By Sandra Awulu
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 an 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 alleged 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 challenge is that country’s neighbour to the east, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Where Turkey attempted to mask its actions with some measure of legitimacy, like branding its nationals on our soil as terrorists, Iran totally dispensed with finesse in its preference for outright subversive activities.
It is Iran that has, contrary to international convention, been 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 offered to the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). There have been talks that the support included provision of firearms and other materials that gave the extremist group an arsenal remarkable enough to embolden them to challenge the Nigerian Army to battle. The intelligence community would do well to investigate this possibility.
Koozechi, at his prime, was also involved in using Nigerian 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 lure 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 script 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 more than anything its neighbour is guilty of.
The response must also be commensurate. Where we are summoning the Turkish Ambassador over the deportation of Nigerian students, we should be severing relations with Iran for importing terrorism into Nigeria and supporting same through its alliance with the IMN. For daring to question Nigeria’s right to ensure its internal security and act against terrorists, that country’s ambassador should be expelled.
In addition to expelling Ambassador Morteza Rahimi Zarchi, the Iranian Embassy should be shut indefinitely until that country can commit to deploying its mission in Nigeria without interfering in our internal affairs. If we are firm enough not to accept mistreatment of our citizens from Turkey, why should we accept existential threats to our nation from Iran? Anything short of sending Iran out of Nigeria for good would imply that this government is not serious about safeguarding the nation from terrorists.
Awulu, a human rights activist, writes from
Washington DC, USA.