Nigeria is “concerned” about Amnesty International’s activities in the central African country, a spokesperson for President Muhammadu Buhari, Garba Shehu has said, just days after the government briefly banned UNICEF over claims it was training “spies” sympathetic to Boko Haram.
“The federal government is increasingly concerned about the role that Amnesty International is playing in the war against terror in Nigeria,” Shehu said in a statement on Monday, adding that “The organisation’s operations in Nigeria seem geared towards damaging the morale of the Nigerian military.”
“It often appears as if the Nigerian government is fighting two wars on terror: against Boko Haram and against Amnesty International.”
The statement comes on the same day that the Nigerian military threatened the “closure” of the global rights watchdog in a statement posted on Facebook.
Army Public Relations Director Brigadier General Sani Usman said Amnesty was “determined to destabilise” Nigeria through the “fabrication of fictitious allegations of alleged human rights abuses” and “clandestine sponsorship of dissident groups to protest.”
It also said the NGO was on the verge of releasing a new report against the military.
Isa Sanusi, a spokesperson for Amnesty in Nigeria, sent Al Jazeera a statement, saying the aid group would continue its efforts.
“We believe these threats from the Nigerian army are just a way of diverting attention from the real issues: the issue of failure of Nigerian government to protect the lives of Nigerians, which lead to the murder of almost 4,000 people in the last three years,” the statement read.
“Threats of closing our office will not stop us, we will keep making efforts to bring human rights violators to justice. This is not the first time Nigerian army is using this tactic to divert attention from allegations of human rights violations.
“Whenever we are launching a report, they will come up with allegations to divert attention from the real issues. They did exactly this in May a day before we launched our report on sexual violence against Internally Displaced Persons in northeast Nigeria. We are all Nigerians and we remain here to protect the rights of Nigerians,” the statement added.
#Nigeria's government failures fuel escalating conflict between farmers & herders as death toll nears 4,000. Hundreds are still displaced in many parts of the country. @MBuhari @ProfOsinbajo @IntlCrimCourt, it's time to #EndHarvestOfDeath. pic.twitter.com/n0JxJZg3al
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) December 17, 2018
The military has in the past been critical of international organisations operating in the country and has hit out at organisations reporting that it committed rights violations and war crimes during its fight against Boko Haram.
The uprising in northeast Nigeria began in 2009 and has spread to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, killing at least 27,000 people and leaving millions dependent on aid for survival.
On Friday the military banned UNICEF from operating in the country over claims it was training “spies” who support Boko Haram.
The military said the organisation had been training people to sabotage its counterinsurgency efforts by reporting alleged human rights abuses by soldiers.
It retracted the ban within hours following an “intervention by well-meaning and concerned Nigerians,” according to an army spokesman.
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.
President Buhari, who came to power in 2015 pledging to end the violence, is under increasing pressure to act as he gears up to seek re-election in a February ballot.
The 76-year-old former army general has come under attack for previously claiming the “jihadists” were “technically defeated”.