The Nigerian Army has formally dismissed a Reuters report of alleged mass abortion carried out by the military on victims of Boko Haram terrorism in the North-east.
The Chief of Army Staff, Farouk Yahaya, issued the denial Saturday in Abuja while testifying before a panel set up by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate the matter.
The panel is officially known as Special Independent Investigative Panel on Human Rights Violations in the Implementation of Counter Insurgency Operations in the North East (SIIP-North East).
Mr Yahaya, a lieutenant-general, said the military has a key goal of combating insurgents and restoring peace in the troubled region. It, therefore, could not have embarked on the secret abortion programme alleged in the Reuters report.
He denied the Reuters’ report of the abortion of 10,000 pregnancies, the massacre of children and other allegations of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against the army.
He challenged the international media outlet to substantiate the claims.
Though the Nigerian military authorities had issued a statement to deny the story, Saturday was the first time Mr Yahaya would publicly react to the issue.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported that Reuters in an investigative report published in December 2022 alleged that the Nigerian military operated a secret programme, terminating at least 10,000 pregnancies of women who were freed from Boko Haram terrorists in the troubled region.
It reported that the Nigerian military since 2013 carried out “a secret, systematic and illegal abortion program in the country’s northeast, ending at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls” who were kidnapped and raped by Islamist militants.
The report triggered global outrage with the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, calling on the Nigerian government to begin a thorough investigation and “immediate remedial actions and accountability measures.”
Heeding the call, the NHRC on 7 February, set up an investigative panel to probe the allegations.
Specifically, the panel is mandated to investigate the allegations of forced mass abortion on pregnant women by the troops of the Nigerian military, as revealed in the investigation by Reuters last December.
The investigative panel is being chaired by a retired justice of the Supreme Court, Abdu Aboki.
In his testimony on Saturday at the NHRC headquarters in Abuja, the Chief of Army Staff described the Reuters report as a fictional “novel”.
Mr Yahaya accused Reuters of acting a script to diminish the military’s “successes” in combating the insurgency that has led to thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions of people.
“We are succeeding and not many are happy that we are succeeding, they cannot reverse our successes therefore they rubbish it. Sometimes, they are playing other people’s scripts. We are not Boko Haram terrorists, we are trained to be professionals and the training is continuous,” the army chief added.
He said the army operated under the rule of law as its activities were being monitored by the NHRC and the public.
Speaking further, he said, “Maybe they don’t know we are operating under the government. The National Human Rights Commission follows what is being done in the military and what we are doing is internal operation; we are operating in our country. The army is Nigerian Army and we are not like Boko Haram that does not operate under code of conduct.”
“In addition, caution is planted in our head that the people you are fighting are Nigerians and there is no policy like that, rather the policy we have is respect for human beings…the allegation is just ‘grammar’; our business is to defeat the insurgents,” Mr Yahaya stated.
Testifying further before the seven-member panel, the military chief said it was expected of Reuters to support the efforts to fight and defeat Boko Haram instead of adopting this “textbook solution” that does not reflect the reality of the situation in the North-east.
Asked by the panel’s secretary, Hilary Ogbonna, to explain Reuters’ report that soldiers massacred many children perceived to have been fathered by Boko Haram, Mr Yahaya retorted, “This is laughable because even if there is stigma attached to such children, is it the army that will stop the stigma?”
This newspaper reported that in February, the investigative panel began sitting in Maiduguri, Borno State, the epicentre of the Insurgency in North-east Nigeria.
The panel, upon arriving in Maiduguri, had its first sitting at the medical facility complex of the Maimalari Cantonment, where Reuters reported that most of the abortions were carried out.
The panel engaged the commanding officer of the military hospital, Adeniyi Ogunsakin, a lieutenant colonel.
Mr Ogunsakin, who heads all military medical facilities under the 7 Division Nigeria army, was quoted to have denied the Reuters report.
Mr Ogunsakin had said the allegations of mass abortions “are mere claims that can be made by anybody which has no foundation or proof to back it up.”
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