Davidson Iriekpen, Ejiofor Alike in Lagos, Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja and John Shiklam in Kaduna
After initial hiccups, the leader of Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibraheem el- Zakzaky, wednesday started receiving treatment at Medanta Hospital, New Delhi, India, where he was flown to on Monday along with his wife, Zeenah.
Earlier yesterday, he had in a widely circulated audio message confirmed by the spokesman of IMN, Mr. Ibrahim Musa, complained that he had been denied access to his doctors, stating that rather than submitting himself to be treated by government nominated physicians, he would prefer to return home.
He also complained about the tight security situation in the hospital, contending that the facility was worse than the detention centre he was kept in Nigeria.
But Musa confirmed later yesterday that after el-Zakzaky’s initial protest, he was given access to doctors of his choice and that the cleric had begun some medical procedures to restore him to good health.
“All the issues have been resolved,” he told THISDAY in text message.
He explained that the cleric and his wife’s medical trip was sponsored by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, and that the body had intervened in the dispute.
The commission had in its website wednesday issued an update confirming that both el-Zakzaky and Zeenah had been given access to their doctors.
“Sheik el-Zakzaky and Mallimah Zeenah have been given access to their medical team,” it wrote, adding, however, that: “They are still restricted to the hospital premises, but there are negotiations going on to resolve this situation.”
A Kaduna State High Court, in a ruling last week, had granted el-Zakzaky and Zeenah leave to travel to India for the medical treatment.
The two have been in detention since December 2015, following a clash between IMN members and the Nigerian Army in Zaria.
The Kaduna State Government is prosecuting them for alleged culpable homicide, disturbance of public peace, among others.
But el-Zakzaky had in the audio message said they were in the Indian hospital but would prefer to go to another hospital in Malaysia, Indonesia or Turkey, as the Indian hospital is another detention facility, particularly because they were not given access to their preferred doctors.
He gave insights into their health challenges: “She, Malama Zeenah, has a full bullet lodged in her body (that needs to be removed). Also she is in need of a knee replacement surgery in addition to other problems. “As for me, there are shrapnel, very small fragments in my eyes, in my hands and some in my right thigh that were slowly releasing toxins into my system, which caused a lot of complications, which we later discovered that they were the cause of the mini strokes I have had, both the first and the second time.
“So, we were thinking the first thing to be done is to remove the shrapnel, which is a procedure that couldn’t be done at home and the doctors suggested that we should go abroad where it will be possible for the procedure to be done.
“Then the second thing would be to clean my body of the toxins, which I was told are deposited in the bones and some in the flesh and this normally takes time to be done.
“I also have a problem with my eye which the doctors that attended to us since after I had a second operation and my sight weakened, suggested that I should be taken to better facilities to have it tended to.
“After all this we were all happy that we are in Delhi and we would be going to a suitable hospital to receive appropriate treatment. In addition the doctors that came to visit us when we were in Nigeria advised us to come to this hospital called Medanta. That is why we requested to be brought to this hospital.”
The cleric said he was uncomfortable with the tight security around him in the hospital, adding that the situation was more restrictive than Nigeria.
“I have been detained now for a collective total of about 13 years but I have never seen a detention like the one I am in now,” he lamented, adding: “Even at the doors, they have placed armed police. Even between one room to the next, we are not allowed to move.
Then I see that even where we were, and of all the times I have been imprisoned in Nigeria, I have not seen anything like this.”
He narrated his situation further: “I see here that even when I was in Kirikiri Prison; it wasn’t as constricting as in this situation. So, I feel that it is not reasonable to leave detention in order to seek medical help and we be placed in a different detention and on top of that we be handed over to be treated by people we do not trust.”
The Department of State Services (DSS) was yet to react as at the time of filing this report as the service placed THISDAY on hold, saying it would respond to its enquiries later.
IMN Accuses FG, India of Attempts to Scuttle Treatment
IMN had accused the federal government of allegedly conniving with the Indian government to scuttle the treatment of el-Zakzaky wednesday.
Spokesman of the IMN, Musa, stated this while confirming the authenticity of the audio message in which the IMN leader was heard complaining about their ill-treatment in India.
According to the IMN spokesman, “The federal government has connived with the Indian Government to scuttle the treatment. They brought a new set of doctors instead of the ones the sheikh made prior arrangements with.
“So the sheikh became suspicious and refused and protested. He said he would not allow strange doctors other than the ones he had arranged with to treat him.
“He asked them why they prevented him from seeing the doctors he had earlier made arrangements with. So, he said he would not allow them to treat him.”
When asked if el-Zakzaky would return to Nigeria following the disagreement, Musa said: “Most likely, but we are trying to see how we can sort out the problem”.
In a separate statement issued by IMN in Abuja yesterday, Musa had also alleged that the security officials were conniving with foreign agents and the United States Government to deny el-Zakzaky treatment.
“Reports reaching us from the hospital indicate that the security agents are colluding with foreign security agents believed to be working for the American Government,” he stated.
The sect called on the international community to intervene in order to allow them access to treatment.
Indian Muslim Group Offers to Pay Hospital Bills
Amid the controversy, an Indian Muslim Shia group, Anjuman-e-Haideri, has offered to pay the medical bills of el-Zakzaky.
The group’s General Secretary, Mr. Bahadur Naqvi, told the BBC that his group had written to the Medanta Hospital, offering to pay the bills.
“We have his medical report and it will take at least six months to treat, but doctors are saying it may take one to two years because of lead poisons in his blood,” Naqvi said.
He said the group had estimated a cost of $500,000 (£414,000) based on the report given by the hospital.
Naqvi did not say if the hospital in Gurgaon had accepted the offer.
Anjuman-e-Haideri is not the only group offering the medical bills.
Spokesman of IMN, Musa told THISDAY wednesday that the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) organised the medical trip to India.
He later confirmed wednesday that the controversy over el-akzaky’s doctors and other issues he raised in the audio recording that went viral had been resolved “for now”.
Asked whether el-Zakzaky’s doctors are staff of the Medanta Hospital, he said he was not in a position to confirm whether they work in the hospital.
According to him, the doctors were among the team that came to examine the Islamic leader in April and recommended Medanta Hospital, New Delhi, India
“I don’t know of that, but they were among the ones that came here in April and examine him and recommended that Medanta Hospital.
“The sheikh (el-Zakzaky) was complaining that he was denied access to them. But it has been resolved now. All the issues have been resolved for now,” Musa said.
The Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr. Samuel Aruwan, who also doubles as spokesman of Governor Nasir el-Rufai, did not respond to several telephone calls and text messages sent to his phone.
But a senior official of the state Ministry of Justice, who pleaded anonymity, said: “The court order was specific and el-Zakzaky has every right to insist on his doctors, who I believe are working in that hospital.”
He added that the tight security around him is normal because he is in a foreign land and every security measure should be taken for his safety.
“He should not complain about tight security because the court ordered that the government must supervise the trip,” he added.