The leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, was scheduled to appear before the court yesterday for a hearing of an appeal to let him travel to India for medical treatment. El-Zakzaky founded a human rights organization called the Islamic Movement of Nigeria while he was a university student. In the recent past, the IMN has been quite actively advocating against the ill-treatment of the Nigerian people and human rights violations committed by the military government. He has a lot of influence among the Muslims of the entire reigon, his followers in Nigeria alone numbering over twenty thousand. For the past three years, the Nigerian authorities have kept him in detention at an unidentified location that was ruled ‘illegal and unconstitutional’ by the Federal High Court in 2016. He was arrested following a deadly military invasion at his place in Kaduna.
Earlier this month, protests had erupted in many countries as a result of a medical report published by a team of doctors led by the Islamic Human Rights Commission that found high toxicity levels within Sheikh Zakzaky’s body.
The court proceedings started at around 9 A.M., where Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky was represented by Advocate Femi Falana San. The session began with the plaintiff expressing the urgency of the matter, citing specifically the Sheikh’s health. The government defendant complained of the late submission of the ‘bulky’ medical report and asked for more time, to which the judge rejected, saying that the defendants’ claim of the report being bulky was untrue. After a round of insisting from both sides and despite the plaintiffs describing the poor state of the Sheikh’s health, the court was adjourned for eleven days. The next hearing is now scheduled for the 29th of July.
This delay in judgement came at a time when Sheikh Zakzaky is in a very critical condition and hence needs urgent medical attention, as illustrated by the remarks of the doctors that examined him a few months ago.
In an interview published by Zainabia Channel, Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Taufeeq Panjwani, one of the members of the medical board that was sent to examine the Sheikh, had reported that, “We recommended the Nigerian government to allow the Sheikh to leave Nigeria for medical treatment as the level of lead toxicity in the Sheikh’s body is very high.”
The Nigerian authorities may allow the Sheikh to travel abroad at a later time, but the simple act of delaying the procedure might invent numerous complexities in the Sheikh’s case. As per the report by the IHRC medical team, one of the Sheikh’s eyes is completely damaged, while the other one only has 20% vision left. This is likely a result of the tragedy that occurred when his residence was invaded by the Nigerian army back in 2015, resulting in the deaths of three of his sons and serious injuries to both of the Sheikh’s eyes.
As per a recent analysis, there are possibilities of government influence in the postponing and delaying of his case in hopes of minimizing international pressure. Amnesty International Nigeria’s Interim Director Makmid Kamara made a statement in 2017 hinting such influence. An AI article quotes him as saying that, “El-Zakzaky is being unlawfully detained. This might be a part of a wider effort to cover up the gruesome crimes committed by members of the security forces in Zaria in December 2015 that left hundreds dead.”
The Chairman of the Free Zakzaky Campaign Committee, Mr. Abdurrahman Abubakar Yola, issued a press statement to thank the international activists and allies supporting the Sheikh’s cause and stated that, “when it mattered the most, the court ducked and failed to stand for truth and justice against tyranny and impunity.” He further added that “the applicants are known to be very ill in detention, consequent on the brutal wounds inflicted on them by the state agents in the name of the Nigerian army, the resultant prolonged dehumanizing detention in the custody of the Department of State Services and the obvious poisoning of the Sheikh… He has now found to have more than twenty times the toxic levels of lead poison in his body!”
“Even today, both were unable to walk to the courtroom and had to wait outside while the case went on. In spite of all these, the court has once again allowed the government to kill these innocent people by instalments via unnecessary delays,” said Yola.
Despite its importance, the delay of the case with El-Zakzaky’s deteriorating health might not be the only pressing issue regarding him at the moment. There is a chance that an ultimate ruling by the court allowing him to leave the country for treatment may not be implemented at all.
The fact that a 2016 ruling by the Federal High Court in Abuja that ordered the release of the Sheikh and his wife within 45 days was comfortably disregarded by the Nigerian government leaves little hope for a future verdict allowing his international travel for medical purposes to be put into effect.
Photo via Plane Tone Place