The Nigerian military has formally dismissed a Reuters report on alleged mass abortions carried out by the military on victims of Boko Haram terrorism in the northeast.
Army Chief of Staff Farouk Yahaya issued the refusal on 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 the Special Independent Investigation Panel on Human Rights Violations in the Implementation of Counterinsurgency Operations in the Northeast (SIIP-Northeast).
Yahaya, a lieutenant general, said the army has a key objective of fighting insurgents and restoring peace to the troubled region. Therefore, he could not have embarked on the secret abortion program alleged in the Reuters report.
He denied the Reuters report on 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 corroborate the claims.
Although Nigerian military authorities issued a statement denying the story, Saturday was the first time Yahaya had publicly reacted to the issue.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported that Reuters in an investigative report published in December 2022 alleged that the Nigerian military was operating a secret program, terminating at least 10,000 pregnancies in women who were released from Boko Haram terrorists in the conflict-ridden region.
It reported that the Nigerian military since 2013 carried out “a secret, systematic and illegal abortion program in the northeast of the country, terminating at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls” who were kidnapped and raped by Islamist militants.
The report sparked global outrage with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling on the Nigerian government to begin a thorough investigation and “immediate remedial measures and accountability measures.”
Heeding the call, on February 7 the CNDH established an investigative panel to investigate the accusations.
Specifically, the panel is mandated to investigate allegations of forced mass abortions on pregnant women by Nigerian army troops, as a Reuters investigation revealed last December.
The investigative panel is chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge, Abdu Aboki.
In his testimony on Saturday at the NHRC headquarters in Abuja, the Army Chief of Staff described the Reuters report as a fictitious “novel”.
Yahaya accused Reuters of staging a script to diminish the military’s “successes” in fighting the insurgency that has caused thousands of deaths and displaced millions of people.
“We are succeeding and not many are happy that we are succeeding, they can’t reverse our successes so they throw it away. Sometimes, they are interpreting other people’s scripts. We are not Boko Haram terrorists, we are trained to be professionals and the training is continuous,” added the army chief.
He said the army was operating 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 that we are operating under the government. The National Human Rights Commission follows what is being done in the armed forces and what we are doing is an internal operation; we are operating in our country. The army is the Nigerian army and we are not like Boko Haram that does not operate under a code of conduct.”
“Also, the caution is planted in our head that the people you are fighting against are Nigerians and there is no policy like that but the policy we have is respect for human beings… the accusation is just ‘grammar’; our business is to defeat the insurgents,” said Mr. Yahaya.
Testifying further before the seven-member panel, the military chief said Reuters was expected to support efforts to fight and defeat Boko Haram rather than adopt this “textbook solution” that does not reflect the reality of the situation in the northeast. .
Asked by panel secretary Hilary Ogbonna to explain the Reuters report that soldiers massacred many children allegedly fathered by Boko Haram, Yahaya replied: “This is ridiculous because even if there is a stigma attached to those 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 epicenter of the insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria.
The panel, upon arriving in Maiduguri, had its first session at the Maimalari cantonment medical facility complex, where Reuters reported that most of the abortions took place.
The panel engaged with the commanding officer of the military hospital, Adeniyi Ogunsakin, a lieutenant colonel.
Mr Ogunsakin, who heads all military medical facilities under the Nigerian Army’s 7th Division, was said to have denied the Reuters report.
Ogunsakin had said that the accusations of mass abortions “are mere assertions that can be made by anyone who has no foundation or evidence to back them up.”