By Owei Lakemfa
Indian films from Bollywood were the mainstay of the movie industry in Nigeria, far outstripping the American Hollywood. That was long before the Nigeria Nollywood made its entrance. Those were the days of famous Indian actors like Dharmendra, Prem Chopra, Feroz Khan, Hema Malini, Helen, Shashi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna, who produced mega hits like ‘Sholay’, ‘Love in Tokyo’ and ‘Jugnu’.
Nigeria was perhaps Bollywood’s largest international market, but I do not recall Nigerians playing roles in Indian films until last week, when the Nigerian government and its most famous detainee, Sheikh Ibraheem EL-Zakzaky decided to enact a real-life drama in India.
The Buhari administration and El- Zakzaky have, for four years now, staged tragic live performances in various cities, including Zaria, Kaduna and Abuja, in which about four hundred Nigerians have been killed.
The drama in India would have been avoided if the government had obeyed at least three court orders, excluding that of the ECOWAS Court which had ruled over the past three years, that El-Zakzaky be freed. Far back 2016, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, had ordered the Federal Government to free the cleric and his wife, Zeenat and pay them N50 million. Rather than obey the courts, government decided to play politics, leading to endless drama productions, including the latest play on the international stage, with India, as location.
The prism from which I view the various films is that government is a judgement-debtor, who is writing scripts and acting in them, to present El-Zakzaky and his Shiite followers as stubborn terrorists who need to be perpetually locked up or proscribed. On the other hand, El-Zakzaky is a judgement-creditor, who should have been set free years ago, rather than the comedy of taking him through courts of same jurisdiction, as if they are appellate courts.
India was chosen as the setting of new movie for medical purposes. The cleric explains: “There is a bullet in Zeenat’s body and there is also the need for her to get her two knee-caps replaced, among other ailments. On my own part, there are also particles of bullets that were broken into pieces in my eyes, hands and thighs which have been poisonous to my body.” The government agreed both need specialised medical treatment, which India offered.
On a personal level, I feel pained that Nigerians would need to go to India for medical treatment when in the 1960s and 1970s, our medical system was far ahead. In fact, the Nigerian education system was regarded as being so superior that degrees from India were officially classified as equivalent to our Advanced Level (A-Level) certificate. Well, that is the level of our degeneracy; back to the disgraceful drama in India.
First, let us examine El-Zakzaky’s claims. He said he and his wife refused treatment because the Indian doctors that examined them in Nigeria were all excluded: “We then told them we won’t allow any other doctor aside our trusted doctors to attend to us so that they don’t do to us what they couldn’t do with their bullets in Nigeria.”
I think a patient having confidence in his doctors is fundamental, especially when he fears what was done to retired General Musa Yar’Adua, in Nigeria, could also be done to him.
Secondly, he complained: “All what we have seen here, have shown us that there is no trust, they just brought us here for another detention…They didn’t even allow me to go to the next room. I started asking myself, all this while I’ve been in detention I’ve never seen this type. Even if I’m in the cell, they usually lock us up around 9 pm and open the cell around 7 am and they allow us to go anywhere we want, in the area we are.” If these claims were true, then he had every right to protest, more so when previous courts in Nigeria, had freed him.
The psychological state of a 66-year old man with pellets lodged in him for years, who has now lost an eye in detention, lost six sons to the bullets of the Nigerian state; a man, whose home and centre of worship have been destroyed and the organisation he spent his youth building, has been proscribed, needs to be properly managed.
The Federal Government’s statement, issued by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Culture, Deaconess Grace Isu Gekpe, did not do much justice to us, as a country. The language needed to be civil; it was uncalled for, describing the sheikh as exhibiting “unruly behaviour”.
It was also a shame that the Indian government refuted our government’s claim that: “Frustrated by his antics, the Indian authorities have expressed willingness to return him to Nigeria with immediate effect.” The Indian High Commission in reaction to this claim simply tweeted: “There is no condition or ultimatum by India.”
Government’s substantive claims against El-Zakzaky in the India drama was that first: “He requested that his passport be handed over to him…” What is the issue here? If the cleric wants to escape or seek political asylum, he does not need a passport.
Secondly, that: “In addition, he demanded free movement and access to visitors of all kinds, as well as requested to be allowed to check into a 5-Star hotel, instead of being admitted in the hospital.” How can a man be confined to a room, or ward? Even a caged dog is allowed to stretch its legs or taken for walks. He should have been entitled to visitors, provided they are screened. That he wanted to stay in a 5-Star hotel is his business, so long as he did not ask the government to pay. All that is necessary, is arrangement with the hospital and if the latter can cope. A man with medical conditions, who has been incarcerated for four years, against court orders, can naturally seek some comfort.
Government said this was denied because the “visa was issued on medical grounds and not for tourism”. What logic! So if a tourist wants medical care, he would be denied? Conversely, why can’t a person seeking medical care also enjoy some tourism? That may actually aid his recovery, which should be the ultimate goal. Besides, what the cleric and other Nigerians who go abroad for better medical treatment are engaged in is medical tourism. El-Zakzaky and his wife, in India, were tourists!
Well, the Bollywood film has ended. We are back to Nollywood. New films are likely, unless the government wants to end these unnecessary distractions by engaging in dialogue. If government can engage in negotiations with the terrorist Boko Haram, then it also can with El-Zakzaky and his Islamic Movement of Nigeria who, unlike the former, do not carry arms.