Military Suspends UNICEF Operations in Northeast, Accuses UN Agency of Espionage

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Col. Onyema Nwachukwu
Col. Onyema Nwachukwu

By Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri

The Nigerian military on Friday suspended the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) from the troubled Northeast for alleged involvement in espionage.

A press release issued by Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, the Deputy Director, Public Relations in charge of the military counter-insurgency operation in the North East (Operation Lafiya Dole), alleged that the United Nations agency was involved in activities jeopardising the ongoing counter-insurgency operation in the North East theatre of war.

The latest suspension is the second time UNICEF would be accused by the military as the same allegation was made sometime last year.

The release stated that: “The Theatre Command Operation LAFIYA DOLE has observed with dismay that some of the activities of International humanitarian agencies and Non-governmental organisations’ operating in the North East have left so much to be desired.

“There is credible information that some of them are indulging in unwholesome practices that could further jeopardise the fight against terrorism and insurgency, as they train and deploy spies who support the insurgents and their sympathisers.”

The release added that: “It is baffling to note that some of these organisations have been playing the terrorists’ script with the aim to continue demoralising the troops who are doing so much to protect the lives of victims of Boko Haram Terrorism and safeguard them from wanton destruction of property and means of livelihood.

“The Theatre Command considers the actions of these organisations as a direct assault and insult on the sensibilities of Nigerians, as they tend to benefit more from expanding the reign of terror on our people.”

It stated that: “Consequently, the Theatre Command Operation LAFIYA DOLE is suspending the operations of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the North East theatre untill further notice. This has become inevitable since the organisation has abdicated its primary duty of catering for the wellbeing of children and the vulnerable through humanitarian activities and now engaged in training selected persons for clandestine activities to continue sabotaging the counter terrorism and Counter insurgency efforts of troops through spurious and unconfirmed allegations bothering on alleged violations of human rights by the military.”

The release explained that: “Information within the reach of this Command specifically indicates that the organisation commenced the said training on Wednesday 12 December 2018 at the Ministry of Finance Conference Hall, Musa Usman Secretariat, Maiduguri and ended on 13 Thursday December 2018.”

It warned that: “The Theatre command will not tolerate this kind of sabotage from any individual, group of persons or organisation,” and called on all NGOs and members of humanitarian agencies to keep to their legitimate norms in the discharge of their acclaimed humanitarian duties.”

Meanwhile, efforts to get UNICEF to respond to the press release have not been fruitful.

An e-mail sent to Nigeria’s Chief of Communication, Eliana Drakopoulus, did not elicit any response as at press time last night.