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Reuters Report: Army denies allegations

…As NHRC suspects foul play over appearance of Reuters’ counsel

From Godwin Tsa, Abuja

 

The Nigerian Army has distanced itself from any involvement in the Reuters report on alleged termination of 10,000 pregnancies and massacre of children in the Northeast.

The denial came through its witness, Major General Victor Ezeugwu,,who appeared before the Special Independent Investigation Panel on Human Rights Violations in Counter Insurgency Operations in Northeast.

Speaking at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) yesterday, Gen. Ezeugwu expressed surprise about Reuters’ allegations of massive abortion of pregnancies, the massacre of children, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence.

While vehemently denying the report, the witness stated that such claims have no place in a professional and modern Army.

Meanwhile, the probe panel has expressed surprise and suspicion at the sudden appearance at the panel of a lawyer from Reuters, Clifford Kalu, who walked into the hearing session, despite the international media organization’s refusal to appear before the panel.

In his testimony before the seven-member panel, Gen. Ezeugwu dismissed the allegations against the army as unfounded.

He said: “Assuming such violations took place, it would have been taken up by the hierarchy of the military because apart from Army channels, there are other means of checking any possible abuse or infractions on the part of the soldiers.

“Describing the abortions as secret and systematic is trying to justify that 10,000 abortions were done by the Army despite the fact that every Army commander has a way of making sure they check the activities of soldiers.”

The witness, who is a former General Officer Commanding (GOC) 7 Division, stated that the allegation is not based on facts, saying it is not a true testimony of what Nigerian soldiers are doing in the Northeast and these could not be substantiated.

Meanwhile, the commission said it was curious about the appearance of the counsel for Reuters at the panel sitting after the news organisation turned down the invitation earlier given to it.

It is to be recalled that the Secretary to the panel, Mr. Hilary Ogbonna, had invited Reuters to appear before the panel to substantiate its allegations of abortion of 10,000 pregnancies, massacre of children, and other forms of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against the Nigerian military in its counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast.

In the view of the Commission, the conduct of the counsel of Reuters gave suggested foul play given that when he was asked by member of the secretariat of the panel to sit in the waiting room, as the panel could not have both Reuters and the Army in the hall while the cross-examination of the top military official was going on, Mr. Clifford left unannounced, and never came back.

Before Clifford’s unexpected visit to the panel, Reuters had written to the Commission, to explain its inability to honour the summons.

In the letter written on March 21, 2023, through the law chambers of Olumide Babalola and addressed to the Commission with the title, “Notice of objection to summons to witnesses dated the 16th day of March 2023 issued on Paul Carsten, Reade Levinson, David Lewis, Libby George, and Christophe Van Der Perre brought pursuant to Section 6 (2)(b) (e) of the National Human Rights Commission Act 2010, Reuters claimed that “the witnesses do not have any physical or business presence in Nigeria and, by extension, are outside the territorial jurisdiction of the panel.”

Meanwhile, the panel heard the testimony of Mr. Emmanuel Ajah, country director of Marie Stopes, an international organization that provides family planning services. Marie Stopes was alleged to have been involved in the abortion saga. In his testimony, Mr. Ajah said that his organization does not conduct illegal abortions but provides post-abortion care. He described the allegations by Reuters as a pure case of misrepresentation of facts.

Ajah said his organization collaborates with public offices in the country in the course of its services. Both he and Dr. Kingsley Odogwu, a specialist gynaecologist with Marie Stopes in their oral evidence before the panel, said that they only had cases where women who were at risk of their lives were given medical assistance to save their lives during complicated medical conditions.

 

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