By Akanimo Sampson
Leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, is back from an aborted medical treatment in India with his wife and in the custody of the Department State Services (DSS), Nigeria’s secret police.
El-Zakzaky, the founder of the IMN, a Shia group, appears to be a major headache for the Buhari administration. He had been imprisoned following a clash between security services and Shi’ites procession in 2015, which led to the deaths of hundreds of his followers and some members of his family.
A raid on his home then led to his arrest. During the raid, he and his wife were injured, apparently severely, and there had been concern that the injuries will be lethal. Since then, he has been in government custody.
The authorities are insisting that he and his wife have been receiving medical attention. But El-Zakzaky has never been tried, and there have been regular Shi’ites’ demonstrations calling for his release, often accompanied by bloodletting. In April and October 2018, and July 2019, there were deadly clashes with the security forces.
At the moment, there is a growing concern that the Shi’ites will be radicalised, by either the abuse of the security forces or by El-Zakzaky’s death in custody.
But, the decision of the Buhari administration to allow El-Zakzaky to travel for health reasons, though the outcome is not yet clear, was a long overdue and important first step. Without the doubt, the detained Shi’ites’ leader is a charismatic preacher with followers ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions.
He allegedly advocates the overthrow of the Nigerian state and the establishment of a Shia republic similar to that of Iran. Iran has provided him and the IMN with diplomatic support and, it is widely believed, a significant financial subsidy.
By and large, the Shi’ites are despised by the Sunni Nigerian establishment, many of whom have close ties to Saudi Arabia. IMN processions and parades often have led to bloodshed when security services become involved. Each side blames the other for instigating conflict, but the security services appear to have been consistently heavy-handed in dealing with the Shia.
At present, El-Zakzaky does not advocate violence. But they were immediately taken into custody by the DSS which whisked him away on arrival at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja. He arrived via an Ethiopian airline around 12.05pm and was driven away by the security operatives shortly after.
IMN’s Media Forum President, Ibrahim Musa, confirmed that their leader was taken away by the DSS operatives.He left for Medenta Hospital, New Delhi, India, for medical attention, alongside his wife, Zeenat, only on Monday, and was allegedly forced to abort his treatment following the alleged refusal of the hospital management to allow his preferred doctors to treat him.
In a video released on Thursday, he said he was given the option of having his treatment at the hospital or returning to Nigeria, noting that he was still discussing with his wife when unnamed officials returned to tell him to prepare for home. He also complained that he was placed under heavy security, adding that he was not allowed to move from his room to the next.
While accusing the governments of the United States, India, and Nigeria of frustrating his treatment, his allegations were, however, dismissed by Abuja which is accusing him of making unreasonable requests.
And while the US is claiming that she knew nothing about his claims, dismissing the allegations as baseless, the Nigerian government on Friday explained the circumstances that led to the ‘’repatriation’’ of El-Zakzaky, from India.
Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Mrs. Grace Gekpe, in a statement on Friday in Abuja, said ‘’acts of misconduct exhibited by El-Zakzaky in India necessitated his repatriation’’, pointing out, ‘’first of all, it was El-Zakzaky himself that chose the Medanta Hospital in India for his treatment; the Federal Government gave him the option to chose any hospital in the world and he chose Medanta.
‘’The public may note that El-Zakzaky’s actions in India demonstrated malicious intents that were capable of embarrassing the governments of Nigeria and India. With total disrespect and complete loss of decorum for international procedures, El-Zakzaky, while in India, initiated contacts with a team of lawyers, led by Ali Zia, Kabir Chaudary and Gunjan Singh. His aim was to seek asylum in that country.
‘’He also contacted some Non-Governmental Organisations such as the Islamic Human Rights Commission and other Shiite groups in pursuant of the goal. It is important to note that if an Indian court had granted El-Zakzaky asylum, it would have violated the Nigerian court order that granted him permission to travel for medical treatment’’, Gekpe said.
El-Zakzaky, according to her, used the opportunity of being in India to attempt to internationalise his cause by mobilising the right groups, claiming that the most unfortunate and embarrassing aspect was his quest to be relocated to a five-star hotel to receive visitors instead of being admitted in the hospital as a sick person he claimed to be.
Continuing, she said in spite of the alleged misconduct, El-Zakzaky’s spouse went further to antagonise the Indian and Nigerian security agents and accused them of killing her children. ‘’These acts were aimed at winning international sympathy as well as disparaging the Nigerian government. Having subordinated the quest for medical treatment to other ulterior motives, it became obvious that El-Zakzaky was focused on realising some sinister motives, thus the decision to return him to Nigeria’’, Gekpe said.
The News Agency of Nigeria however, reports that the Nigerian government and its relevant agencies took steps to comply with a Kaduna High court order that granted El-Zakzaky leave to travel to India for medical treatment.
The man, who is facing an 8-count charge bordering on homicide, had been in detention since 2015.
But the government, in a statement on Wednesday said that El-Zakzaky, while in India, began to display ulterior motives against laid down procedures by requesting that his International Passport be handed over to him, a request security agents ignored. The statement said that the situation became worse when the cleric refused to subject himself to preliminary medical checks.