An investigation exposing a “secret, systematic and illegal abortion programme” in Northeast Nigeria run by the military, has prompted calls for investigation from international partners and pushback from the military. No official investigation into the report’s findings has yet been announced.
The report by the news agency Reuters published on Dec. 7 is based on dozens of witness accounts and documents. It stated that since at least 2013, the programme had ended over 10,000 pregnancies. Women and girls had died as a result of the termination procedures, the report said.
Northeastern Nigeria has witnessed over a decade-long insurgency and counterinsurgency campaign. The violence has displaced more than two million people.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, over 350,000 people have been killed directly or indirectly due to the crisis. The latest investigation suggests thousands more lives of unborn children may have been lost to unethical practices adopted by the military as its personnel aborted pregnancies, often without the mothers’ consent or awareness.
Criticisms, calls for investigation
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on Nigerian authorities to thoroughly investigate the allegations of coerced abortions, according to U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric. The U.N. chief also called for “immediate remedial actions and accountability measures” if such measures were necessary.
A State Department spokesperson was quoted to have said that its embassy in Abuja was seeking further information and had encouraged the government to take the “allegations seriously and to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation”.
A similar call for authorities to investigate and “ensure appropriate legal and disciplinary sanctions on all those found culpable” was made by Amnesty International.
“Nightmare in #Nigeria” does not begin to capture the horrifying experiences of women who were reportedly subjected to forced abortions by the military,” said chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, in a tweet on Thursday.
The democratic congressman also stated that in the absence of “a thorough investigation & fundamental reforms, we must seriously reconsider U.S. security cooperation with Nigeria”.
Over the past few years, the U.S. has increased security and counterterrorism cooperation with the Nigerian government and military. This includes a $593 million deal for the delivery of 12 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft by the previous Donald Trump-led government.
In April, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the foreign military sale to Nigeria of AH-1Z Attack helicopters and related equipment for an estimated $997 million.
Last year, Foreign Policy reported that top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had stalled the proposed sale to Nigeria over human rights concerns.
The Nigerian government has not publicly announced an investigation into the mass abortion programme run by its military. On Thursday, the Defence Chief, General Lucky Irabor, denied the allegations in the Reuters report.
The Army General and former commander of the counter-insurgency forces in the northeast did not announce an investigation would take place during a media briefing at the Presidential Villa in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
The Defence Headquarters had earlier pushed back at the investigation through a statement by the Director of Defence Information, Major General Jimmy Akpor. On Dec. 2, the military preempted the release of findings and described them as concocted allegations.
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