Reuters And The Burden Of Proof (1)

By: Zagazola Makama 

The Reuters report, early December, 2022, accusing the Nigerian military of forcing the abortion of the pregnancies of over 10,000 Boko Haram female abductees since 2013 has raised several towering questions over the credibility of the 171 years old global news agency.

Reuters reported on 7th December, 2022: “Since at least 2013, the Nigerian military has conducted a secret, systematic and illegal abortion programme in the country’s northeast, ending at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls, a Reuters investigation has found. Many had been kidnapped and raped by Islamist militants. Resisters were beaten, held at gunpoint or drugged into compliance, witnesses say.”

Reuters, according to the investigative report, interviewed 30 such women and girls to arrive at the conclusion that “at least 10,000” pregnancies were forcedly aborted by the Nigerian military.

The report triggered several questions that drew a sharp contrast between the situation the  Reuters investigation portrayed and the situation in reality that obtains across the terrorised Northeast over the last ten years of the Boko Haram militancy.

State Actors and active participants in the humanitarian crisis precipitated by the Boko Haram militancy across the northeast have expressed bafflement at what they have described as the utter untruths of the Reuters investigative report which, they suggest, was invisibly, and quite invincibly, sponsored by international and domestic conflict entrepreneurs as one of calculated attempts at frustrating the Nigerian government and the military in the current ‘marvelously successful’ offensives against the northeast’s terrorising militants.

The calculation, they believe, is to stir the ire of the International community assisting Nigeria with the required weapons to combat terror to not only halt such assistances but to also smear the country’s authorities and its military with the tar brush of criminality, in contravention of international laws.

Already, a U.S. Senator, Jim Risch, who is the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has requested a review of U.S. security assistance and cooperation programs

to the Nigerian Military. This, it is believed, is to pitch the International Criminal Court against a weaponless Nigeria, weakening the country to a point where while it is grappling with its image at the global level, the conflict entrepreneurs would be finetuning and perfecting strategies for the perpetuation of the northeast terror ad infitum.

“The Reuters report has many pit-holes,” Mairo Mandara, the Special Adviser and Coordinator to the Governor of Borno State on Sustainable Development, Partnership and Humanitarian Supports, maintains, asserting, “the report was not scientific.”

Mairo, who was the former Country Representative for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and also supervised over 260 International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) presently providing humanitarian support to Borno State, raised questions on the motives behind the report published in 2022.

She queried: “Why keep the report of a crime that was committed nine years ago until now? Was there any physical force during the abortion? What is the motive behind keeping the report of such a draconian action until now?

The civil society activist continued: “The National Human Rights Commission(NHRC), shouldn conduct an independent investigation on the matter.”

She maintained that the Reuters report is calculated at coinciding with the visit of the International Crime Court(ICC) officials to Nigeria to investigate what they termed as “Nigerian military atrocities” in order to rope them into War crimes.

Mandara said in 2013 the military never had access to Boko Haram enclaves, let alone find any women to abort their pregnancies, querying: “Where did the military meet these pregnant women to abort their pregnqncies? Where was the abortion site?”

She maintained that by keeping the report for nine years, (if they knew), Reuters, by Nigerian law, is complicit in the reported crime. Believing that someone sponsored the Reuters report, she queried: “Who is sponsoring the report?”

No Concrete Evidence – 200 CSOs

Bulama Abiso is the Chairman of the Network of Civil Societies in Borno State. He coordinates the activities of more than 200 Non Government Organisations across the North-Eastern state’s of Borno,Yobe and Adamawa.

“We saw the damning Reuters report,” he admitted, maintaining, “There is no concrete evidence that such a thing (forced abortion by the military) has ever happened.

“We as  the network of Civil Society Organisations have been on ground since the inception of this crises. From the inception upto date, none of the over 200 members of our network, has ever informed us of these atrocities on ground.

“When we heard of the report, we

 immediately set up our own investigative mechanism through the Community And Accountability Forum by some of our organisations, where we tasked various peace groups to furnish us with information on this allegation,  but as I am talking to you, nobody has come up with any concrete evidence showing that such a thing has ever  happened in Borno state.

“We also liase with the heads of the  traditional council across the 27 LGAs to help us identify any victim of such atrocities but nobody has  come faword to complain,” Abiso said.

He said: “We are taken aback by the report,” querying the motive, “Why now?”

Abiso believed that those “probably” benefitting from the Boko Haram insurgency are frustrated by what he described as the successes currently achieved by the military in the terror war as well as the degree of peace and security consequently achieved, characterised by what he described as the massive return of thousands of IDPs to their ancestral homes.

He believed that some people are determined to truncate the efforts of government and military at fighting for total peace and security in the northeast.

“We will not accept any truncation of efforts at restoring peace and security in the northeast,” he warned.

Hamsatu Allamin is the Executive Director of the NGO, Allamin Foundation for Peace. She also heads the Social Networks of Victims of Disappearances and Survivors of Boko Haram Abductions, where she  managed and conducts periodic meetings with at least 9,000 women associated with the Boko Haram violence.

Allamin said having resided and operated in the Boko Haram conflict terrain since its beginning in 2009, “I have never for once heard anybody, either a victim or a victim’s relations, talking about forced abortion by the military.”

She continued: “I can talk to you about different atrocities committed by the military during the Boko Haram insurgency, but I have never heard of the military committing forced abortion.

“If there was anything of that nature, I can assure you that I will be the first to go on the media to speak against it because having sat down and analysed it (the Reuters report), honestly, to me, it makes no sense.”

She queried: “At that time (2013), the abortions were said to have been committed, how organised were the military?”

She recalled that Boko Haram militants started abducting women late 2012, explaining that by 2013, they were only in their Sambisa enclaves, and they had not started organising themselves and they had not settled down enough to gather such a massive population of women and girls whose pregnancies the military would abort.

“There were alot of female survivors coming out of captivity with pregnancies, and they were kept at Giwa Barracks where they delivered their babies,” Allamin recalled, querying, “Why didn’t they (the military) abort the pregnancies?”

Allamin recalled further: “I had thousands of women released from captivity and military facility with their pregnancies and delivered in my hands, but I have never had of anything about abortion by the military.”

She maintained: The burden of proof now lies with the persons (Reuters) who conducted the investigation,” saying, “People like us working in the field, especially Human Rights officials, are interested in even knowing the reality of the situation.”

Allamin was not certain on the motive or sponsorship of the report.

“We cannot run away from the reality that every conflict has its sponsors; and many people, internally and externally, have become conflict entrepreneurs,” she said, maintaining, “Even among us Nigerians, there are many actors who will never want this conflict to end.”

Allamin postulated: “Boko Haram conflict has become an economy itself; many people have become contractors etc due to Boko Haram and, therefore, they will never want this conflict to end.”

She called on Nigerians and the global community to challenge the report.

“The abortion report concerns all of us Nigerians, not only the military,” she said, believing, “if it happens to be true, it will affect this country (Nigeria) seriously.”

Allamin advised the Nigerian authorities to fish out the reporters to prove to the country that the military committed the forced abortion.

“If they cannot prove it, then there are consequences,” she warned. 

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