Army Recalls UNICEF Shortly after Suspension for Alleged EspionageMichael Olugbode in Maiduguri
The Nigerian military, last night, lifted its three months suspension of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) from the troubled North-east for alleged involvement in espionage activities.
Also yesterday, the military buried 19 soldiers out of the 23, they confirmed were killed in the Boko Haram attack on a military base in Metele, Borno State.
Giving reason for UNICEF’s suspension, the military, in a statement 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 that jeopardised the ongoing counter-insurgency operation in the North-east.
However, few hours after it announced UNICEF’s suspension, the Nigeria Military did an about face and squashed the suspension after it said some “well-meaning individuals” persuaded them.
In a positive twist of fate, within a few hours after the United Nations Children’s Fund was suspended, Col. Nwachukwu, issued a statement, saying the ban was lifted due to intervention of well-meaning individuals.
The statement read: “Theatre Command Sequel to intervention by well-meaning and concerned Nigerians over the recent suspension of UNICEF operations in the North-east theatre of operations, the Theatre Command Operation Lafiya Dole convened and held an emergency meeting with representatives of UNICEF this evening.
“During the meeting, the Theatre Command admonished the representatives of the organisation to desist from activities inimical to Nigeria’s national security and capable of undermining ongoing fight against terrorism and insurgency.
“The Command also urged UNICEF representatives to ensure they share information with relevant authorities whenever induction or training of new staff is being conducted in the theatre.
“Consequently, 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 activities in North Eastern Nigeria.
The Army’s earlier statement read: “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.”
“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 safe guard 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.”
The release added: “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 military 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 statement via an e-mail to its Chief of Communication in Nigeria, Eliana Drakopoulus, have not yielded result as at press time.
On the burial, in Maiduguri, of the 19 soldiers out of the 23 that were killed in the Metele attack on November 18, the Nigerian Army explained that the remaining four soldiers were not buried yesterday because their next of kin were unavailable at the time of the funeral at the Maimalari Barrack military cemetery.
Though media had reported that over 100 soldiers were lost in the attack, the military insisted that 23 people, including Lt. Col. Ibrahim Sakaba and 22 soldiers, were killed while 31 others were injured during the attack on 157 Task Force Battalion, Metele on November 18.
In a speech presented at the graveside of the deceased by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, who was represented by Maj. Gen. Lamidi Adeosun, the Chief, Army Training and Operations, said the fallen soldiers remained heroes.
He disclosed that the four dead soldiers left unburied would be laid to rest immediately their relatives arrived in Maiduguri.
Buratai lamented that the Army in the last few days lost some troops and equipment due to upsurge of insurgents’ activities.
He, however, said that the set-back recorded would not deter the troops from their commitments to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents.
The Army Chief reiterated the commitments of the Nigerian Army to end insurgency; protect lives and property, as well as restore peace to the North-east.
He said the military authorities would take care of the families of the fallen heroes in line with its welfare scheme, and prayed for the repose of the souls of the deceased and for fortitude for the bereaved families to bear their loss.
Buratai said: “President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is committed to the improvement of soldiers’ welfare and provision of equipment to ensure successful campaign against the Boko Haram insurgents.”
“He promised that the military will collaborate with sister security organisations in the counter insurgency operation,” even as he called for discipline among the troops and for them not to relent in routing out the remnants of the insurgents.
Furthermore, he said that the military authorities would deploy additional personnel and equipment to the theatre of operation to facilitate successful implementation of the counter insurgency campaign.
The COAS called on the people to shun fake news and support the military in the ongoing war against insurgency.
Speaking at the occasion, the Deputy Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Mamman Durkwa, who represented Governor Kashim Shettima said the state government appreciated the sacrifices of the military to the restoration of peace in the state.
He announced that the state government would support the families of the fallen heroes to improve their well-being, and called on the military authorities to support the bereaved families and prayed for the repose of the souls of the fallen heroes.
Bodies of the deceased soldiers were laid to rest at the Military Cemetery, Maimalari Cantonment, Maiduguri, after prayers were conducted by Muslim and Christian Chaplains.