The Nigerian government has rejected a Reuters news agency report published last week about a secret programme of forced abortions run by the military in the country’s northeast, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said.
The Reuters investigation reported that since 2013, a secret military programme has involved terminating at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls, many of whom had been kidnapped and raped by members of the Boko Haram group.
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The sources included dozens of witness accounts and documentation reviewed by Reuters.
“The Federal Government hereby categorically states that there is no ‘secret, systematic and illegal abortion programme’ being run by our military in the northeast or anywhere across the country,” Mohammed said in opening remarks at a public event in Abuja on Monday.
“We also hereby reject the accusation of running an abortion programme levelled at our military,” he said.
Mohammed’s comments were the first by a Nigerian government official since the report was published last week.
The military has also denied carrying out abortions, and denounced the report as “a body of insults on the Nigerian peoples and culture”.
“Nigerian military personnel have been raised, bred and further trained to protect lives,” it said.
“[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.”
The report was based on witness accounts from 33 women and girls, five health workers and nine security personnel involved in the alleged programme, and on military documents and hospital records “describing or tallying thousands of abortion procedures”.
According to Reuters, most of the abortions were carried out without the woman’s consent and some were conducted without their prior knowledge, through abortion-inducing pills or injections passed off as medications to boost health or combat disease.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday called on Nigerian authorities to investigate the allegations, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Mohammed did not say whether there would be such an investigation by authorities.
Nigeria’s defence chief has said the military will not investigate the Reuters report, saying it was not true.
US ‘troubled’ by killing of children
Separately, the US Department of State says it is “deeply troubled” by a Reuters report that the Nigerian army killed children in its fight against armed fighters.
Nigerian military leaders told Reuters the army has never targeted children for killing. They said the reporting in the article by Reuters is an insult to Nigerians and part of a foreign effort to undermine the country’s fight against the fighters.
“We are pursuing further information, including from the Government of Nigeria and stakeholders working in this space,” a US State Department spokesperson said by email.
“We are still reviewing the report and will make decisions about next steps thereafter. Our Embassy in Abuja is seeking additional information, including by speaking to Nigerian authorities.”
The Reuters report said intentional killings of children have occurred across northeast Nigeria, where the military has been battling armed fighters for 13 years.