Nigerian Shia Leader Zakzaky Alleges U.S. Involvement in Treatment in India

Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria

Washington, DC — On August 13, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky arrived in India to receive medical treatment. Three days later, he returned to Nigeria having refused medical treatment. Upon his return, he was placed under arrest. He found his treatment in New Delhi to be unsatisfactory and objected to the tight security arrangements that had been put in place. He and some of his followers are claiming that the United States was behind his perceived poor treatment in India.

Sheikh Ibrahim el-Zakzaky is a charismatic Shia preacher and founder of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN). He has been in government custody since 2015, though he has yet to face a trial. He is accused of inciting an attack on a military convoy; the incident led to the death of over three hundred IMN members, and to his and his wife's arrest. Periodic IMN protests over his detention have sometimes led to deadly clashes with security services.

Not only is there no credible evidence of any American involvement in Zakzaky's travel to India for medical treatment and his subsequent return, it is hard to think of anything less probable. The United States has no interests at stake in the nature of Zakzaky's treatment. However, the notion that the United States has somehow manipulated the situation so that Zakzaky has not received the medical treatment he needs and deserves has become an urban legend in some Nigerian circles.

Where the story of American involvement came from is not known. However, Iran is a credible hypothesis. Iran has long supported Zakzaky, and has provided him with funds. Given the poor bilateral relationship between Iran and the Trump administration, it is easy to imagine that some Iranian elements looked to exploit Zakzaky's medical treatment (or the lack thereof) to score points against the United States.

Why have some elements in Nigeria bought in to the story of alleged American interference? Conspiracy theories about almost everything are common in Nigeria. So, too, is the sense that the United States is so powerful that it could certainly manipulate Zakzaky's medical treatment in a third country with which Washington has good relations. Some Nigerians also have an exaggerated view of the importance of Nigerian developments in American official circles. Apparently, Zakzaky himself believes there was American involvement. This is not particularly surprising. He is hostile to the West, to secularism, and, at times to any Washington administration. He also knows that the bilateral relationship between the Trump and Buhari administrations is good. Hence alleged American involvement in his New Delhi adventures is convenient.

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