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Nigerian military denies Reuters’ report on secret abortion programme in northeast

The Nigerian military has dismissed a report by Reuters that it ran a secret, systematic and illegal mass abortion programme in the Northeast which terminated at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls since at least 2013.

According to Reuters in its investigative report, dozens of witness accounts and documentation reviewed by Reuters revealed that the abortions mostly were carried out without the person’s consent – and often without their prior knowledge, according to the witness accounts. The women and girls ranged from a few weeks to eight months pregnant, and some were as young as 12 years old.

In some instances, women who resisted were beaten, caned, held at gunpoint or drugged into compliance. Others were tied or pinned down, as abortion drugs were inserted inside them, said a guard and a health worker.

Fati recounted how she woke up in a military camp in Maiduguri, Borno State after Boko Haram terrorists attacked her village. She was four-month pregnant when liberated from the insurgents. Soon after, she says, soldiers medically aborted the pregnancy without telling her. And she was warned: “If you share this with anyone, you will be seriously beaten.”

She told Reuters, she had been forcibly married to insurgents, beaten and repeatedly raped – resulting in a recent pregnancy. Now, finally, she had been rescued. “I was extremely grateful to the soldiers,” she said.

About a week later, Fati said, she lay on a mat in a narrow, dim room at a military barracks in Maiduguri, the state capital. It was rank, with cockroaches skittering across the floor. Uniformed men came in and out, giving her and five other women mysterious injections and pills.

After about four hours, Fati said felt searing pain in her stomach and black blood seeped out of her. The other women were bleeding as well, and writhing on the floor. “The soldiers want to kill us,” she thought.

She recalled the injections, then understood: The soldiers had aborted their pregnancies without asking – or even telling them.

Recounting a similar ordeal, Bintu Ibrahim, now in her late 20s, recounted how soldiers gave her two injections without her consent after picking her up with a group of other women who fled the insurgents about three years ago. When the blood came, and the terrifying pain, she knew she and the others had been given abortions. The women protested and demanded to know why, she said, until the soldiers threatened to kill them.

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Ibrahim said she also witnessed a woman die after an injection at the time of her own abortion near a small village in the bush – an event corroborated by her companion Bukar.

“That woman was more pregnant than the rest of us, almost six or seven months,” Ibrahim said. “She was crying, yelling, rolling around, and at long last she stopped rolling and shouting. She became so weak and traumatised, and then she stopped breathing.

“They just dug a hole, and they put sand over it and buried her.”

The investigation is based on interviews with 33 women and girls who say they underwent abortions while in the custody of the Nigerian Army.

The existence of the army-run abortion programme hasn’t been previously reported. The campaign relied on deception and physical force against women who were kept in military custody for days or weeks. Three soldiers and a guard said they commonly assured women, who often were debilitated from captivity in the bush, that the pills and injections given to them were to restore their health and fight diseases such as malaria.

The procedures were being performed through at least November of last year, according to accounts from soldiers. The enterprise has been elaborately engineered, the sources told Reuters, with pregnant former captives of insurgents transported regularly in trucks under armed guard, sometimes in convoys, to barracks or hospitals across the northeast for abortions.

The procedures have occurred in at least five military facilities and five civilian hospitals in the region, according to witness accounts and documentation reviewed by Reuters. Many occurred in Maiduguri, the largest city in Nigeria’s northeast and the command centre of the government’s war on Islamist extremists.

The Maiduguri sites include the detention centre at Giwa Barracks, where Fati said she was forced to have an abortion. Other sites include the Maimalari Barracks, which is the city’s main military base, and two civilian hospitals – State Specialist and Umaru Shehu.

The Nigerian military has, however, denied the existence of this programme, saying that Reuters is trying to blackmail the Nigerian military through “fictitious and wicked” reportage.

“Wickedness really runs in the veins of some people and it surely runs deep in the veins of the Reuters team that concocted such evil for interrogation. The fictitious series of stories actually constitute a body of insults on the Nigerian peoples and culture for, no people or culture in Nigeria practices such evil as dreamt up by the Reuters team,” Major General Jimmy Akpor, director, Defence Information said in a statement.

“Irrespective of the security challenges we face as a nation, Nigerian people and cultures still cherish life. Hence, Nigerian military personnel have been raised, bred and further trained to protect lives, even at their own risk, especially when it concerns the lives of children, women and the elderly. Hence, nowhere has the Nigerian military operated that, there hasn’t been any trace or allegation of infanticide. The Nigerian military will not therefore, contemplate such evil of running a systematic and illegal abortion programme anywhere and anytime, and surely not on our own soil,” Akpor stated.