The Federal Government claims it spends N3.5m monthly to feed the detained leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, made the claim in a video that went viral on the internet on Thursday.
If the claim is correct, the government may have spent over N120m to feed the Islamic cleric since he was arrested and detained in December 2015 after his followers were engaged in a bloody clash with the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, in Zaria, Kaduna State.
Mohammed, who was apparently addressing reporters, was heard saying in the video that he was giving the journalists the information on an off-the-record basis to serve as a background to their reports.
Our correspondent reported that the video, which he watched on YouTube, had the watermark of an online television station, OakTV, and was uploaded on Wednesday.
The video has “Finally, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, opens up on El-Zakzaky, Shiites” as its title.
Mohammed, in the video, said it was wrong to liken what was happening to el-Zakzaky, whose followers have been engaging security agents in confrontation since his incarceration, to what happened to the late leader of Boko Haram, Yusuf.
He said the IMN leader was undergoing criminal prosecution in Kaduna State and the court had denied him bail.
The minister explained that instead of detaining him in a prison, the Federal Government decided to hold el-Zakzaky in a building belonging to the Department of State Services.
He said the Islamic cleric ate whatever he liked in detention.
“It costs the government about N3.5m every month to feed him,” the minister declared.
When he noticed that reporters murmured, Mohammed explained to them that he got the figure from the relevant government agencies upon enquiry.
At that point, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who was apparently briefing journalists alongside Mohammed, jokingly told him (Mohammed) that he (Amaechi) too was willing to be taken into custody.
Justifying why he volunteered the information on an off-the-record basis, the minister described the issue involving the IMN as a “sensitive” one.
“So, please, we don’t want to inflame passion. The issue is a very sensitive matter. But that is the situation,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, the television station has apologised to the minister for making the video public despite the off-the-record agreement he had with the journalists.
In an apology letter addressed to the minister and dated November 8, the management of the TV station said the video was released in error.
It claimed that all those involved in the error have been sanctioned.
The letter reads, “On Wednesday, November 7, 2018, OakTV made some error (sic) in its reporting regarding a conversation with the Minister of Information.
“This is an error which we regret. All team members involved have been sanctioned, and we would do more to tighten our gate-keeping responsibilities.
“We apologise and regret any embarrassment this might have caused the minister.
“Please, be assured of our highest esteem and regards.”
El-Zakzaky was initially held for about two years alongside his wife, Zinat, without trial.
After much public outcry, he was charged before a Kaduna court for alleged conspiracy and abating culpable homicide.