By Sageer Kabeer
Nigerian government is spending N3.5 million every month to feed the incarcerated leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed has claimed in a viral video.
This means that the government is spending N115,000 daily to feed cleric, whose followers are being killed by the Nigerian security forces during their constant protests calling for his release.
The minister’s claim has drawn criticisms and jibes against the government by Nigerians, particularly as the Shiite leader is being held illegally and in flagrant violation of a federal court verdict that ordered his unconditional release two years ago.
The spokesperson of IMN, Ibrahim Musa, told GovernanceNews on Thursday that the claim is “another terrible and childish lie from the government.”
He said the cleric who was denied bail despite his failing health condition by a Kaduna court on Wednesday, is “paying his bills even in DSS detention.”
He said the movement will release a statement later in the day on the issue.
This claim is coming at a time when the federal government and 95 percent of the state governors are saying they can’t afford to pay N30,000 minimum wage.
Sheikh Zakzaky has been detained since December 2015 after soldiers clamped down on his supporters killing at least 347 of them.
The massacre has been condemned by local and international rights groups and is currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
No single military personnel are being tried or has been prosecuted for the killings as recommended by the judicial panel set up by Kaduna state government.
Instead, Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenatuddeen, have been detained by the government since the December 2015 incident.
The Nigerian government also ignored a court ruling that ordered that he be released and paid compensation alongside his detained wife.
Lai Mohammed’s statement on Sheikh Zakzaky is said to have been made on Wednesday, same day the Kaduna court denied the Shiite cleric bail.
A video of Mohammed making the claim while addressing some journalists has gone viral.
Premium Times newspaper confirmed that the minister did make the claim but had told journalists he was speaking off the record.
Despite that, the video still made its way to the public, drawing sharp criticisms of the minister.
“The issue of whether, where he (Sheikh Zakzaky) is, at least let’s keep it off record, that he is in a residence and you know eating at the…
“It costs the government about N3.5 million every month to feed him,” Lai Mohammed said.
The information minister was at that point interjected by the transport minister, Rotimi Amaechi, who jokingly mocked the figures saying “then you people need to take me in o.”
Mohammed, then defended the figure he announced, saying “Honestly, don’t quote me, but these are the facts.”
Amaechi joked further that he “can take N500,000” monthly to be held in prison by the government.
Mohammed then briefly explained that he “asked” from relevant people to arrive at his information.
“So please. We don’t want to inflame passion. The issue is a very sensitive matter. But that is the situation. The Islamic Movement of Nigeria are a different kettle of fish,” he said.
Many Nigerians have also dismissed the minister’s claims as blatant lies.