Nigeria: Uncertainty Hangs Over Shiite Leader's Medical Trip to India

Ibrahim El-Zakzaky (file photo).

A precarious calm prevails in Nigeria as members of the banned Shi'ite Islamic Movement await the execution of a court order granting Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky permission to undergo medical treatment in India.

Justice Dairus Khobo of the Kaduna State High Court had on Monday granted an application by the couple for permission to seek "urgent medical treatment at Medanta Hospital, New Delhi, India and to return to Nigeria (for continuation of trial) as soon as they are discharged from the hospital."

"We have received the High Court order and are liaising with the relevant stakeholders to ensure compliance", said Peter Afunanya, spokesperson for Nigeria's Department of State Security, (DSS), which is holding the Shi'ite Movement's spiritual leader since his arrest in 2015.

"Everyone on board is working on what should be done from their own side so that we can achieve the set objectives", Afunanya stated in an interview to RFI.

Premium Times, Punch, The Nation and the Nigerian Tribune all report that the DSS isn't taking any chances amid wild speculation about Iran's interest Cheikh El-Zakzaky's health condition and legal status as well as the ban slapped on Nigeria's main Shi'ite movement.

Iranian interest?

This Day quotes another source at Nigerian intelligence agency as saying that they didn't want to run the risk of Iranian agents snatching El Zakzaky and his wife. "We are working out water tight security arrangement with the Indian government", the agent noted.

"What the NSS is trying to explain to the public is that it will cooperate in all ways possible to ensure that the Sheikh can leave", explains Ibrahim Musa, president of the IMN's media forum.

"Our lawyers have confirmed that visa applications and paper work is still going on and hopefully this week, the Sheikh will travel, the Shi'ite movement's spokesperson said.

Hopeful Shi'ites

Ibrahim Musa expresses the satisfaction of the proscribed IMN's members with the Kaduna High Court ruling, pointing out that it sparked scenes of jubilation in many parts of the country, especially in northern Nigeria.

Musa also dismisses claims circulated in some circles that Iran agents will be waiting in New Delhi to lift El-Zakzaky into a safe exile in the Shi'ite stronghold.

"He will be travelling under the auspices of the DSS, so there is no issue of him being snatched", he state in a move to reassure suspicious Nigerian minds.

According to the IMN spokesman "Sheikh Zakzaky has never avoided any court case in the past 40 years and he is not ready to do that now".

"What they are after is for him to regain his health so that he can stand the proper trial", states the Kaduna-based President of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria's Media Forum.

Court battle not over

Meanwhile, Wednesday's Punch dampened the hopes of Nigerian Shi'ites, with news that the Kaduna State Government had announced its intention to appeal the ruling by its very own High Court.

The publication names Kano State's Director of Public Prosecutions, Dari Bayero as the source of the news.

El-Zakzaky's lawyer, Femi Falana denied any knowledge of the plans by the Kaduna State government insisting that the High Court's ruling permitting his clients to embark on the foreign medical trip was "clear and unambiguous".

"The court's verdict was essentially meant to save the lives of the applicants", Falana argued.

El-Zakzaky who was not in court during Monday's hearing, stated in the application that he and his wife were battling ailments that could not be treated in Nigeria, according to Punch.

Damning medical report

The Shi'ite spiritual leader's lawyers reportedly told the court that he "suffers from severe recurrent stroke and shock," with his only remaining eye almost going blind.

"The couple suffer from heavy metal poisoning" as a result of "gunshot pellets lodged in the iliac region of the abdomen", read a medical report jointly carried out on the cleric and his wife by their personal physicians and government's doctors.

Barrister Femi Falana had alleged in his case file that Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife were shot at by soldiers in the aftermath of the bloody clash between Shi'ites and the soldiers in the convoy of Nigeria's Army Chief, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, in Zaria, Kaduna State in December 2015.

The Kaduna State Government, opposed the application allegedly insisting that the El-Zakzaky couple's ailments could be handled in Nigeria, according to the Nigerian press.

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