To debunk his death rumour and douse tension among his followers, the Department of State Service (DSS) on Saturday allowed the detained leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (ISM), Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, to speak to a select group of journalists.

This would be his first public appearance since he was arrested in 2015.

El-Zakzaky and his wife were arrested in December 2015 in Zaria after his followers clashed with the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai. A clampdown by the army reportedly led to the death of scores of his followers who were reportedly given mass burial.

Even though a Federal High Court in Abuja in December 2016 ordered El-Zakzaky and his wife’s release, the court order was not complied with by the government.

His followers, who are also known as Shiites, have staged series of protests in some northern states, including Abuja, calling for his release. The past few days however witnessed a resurgence of their protests in Abuja following reports of his deteriorating state of health and rumours of his death.

At the brief meeting with journalists, El-Zakzaky who wore cervical collar, an indication that he suffered an injury to his neck at a point in time, said though he was a bit relieved, he was severely ill. The Shiite leader, who held a walking stick, also disclosed that the DSS allowed his personal doctors access to him for the first time.

He said: “It was severe on me on Monday, but subsequently, it started subsiding and for the first time at least, the security has allowed me to see my own doctor.

“So it was my own doctors, who examined me. Before, I’m used to being examined by security doctors, but this time, I did not agree. So, it was my own doctors who came to examine, but I’m getting better. Thank you for all your prayers,” El-Zakzaky stated.

A woman who wore a pink hijab, believed to be his wife who is also in detention, walked behind him as he exited the DSS building before he was driven in a vehicle to another facility of the secret service.

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On the rationale behind the decision to grant El-Zakzaky a public appearance and speak to journalists, a DSS official, Nnana Nnochiri, said: “In the last few days, two days to be particular, yesterday importantly, there was unfounded rumour which was spread across Nigeria that the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheik El-Zakzaky, passed on in the custody of the service.

“As you can see in the last few minutes and you also interviewed him and he by himself pointedly told you that he is okay…every doubting Thomas across Nigeria and those, who wanted to capitalise on the said rumour to foment trouble in Nigeria have seen that the man is alive. He’s on his feet, he is hale and hearty. He is up and doing and you saw him with his wife.

“The fact was that some people wanted to take advantage of some developments in some parts of the country to further make trouble and mobilise the people to engage in untoward activities, which can impact negatively on the security, stability and order of the nation.

“The fact is that now that they have seen that the man is alive, now that they have seen that nothing happened to the man, it is our belief that such persons, who ab initio, had planned such things to take advantage of such situations and who have seen that the rumour is unfounded should desist from any plan, every act they must (have) put in place.

“Nigeria must remain very peaceful, Nigeria must remain very stable, Nigerians must trust in the government, and security agencies to provide the environment to enable citizens and everyone and every peace loving person to pursue their legitimate business,” he added.

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