With concrete evidence by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) that the leader of Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, had secured the services of some human rights lawyers in India to file a court case today to restrain the federal government from bringing him and his wife back to Nigeria, the federal government with the support of the Indian government yesterday afternoon moved to return the cleric and his wife, Zeenah, back to Nigeria.
Authoritative presidency sources told THISDAY last night that the federal government had to move fast to avoid the legal ambush since el-Zakzaky’s plot only confirmed the intelligence agency’s initial information that the cleric’s insistence on foreign medical treatment was a decoy to escape prosecution in the country.
THISDAY’s presidential sources information contradicts IMN spokesman, Mr. Ibrahim Musa’s, who while discussing with the newspaper yesterday, said el-Zakzaky had decided to return to Nigeria following the refusal of Medanta Hospital in New Delhi to allow his medical team to observe his treatment.
He also said the cleric was uncomfortable with the tight security around him, complaining that he felt unsafe without his doctors supervising the medical procedures in the hospital.
But presidency sources told THISDAY that el-Zakzaky’s homecoming was at the behest of the federal government, saying although the cleric and his wife travelled to India on Emirates Airlines on their own tickets, they would arrive in Abuja this afternoon on Ethiopian Airlines on tickets purchased by the government.
El-Zakzaky and Zeenah, who had been in detention since December, 2015, had been flown to India for medical treatment on Monday, following last week’s order of a Kaduna State High Court, directing the Kaduna State government and Department of State Services (DSS) to allow the cleric to travel abroad for medical treatment.
The cleric, however, complained on Wednesday that he was not allowed access to his medical team that had recommended the Medanta Hospital to him, saying he would rather go elsewhere like Malaysia, Indonesia or Turkey for treatment than be treated by doctors he did not trust.
He also protested the tight security around him, saying the hospital was worse than the detention centre he was kept in Nigeria.
However, one of the sources, who provided details of the drama that eventually culminated in the decision to bring back the el-Zakzakys, explained that when the idea of going abroad for medical treatment was being negotiated between el-Zakzaky and the DSS, the IMN leader was specific about two things: the location, which he said had to be India, and the hospital.
He said while the DSS easily conceded for him to go to India, the NIA was reluctant on the choice of his hospital, preferring another one, where the external intelligence agency could allow him all the latitude he needed, while monitoring him in a covert manner because of the relationship the NIA had with the hospital.
However, he further explained, since the court order was specific about the hospital to which he would be taken, based on his preference, the NIA had to make their own plans on how to monitor el-Zakzaky, given the foreign interests in his case.
The source said the moment they arrived in India, el-Zakzaky and Zeenah became aggressive and started making demands, starting with their passports.
The sources explained to THISDAY last night that the cleric and his wife travelled on ‘special passports.’
According to him, “Although his passport obtained on 29 January, 2015 is due to expire on 28 January, 2020, it is an old passport, while that of his wife, obtained on 8th January 2014 expired in January this year,” he said.
“They did not go through any process and their data were not captured but we got both of them passports and Visa.
“How we did it, they didn’t know but the moment we arrived Delhi, the first thing they wanted was their passports.”
According to the source, el-Zakzaky said they should first be allowed to check into a hotel and whenever they are ready, they would go to the hospital.
He said: “Eventually, common sense prevailed and he ended up at the hospital where a doctor from London, who happened to be an Iranian, emerged. He was allowed to see him along with other doctors. But when he demanded that he be allowed to see his lawyers in India, the request was turned down.
“It was obvious he had malicious intent. He wanted to be treated like a visiting head of state rather than a man on medical bail.
“Some things became very clear in India. One, the energy with which he fought the security agencies and the clarity of his voice were unbelievable. His wife, who left home on wheelchair, also rose to her feet the moment they arrived Delhi. She was the most aggressive, always shouting on security agents that she called ‘murderers of my children.’
“She railed and shouted at them. ‘These are the people that killed my children, I don’t want to see you,’ she kept shouting.”
The source claimed that el-Zakzaky and Zeenah were not as sick as they pretend to be and that the hospital had told security agents that within a week, they would be fine based on the medical report sent prior to their arrival.
“What he wanted to do was to outmaneuver the federal government and since we are working closely with the Indian government that never wanted to be dragged into such politics, it was easy for us to come to a quick decision on the need to return him home,” the reliable source said, adding: “His plan is to embarrass and blackmail Nigeria internationally but he failed.”
The THISDAY source’s narratives corroborated the statement on Wednesday by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Ms. Grace Gekpe, which accused the cleric of frustrating his treatment and making demands that amounted to a breach of the terms of his court ordered medical leave.
IMN Says Cleric Coming Back for Personal Safety
But the IMN had a different narrative Thursday, insisting that el-Zakzaky was coming back on his own following his loss of confidence in the arrangements for his treatment.
The IMN’s spokesman, Musa, told THISDAY yesterday that el-Zakzaky was uncomfortable with the arrangement made for his treatment and accommodation in India and would prefer to return to Nigeria, in the absence of any alternative arrangement.
He said the Indian Minister of Minority Affairs, Mr. Muktar Abbas Naqvi, who is also a Shiite Muslim, visited el-Zakzaky at the hospital, in a bid to “ease the difficulties he was facing.”
The IMN spokesman also faulted the position of the federal government that the Shiite sect leader demanded to be put in a five-star hotel, retain his international passport and was mixing up with unapproved visitors, saying government’s position was a “blatant lie.”
“As at this morning, the sheik was saying that it is either he has an alternative or he comes home because the Nigerian government officials have so far shattered all the arrangements so far made,” he said.
Musa explained el-Zakzaky’s concerns: “The Sheikh insisted that the doctors who had already examined him before should be allowed to have a say in his treatment. Initially, they agreed that his doctors should be part of the team and observe the treatment.
“But they later refused and the Sheikh said since they will not allow the doctors to observe the treatment, it is better he return home. The doctors are not working in the hospital, but the Sheikh has the right to ensure that his doctors are part of the team to treat him.
“They initially agreed, but the government and the hospital management refused”.
He added: “If the sheikh comes back, we are going to look for an alternative country to go. Like the sheikh said, we will choose to go to Malaysia, Turkey or Indonesia.”
The group had accused the Indian government of conniving with the federal government to bring new doctors other than the one they had prior arrangement with to treat el-Zakzaky.
Following his initial protest, the Shiite leader was granted access to his doctors of choice who had begun the process of restoring him and his wife to good health.
But in a chat with THISDAY, the spokesman of the group, Musa, said el-Zakzaky was still insistent that he either had an alternative arrangement or he returns to Nigeria.
Musa said the Indian minister visited to see areas of intervention.
“There was a meeting with the Minister of Minority Groups in India this afternoon; so we are yet to get the details of the meeting. We only saw pictures where they shook hands,” he said, adding: “The minister of minority groups is also a Shia Muslim. He came as a representatives of the Indian government.”
On federal government’s position in a statement it issued on Wednesday night regarding el-Zakzaky’s demands, he said government was economical with the truth.
“It was just a blatant lie presented by the permanent secretary, ministry of information. The sheik also reacted to that via video message,” he said.
In another video message released by el-Zakzaky yesterday, he said he was ready to return to Nigeria as the Indian hospital was not willing to allow them access to doctors they have trust in.
He said: “This is why we conclude that we cannot get the cooperation we expected from the hospital. We no longer have any trust in the hospital; so, a diplomatic staff from the Nigerian High Commission came here and we held talks for hours.
“It was during the discussion that I told him about what we need and that if we could not get a better place we had better return home. Moreover, we are aware that the Indian government sent an ultimatum that we have two hours to decide whether to accept treatment from the hospital or we leave the country but I told them that two hours ultimatum was too long.
He maintained: “I could decide in less than two minutes to leave the country now since the last discussion it is more than 24 hours and they are yet to show up and ask us to leave the country but the truth is so long as they will not treat us at a hospital we trust. We had better go to another country. It is possible to go to another country and be treated by doctors we have trust in.”
My Father Could Die of Lead Poisoning, Says Daughter
Meanwhile, Ms. Suhaila Zakzaky, a daughter of the cleric, Thursday expressed worries over the deteriorating health of her father, pointing out that unless urgent medical treatment was given to her father, he could die of lead poisoning.
Suhaila, in an interview with the BBC, said the poisoning might be from shrapnel when her father was shot in 2015.
“I am really worried…especially because of the lead and cadmium poisoning.
“His doctors say if he gets to a certain level his organs could start failing and that’s really scary because that means he could just die at any moment,” she explained.
El-Zakzaky, who arrived at Medanta Hospital, New Delhi in India on Tuesday, had allegedly expressed reservations over the medical facilities in the hospital.
Allow Him Access to His Doctors, Shehu Sani Tells FG
In a related development, Senator Shehu Sani has called on President Buhari to allow el-Zakzaky access to his personal doctor where ever he is being treated.
Speaking Thursday on Arises News Channel, a sister broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, Sani said it was in the interest of the Nigerian government to allow his doctors treat him, noting that if government insists on using its own recommended doctors, there may be uprising should his health deteriorates.
He said: “My advice to the government and security agencies is that they should only keep tab on him during the course of his treatment, because it is a matter of life and death. If medical personnel from the government continue to oversee him, it should be ready to take blame for whatever happens.
“For a man who has lost five children and a lot of followers between 2015 and now, I do not think he has any reason to run away. Where will he run to? All he is seeking is the independence to choose who treats him, and I do not see that as wrong,” he added.
On the detention of the Presidential Candidate of African Alliance Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore by the federal government, he described him as a former friend of President Muhammadu Buhari, who used his platform to oust the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and bad governance.
“How can such a person who stood for justice be imprisoned because he is against the ills in the land? By detaining Sowore, President Buhari is only incubating him. What the government would have done was to organise a superior protest.”