NIGERIA – Did the Nigerian military carry out mass abortions of women who had been captured, raped and made pregnant by Boko Haram militants: who is telling the truth?

According to a Reuters report dated 7 December, since at least 2013, the Nigerian military has conducted a secret, systematic and illegal abortion programme, ending at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls in the country’s northeast who were said to have been kidnapped and raped by Boko Haram militants who are at war with the government. Resisters were beaten, held at gunpoint or drugged into compliance, witnesses said.

The Reuters report was based on witness statements 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”.

Most of the abortions, Reuters said, 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. The agency was unable to establish who created the abortion program or determine who in the military or government ran it.

On 8 December, Nigeria’s military denied conducting any such illicit programme. The Nigerian army rejected 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. Not least as abortion is illegal except to save a woman’s life. On 12 December  the Nigerian government’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, also rejected the Reuters report at a public event in Abuja.

The Africa Centre for Human Rights and Protection, describing itself as a civil society organisation, also rejected the Reuters report, describing it as  “a propagation of falsehood that defeats logic and common sense” that indicated Reuters had run out of ideas for “castigating the Nigerian Army in its customary fashion … and also smacks of gross ignorance of the role of the Nigerian Army in prosecuting the war against Boko Haram terrorists in North East Nigeria… The Nigerian Army do not detain women and children victims of the Boko Haram onslaught.” They also ask how Reuters can deduce that some 10,000 abortions took place when their report was based on interviews with 33 women and girls. [Note: A search on Google did not find a link to this Centre, nor their name in a list of 337 Human Rights Organizations in Nigeria, on a website called Nigerian Finder. Nor on a second such list called The author of this claim is a journalist on The Guardian Nigeria.]

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the Nigerian authorities to investigate the allegations, and for a thorough investigation and “immediate remedial actions and accountability measures,” if such measures were necessary. A US State Department spokesperson said the Biden administration was “deeply troubled” by the news and was seeking further information. Nigeria’s defence chief responded that the military would not investigate the report, saying it was not true.

SOURCES: Reuters, by Paul Carsten, Reade Levinson, David Lewis, Libby George, 7 December 2022 ; Council on Foreign Relations, Blog Post, by Caroline Kapp, PHOTO by Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters: Women travel in the back of a truck in the town of Mararaba, after the Nigerian military recaptured it from Boko Haram, in Adamawa state, 9 December 2022 ; AlJazeera, 10 December 2022 ; The Guardian Nigeria, by Sodiq Omolaoye, 11 December 2022 ; AlJazeera, 12 December 2022