SHIITE Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) officials have raised fears that the Nigerian government could kill their leader Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky in detention as the tension between the US and Iran starts to mount.
Since December 2015, Sheikh El-Zakzaky has been in detention after being arrested following a clash between his supporters and the Nigerian Army. While in detention, his health has deteriorated, with the sheikh said to have lost one eye and he is also reported to have suffered several mild strokes, leading to calls for his release.
Last year, he was allowed to go to India for medical treatment but after a few days returned as growing disagreements between the IMN and the accompanying Nigerian security meant prevented any operation from going ahead. Iran, the world’s largest Shiite nation has been one of Sheikh El-Zakzaky’s biggest backers and have led the campaign calling for his release.
Over the last few days, Iran and the US have been involved in a war of words following Washington’s decision to assassinate General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. General Soleimani was killed in an air strike on the Baghdad International Airport and Iran has promised to avenge his death.
Over the weekend, Mallam Mustafa Gadonkaya, the national president of the Association of Shiite Singers, said the Nigerian government wants Sheikh El-Zakzaky to die in detention. He made the allegation over the weekend during the lunching of 100 songs in solidarity with the detained sheikh composed by the association in Bauchi.
Mallam Gadonkaya said: “It is known by everyone that our leader sued the federal government over human rights violation and a federal high court in Abuja ordered his release, reconstruction of his demolished residence and the payment of compensation but the government has disregarded the courts and refused to obey several court orders. What kind of injustice is this?
“At the moment, everyone knows that he is very ill as a result of the gunshots he sustained but these people still keep him in detention despite his ill health. If anything happens to him, this government will be held responsible.
“Worse still, the federal government accepted the request of the Kaduna State government to hand him over for prosecution over some baseless accusations. Their motive is to continue to hold him until he dies in detention.”
If there is all-out war between the US and Iran, Nigeria could be caught up in the middle of it, as local Muslims may resort to attacking US interests. Already, the US has issued a travel warning, asking its citizens to avoid going to Nigeria if they can and police nationwide have been put on alert.
Sheikh El-Zakzaky’s matter will add another dimension to the crisis as if he dies, the Iranians will portray it as Nigeria doing America’s bidding. Nigerian Shiites are likely to take their leader’s death as an act of war.