One of the respected Nigerian dailies, The Guardian almost threw the Nation into disarray with a news report that the detained leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, is feared dead in the custody of the Department of State Security (DSS).
El-Zakzaky has been in detention for more than two years without trial, despite a court order directing his release.
The Guardian reported a story titled; “Detained Islamic leader feared dead” on January 12, stated that it had “reliably learnt” that the Islamic cleric had passed away and armed security forces are patrolling the streets of Kaduna with armoured tanks to contain violence.
It further made claims that a paramilitary body in the State has held meeting with its members, urging them to avoid traveling and stay indoors, over fear of retaliation.
The fake news of Zakzaky’s death came after members of the IMN staged a peaceful protest last week in Abuja, demanding the release of its leader, which later resulted in a clash with the security operatives.
On learning about the rumour of his death, the DSS decided to parade the IMN leader in front of journalists to dispel the rumour and ease tensions. Zakzaky came out of the facility with his wife, spoke to Newsmen and sounded satisfied with how he was being treated.
But according to El-Zakkaky’s lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), who spoke a day after, the Security Service deceived Zakzaky to speak to get him to speak favourably to the media, saying that the Federal Government was ready to release him if he does.
He was then allowed to make his first appearance since 2015, in a meeting with journalists that lasted a minute and 20 seconds.
“Instead of acceding to my request the State Security Service misinformed Sheik Elzakzaky and his wife of the readiness of the Federal Government to release them after a media parade to assure the Shia community that the Sheik is alive and well. Hence, they agreed to the media parade which lasted for one minute and 20 seconds (yesterday) in an undisclosed detention custody at Abuja.
“But contrary to the official claim that the Shiite leader is hale and hearty, he is currently wearing a neck collar support which was procured for him when he fell sometime last December.” Falana said.
An official of the DSS, Mr. Nnannann Nnochirii, was more concerned about countering the rumour about his death, than granting his release.
Nnochirri said the cleric was made to appear in public to discard the “dangerous rumour” of his death, which he said was propounded by “mischief makers” who want to cause crisis in the Country.
A Federal High Court in Abuja, in December 2016, ordered the release of El-Zakzaky and his wife, but the Government has refused to obey the order, stating that it was in the detainees’ best interest.
The Court also awarded reparation of N50m and directed the Federal Government to provide temporary accommodation for them.