Nigeria army lifts ban on UNICEF amid spying allegations

Army suspended UNICEF operations early Friday accusing the agency’s staff of spying for Boko Haram.

Nigeria army
Nigeria's military is highly sensitive to allegations of human rights abuses [Henry Ikechukwu/EPA]

The Nigerian military has lifted a ban on UNICEF in the northeast of the country, hours after accusing the staff of the United Nations agency of “spying” for Boko Haram.

Earlier on Friday, the Nigerian military said UNICEF had been training people to sabotage its counterinsurgency efforts by reporting alleged human rights abuses by soldiers.

Nigeria’s northeast has been torn apart by a decade-long armed campaign by Boko Haram and its splinter groups. 

Nigeria displaced return to ruin homes, fear violence (2:10)

More than 30,000 people have been killed and many more driven from their homes. With millions displaced, the northeast is largely dependent on international aid.

In its statement, the Nigerian military said UNICEF staff “train and deploy spies who support the insurgents and their sympathisers”.

It said that UNICEF’s operations were being suspended in the northeast until further notice but in a second statement hours later, the military said it held an emergency meeting with UNICEF representatives late on Friday.

“After extensive deliberations on the need to seek modalities to work harmoniously with the security agencies in the theatre of operation, the Theatre Command has henceforth lifted the three months suspension earlier imposed on UNICEF,” the army said in a statement repealing the ban after the meeting.

The military said it urged “UNICEF representatives to ensure they share information with relevant authorities whenever induction or training of new staff is being conducted in the theatre”.

Earlier, after the allegation and suspension, a UNICEF spokeswoman said the organisation was “verifying the information”.

In April, Nigeria’s military declared three UNICEF employees “persona non grata” in connection with alleged leaks about soldiers sexually abusing children in the northeast, people familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency.

The declaration was rescinded days later after pressure from diplomats, the sources said.

Source: News Agencies