By Rose Onda
The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) has denied holding the passports of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the leader of a large Shi’ite Muslim group in Nigeria, and his wife, Zeenat.
The denial is contained in Nigeria’s foreign intelligence and counter-intelligence agency’s reply to the couple’s letter demanding their passports for a “critical medical trip”.
The couple said, through their legal team led by Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer, that the agency had held their passports when security operatives, including NIA’s, accompanied them on a medical trip to India, as ordered by a court, in 2019.
In a letter dated August 2, 2021, sent to NIA, Abubakar Marshal, a member of the defence team, asked the agency to return the couple’s passports and other travelling documents now that their trial at the Kaduna State High Court was over.
Judge Gideon Kurada had, in his ruling delivered on July 30, 2021, upheld the couple’s no-case submission and dismissed all eight charges, including culpable homicide, disruption of public peace and unlawful assembly, levelled against them by the Kaduna State government.
“In view of the foregoing, we have the firm instructions of our clients to request for their international passports and any other documents that are still in your possession, ” Mr Abubakar said in the letter addressed to the director-general of the NIA.
He said the couple urgently needed their passports “to enable them to embark on requisite critical medical trip as advised by their medical team”.
But in a terse reply dated August 12, the agency said the passports of the cleric and his wife were not in its possession.
“I am directed to acknowledge receipt of your letter, dated August 2, 2021, on the above subject and to inform that the Agency is not in possession of the international passports or any other documents belonging to Sheikh Ibrahim Yaqub El-Zakzaky and his wife, Malama Zeenah Ibrahim,” the reply signed on behalf of the NIA director-general by an official, I. Giwa, stated.
Mr Abubakar told newsmen that the legal team also wrote the State Security Service (SSS), the domestic intelligence and counter-intelligence counterpart of NIA, but denied having the couple’s passports in its custody too.
The couple were arrested and detained after a bloody clash between members of Mr El-Zakzaky’s Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) and soldiers in the convoy of then Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, in Zaria, Kaduna State, in December 2015.
A soldier was said to have been killed in the violent encounter. In retaliation, the Nigerian Army killed over 300 IMN members, some in their homes, and buried in shallow graves, an inquiry by a Kaduna State government’s panel confirmed.
But the state government went on to charge Mr El-Zakzaky and his wife with charges including culpable homicide, disruption of public peace and unlawful assembly, levelled against them by the Kaduna State government.
While the trial was going on, the defendants’ failing health in detention was brought to the attention of the court by their lawyers.
In a court filing, Mr Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said Mr El-Zakzaky was suffering from heavy metal poisoning and “severe recurrent stroke and shock,” with his only remaining eye almost going blind.
The defence lawyer said the wife, too, was suffering “heavy metal poisoning” as a result of “gunshot pellets lodged in the iliac region of the abdomen”.
Citing medical reports, the defence team said “the heavy metabolic poisoning is two hundred per cent higher than normal in the body system of each of the applicants,” hence the need for the court to permit the couple to seek “urgent medical treatment at Medanta Hospital, New Delhi, India” and to return to for the continuation of their trial.
Judge Darius Khobo of the Kaduna State High Court granted the couple’s application to travel to the Indian hospital for treatment, on August 5, 2019.
He asked that they should be accompanied on the trip by Nigerian security agents.
They departed Nigeria on August 12, but the journey was cut short due to disagreement between them and government officials in India.
They were abruptly brought back to Nigeria to continue with their trial while they continued complaining about deteriorating health conditions in detention.