Reuters’ 10,000 Abortion Story Still Unthinkable To Many Borno Officials
By Abdulkareem Haruna
Health officials, civil servants, and military personnel in Borno state have continued to express doubt on the practicality of conducting mass abortion on displaced women and children in northeast Nigeria on the size and scale alleged to have occured in a report recently published by Reuters.
Reuters, a leading global news agency, had in December 2022 released a three-part damning reports, one titled “Abortion Assault,” which accused the Nigerian military of several rights cases of abuse, which include alleged secret abortions conducted on over 10,000 pregnant women rescued from Boko Haram captivity.
The report, which generated international condemnation, has caused the Nigerian government to set up a 7-man Special Independent Investigative Panel on Human Rights Violations in Counter Insurgency Operations in the North East (SIIP-NE) to probe and ascertain the veracity of the claim.
The panel, headed by Justice Aboki, a retired Supreme Court Judge, has in the past week been engaging various witnesses across the civil service, the military, and healthcare providers, who appeared before it, to testify for or against the report published by Reuters.
Though the investigations were painstakingly conducted, the sessions had been somewhat monotonous, with little or no significant revelations to substantiate the allegation – especially as it concerns the issue of mass abortion of pregnant women.
The panel was on Tuesday at the Borno State Specialists Hospital, one of the facilities mentioned in the report.
The Medical Director (MD) of the hospital Baba-Shehu Mohammed, was interrogated by the Panel’s lead counsel Mr. Hilary Ogbonna.
The MD, in his response to a series of questions put across, said he was shocked at the number of alleged abortions conducted on women and girls, as reported by Reuters in its report.
The MD said that Hippocratic Oath taken by every medical doctor the world over prohibits unprofessional practices, including abortions.
“Abortion is a form of killing; even where it involves chicken, if a man kills up to 10,000 of them, people around him will know and talk about it, let alone 10 000 pregnancies of women and girls have allegedly done since 2013, and nobody heard about it until in 2022 when Reuters’ released the report?” “This is incomprehensible, he added.
On the issue of alleged Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), including the massacre of children by the Nigerian Military in the course of Counter Insurgency Operations in the North East. He said the Military is expected to protect victims, especially women, and children; why then will they turn around to kill the children? “Pharaoh, a tyrant, brought up even Moses; why will anyone kill a child?” he questioned.
On the alleged involvement of the Hospital in the “secret abortion program,” also alleged by Reuters, Dr. Mohammed said, “No public hospital will do that, and if such a thing happens, it will be easy to get the survivor.” He said the hospital had received reports of several deaths occasioned by insurgency but none from abortions and massacre of children by the Military as alleged.
The MD, however, conceded that the Hospital manages miscarriages and allows medical abortions, which he noted are done to save the lives of women who, while pregnant, go through some serious health condition, including cardiovascular disorder; however, this must be after thorough consultations involving several doctors who must agree to the termination of pregnancy as a last resort to save the life of the mother, he emphasized.
This position was corroborated by other Heads of Departments and critical staff of the Hospital, all saying that there have not been any sharp practices and unprofessional conducts as alleged in Reuters’ report.
For instance, the immediate past MD, Dr. Laraba Bello, told the panel that at the peak of the insurgency, the hospital was receiving a lot of casualties, including women and girls, and these are not for abortions, saying that abortion is not allowed in the hospital.
On the issue of the woman who was brought into the hospital dead resulting from bleeding from abortion and deposited in the mortuary by the hospital guard, as also contained in the Reuters report, the former MD said the hospital guard does not have any business handling patients or corpses as that was not his line of duty, “the hospital guard only controls crowd and persons from getting access to prohibited areas.
On this allegation, the Hospital Mortician, Mallam Ahmadu Mohammed, stated that the Hospital does not accept corpses without asking for the death certificate and Hospital card of the victims (for in-patients) and that for corpses coming from outside, appropriate documentation must be made the Hospital before the Morticians accept such carcasses for keep in the Hospital Morgue.
Other personnel who gave oral evidence to the panel are Dr. Umar U. Zarah, HOD and Consultant Obstetrics and Gynaecology; Juliana Judiufa, HOD, Health Information Management; and Pharmacist Alheri Mbiting, HOD, testified that the allegation was alien to their8 knowledge.
The Borno state solicitor general, Barrister Chibok, who also appeared before the panel, said. However, he is a direct victim of the Boko Haram atrocities due7 to the attack on Chibok town; he still has never heard of such alleged cases of abortion.
“I am not here to hold brief for the military, but I have received some our freed Chibok girls and I saw them coming home with babies, and none of them were aborted.
“Saying that they were forced to abort does not make sense because if the military didn’t want the unborn children, they won’t have spared the children that they came out with,”
A director of operations at the State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Abdullahi Suleiman, also appeared before the panel on behalf of his agency. SEMA is the agency that provides the first line of support to victims or survivors of the crisis. He said SEMA has no record of any IDP complaining of forced abortion.
“Ours at SEMA is to save a life in times of emergency; we don’t kill children. If We can provide support to the children that were born to Boko Haram, why do we have to abort an unborn child? He said.