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16.08.2019 Nigeria

Nigerian cleric leaves India after medical care row: supporters

Nigerian Shiite cleric Ibrahim Zakzaky had been in custody in Nigeria since his arrest in December 2015.  By - (afp/AFP/File)
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Nigerian Shiite cleric Ibrahim Zakzaky had been in custody in Nigeria since his arrest in December 2015. By - (afp/AFP/File)

A Nigerian Shiite leader -- granted permission to travel to India for medical care after years in detention -- was flying back to Nigeria Friday following a row over his treatment, supporters and family said.

Ibrahim Zakzaky, founder of the pro-Iranian Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), and his wife Zeenah Ibrahim jetted out of New Delhi on Ethiopian Airlines, supporters said.

"They did fly with Ethiopian Airlines," daughter Suhailah Zakzaky told AFP.

Zakzaky had been in custody in Nigeria along with his wife since December 2015 after violence in which the army killed some 350 of his followers, who were then buried in mass graves.

The couple flew to India on Monday after a court gave them permission to travel abroad for medical treatment under Nigerian government supervision following a spate of bloody protests by IMN supporters.

But the care was held up by a row over the conditions for the treatment.

The IMN complained that Zakzaky had been denied access to his preferred doctors and was kept under close guard.

On Thursday Zakzaky said they were told to leave India.

Fears about the health of the cleric, in his mid-sixties, had fuelled near daily protests by his followers in Nigeria's capital Abuja that descended into bloodshed after a crackdown by security forces.

His lawyers say he has lost his sight in one eye, is on the verge of going blind in the other and still has bullet fragments lodged in his body from the clashes in 2015.

The cleric and his group, which emerged from a student movement in the 1970s, have been at loggerheads with the authorities for years because of calls for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution in Nigeria.

Shiites make up a small minority in predominantly Sunni Muslim northern Nigeria.

Estimates put their numbers at around four million in a national population of about 190 million.