This is what we should learn from Zakzaky’s delayed medical treatment

Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky has returned to Abuja to recuperate, after being flown to France for treatment by the Federal Government two weeks ago, following the gunshot injuries that he sustained during the violent encounter between some members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and those of the Nigerian Army in December last year. Reports claim that the Shiite leader may have also sustained an injury to his eye in the altercation which left several of his supporters dead, with others still hospitalised.

According to security sources who leaked the story to the press, the Federal Government did so in a bid to avoid a repetition of the incidence which saw Boko Haram leader, Mohamed Yusuf, die while in detention in 2009. Analysts posit that his unjust death remains one of the major driving forces behind the activities of the group till date. Thus, the Federal Government reportedly heeded the advice of notable Nigerians, such as former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Sa’ad Abubakar (Sultan of Sokoto) to ensure that security issues in the country do not degenerate.

Last week, Access to Justice, a Nigerian-based human rights group, condemned the Nigerian Army’s unjust and unconstitutional detention of Zakzaky, as well as other members of the Shiite sect caught up in the conflict. According to them, the IMN members are being detained without charge and proper trial before a court of law, in a blatant display of abuse of their rights by the Nigerian Army. The group equally called for the Buhari-led government to address the ongoing issues surrounding oppression and abuse.

Former Minister of Culture and Tourism, Femi Fani-Kayode, warned the president on January 4 about all hell breaking loose if he refuses to release Zakzaky, as well as Sambo Dasuki and Nnamdi Kanu, two other unlawfully detained prisoners.

Did the Nigerian government need the intervention of notable Nigerians to recognise basic prisoners’ human rights?

Whilst this move by the Federal Government is receiving due attention, it highlights the problematic climate that current and potential prisoners in Nigeria are constantly exposed to. Members of the IMN are convinced that the decision to fly Zakzaky out for treatment was purely borne out of the advice and warnings that the president received on the matter, rather than out of sympathy or compassion.

However, neither of the latter reasons should necessarily constitute the platform on which prisoners’ basic rights are respected. Under the United Nations Human Rights Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, “all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms”, where certain necessitated limitations are not enforced.

Based on this, prisoners are to be granted access to medical services regardless of their legal situation. As far as imprisonment in Africa, governments on the continent have generally received global attention for the maltreatment of their prisoners. According to Prisons in Africa: An evaluation from a human rights perspective by Jeremy Sarkin, although “pretrial detention” is not entirely a violation of human rights, the lack of proper conduction and observance of its parameters is a cause for concern on the continent.

Zakzaky was shot four times last year when the military apprehended him at his residence in Zaria, after he was accused of authorising members of his movement to assassinate Nigerian Army Chief of Staff, Tukur Buratai.

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