which also included Angola and Togo. He stressed on “a win-win relationship and equal partnership while observing mutual respect”. During his latest visit numerous Bilateral issues were discussed and eight major Agreements/MoUs on a number of the key sectors including Energy, Defense Industry, Mining and HydroCarbons among others were signed.
President Erdogan’s visits are spurred by reasons that border on national interest and regime protection, the latter which he doesn’t hide. Erdogan is yet to overcome the shock of the bloody 2016 coup attempt. On July 15, 2016, a section of the Turkish military launched a coordinated operation in several major cities to topple the government and unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Soldiers and armoured tanks patrolled the streets and a number of explosions rang out in Ankara and Istanbul which claimed over 200 lives. Erdogan has expended great effort in going after the alleged plotter- Fethullah Gullen.
Fethullah Gulen is a Turkish preacher and businessman who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999. He is a former ally of Erdogan turned arch rival. President Erdogan accused Mr. Gulen as being the mastermind of the July 2016 attempted coup that left over 200 people dead.
Gülen is the leader of a widespread religious order- cum-political network known as “Hizmet” (Service) by its members, the movement owns foundations, associations, media organisations and schools in Turkey and abroad. The Turkish Government has designated it as a terrorist organisation, Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) after the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey by officers aligned to the movement. Sometime ago Gülen and Erdogan were allies and the preacher played an integral part in Erdogans consolidation of power in 2011 when he eased out the secular generals.
In his 2017 visit, President Erdogan advised Parents to withdraw their children from the Turkish schools in Nigeria. This is a sequel to his long standing request for the Federal Government to close down 17 Turkish schools in Nigeria (NTIC colleges) owned by Gulen, as they are a front for treason. The Federal Government of Nigeria has turned down this request. In a statement in October, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama said while Nigeria would not allow its territory to be used as breeding ground for terrorists, the country considered the dissidents political refugees who are protected by the United Nations. The semantics of Nigeria’s response indicates that it perceives Erdogan’s manhunt for Gülen as sort of a frame-up.
Erdogan reiterated this sentiments in his December 2021 visit, when he stated that the “perpetrator of the heinous failed coup of July the 15th, FETO, is still illegally active in Nigeria, and we are continuously sharing our intelligence with the Nigerian interlocutors and authorities”. His desire is a pipe dream as the Turkish schools have done well to integrate ownership with Nigerians and have as their students children of the political elite, top echelon of the civil service and wealthy businessmen.
Turkey is an emerging powerhouse of a nation with a rising market economy and solid industrial base. Turkish exporters need a large market for their goods and Nigeria with its 200 million strong population can serve that need. Turkey needs oil and gas without the geopolitical constraints that Iran and Russia pose. Nigeria’s oil and gas reserves can serve as an alternative market. Turkey’s formidable Defence Industry can also provide the Nigerian Armed Forces with defence technology, military arms and equipment on favourable terms without interference unlike the United States of America. Both countries have the potential for a long term mutually beneficial relationship based on strategic cooperation to advance each others national interest. Nigeria serving as a significant market for Turkish goods and services and Turkey providing Nigeria with technical military assistance and selling defence equipment to Nigeria for combating it’s multifaceted security threat.
The multidimensional relations between Nigeria and Turkey is strategic and mutually beneficial. In a world where superpowers are consolidating their reach through military force, economic sanctions and debt trap diplomacy. Regional powerhouses like Nigeria and Turkey despite being unable to use such means can consolidate their reach into each others sphere of influence through mutually beneficial partnership.
Erdogan has also pledged to help combat terrorism with Turkey aiming to boost cooperation through its defense industry. Nigeria stands to gain a lot from tapping into Turkey’s defence industry that has gained global recognition and Abuja has began to pursue that through the various purchases being made by its Armed Forces from Turkish defence firms.
In October 2019 the Federal Government of Nigeria and a Turkish firm Sur Corporate wears signed an agreement on the establishment of a military and paramilitary clothing factory in Kaduna. The factory will be located inside the Defence Industry Complex (DICON) in Kaduna state, northwest Nigeria. The Nigerian Navy signed a contract with Turkish Dearsan Shipyard to build 2 units of 76 m OPV (76 meter Offshore Patrol Vessel) to be completed within 37 months. The Turkish Ambassador to Nigeria, Hidaye Bayraktar, pledged Turkey’s assistance to help Nigeria tackle the menace of the Boko Haram and Islamic State Of West African Province (ISWAP) when he visited the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Farouk Yahaya, in his office at Army Headquarters in Abuja in August this year. The Nigerian Minister of Defence Maj General Bashir Magashi is taking advantage of this pledge as he recently visited Turkey to purchase attack helicopters to aid in Nigeria’s war against insurgency. Bayraktar drones with renowned counter-inusrgency efficiency can help Nigeria eliminate ISWAP in the North-East and Bandits across all other parts of the North.
Nigerian Armed Forces is in dire need of access to modern weapons systems especially those relevent to the current counterinsurgency campaign in its northeast region. The Turkish Armed Forces have been fighting a long-running insurgency against the PKK terrorist organisation which they have pushed into Iraq and Syria. Through a strategic partnership the Nigerian Armed Forces can be availed with multiple warfare techniques and latest technology to combat the insurgency in the country and stablize the country’s volatile internal security.
President Muhammadu Buhari was in Turkey on the 16th of December 2021 to attend the third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit, hosted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Republic of Turkey. According to the organisers theme of the Summit is ‘‘Enhanced Partnership for Common Development and Prosperity’’ and the agenda includes reviewing the cooperation between African countries and Turkey since the last summit in 2014.
Turkey began its broad “African Initiative” in 2005, since then Erdoğan visited more than 30 African countries. Turkey’s interests in African affairs prioritize contributing to economic development and political stability without undue interference. Erdogan’s “leadership diplomacy” approach emphasizes a more independent and developed Africa, contrary to that of Western countries. Turkey has been trying to improve its relations with African countries based upon the principle of equal partnership, while developing its economy and diversifying Turkish foreign policy. Nigeria features prominently because it’s a force to reckon with in Africa.