Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, has claimed that the Federal Government spends N3.5 million monthly to feed Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, and his wife, Zinat, in detention.
Mohammed made the claim in a chat with journalists at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Wednesday.
The minister's claim was recorded and the video, which has the watermark of Oak TV, an online television website, has since gone viral on Thursday.
In what he described as an "off-the-record" information, Mohammed explained that he got the figures from the relevant government agencies.
“It costs the government about N3.5m every month to feed him", he said.
The minister also stated that the detained Shiite leader had access to any meal he desires in the Department of State Services, DSS, detention facility, where he is currently being held.
Mohammed said it was wrong for the media to equate El-Zakzaky's travails with that of Mohammed Yusuf, the Boko Haram leader, who was killed extrajudicially, noting that the former is facing a criminal prosecution at a court in Kaduna State.
He noted that the court had denied El-Zakzaky bail and the federal government decided to detain him in a DSS facility rather than a prison or somewhere congested as was the case with the late Yusuf.
Mohammed said he was divulging such important information so that journalists have an understanding of the what he described as the "sensitive matter" being handled by the government.
“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, Oak TV has issued an apology to Mohammed for releasing the video, despite stating the information was off-the-record.
Noting that it is an "error" which they regret, the news medium added that "all team members involved have been sanctioned, and we would do more to tighten our gate-keeping responsibilities."
El-Zakzaky was arrested in 2015 after the IMN went on a procession and blocked the convoy of Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, in Kaduna.
The face-off became violent and led to some deaths recorded.
The Shiite leader, alongside his wife, was initially held for about two years without trial.
After much public outcry, he was charged before a Kaduna court for alleged conspiracy and abating culpable homicide.