Nigerian Army accuses UNICEF of sabotaging war against insurgents

FILE PHOTO: A banner with the UNICEF logo is seen hanging on a makeshift school at an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp on the outskirts of Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye/File Photo

Nigerian Army said on Friday that it has suspended the activities of the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in the Northeast and accused the aid agency of sabotaging its war on the insurgency in the region.

“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 counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts of troops,” an army spokesman Onyema Nwachukwu said in a statement.

An email sent to UNICEF Nigeria’s communication officer Geoffrey Njoku has not been replied and his phone line was switched off.

“We are verifying the information now and will get back to you with any new information,” a UNICEF spokeswoman told Reuters.

Boko Haram, loosely meaning western education is forbidden, has been waging a nine-year-old war against the Nigerian government, at a point declaring a large swathe of land in Nigeria’s northeast as its caliphate.

With its members drawn from its immediate locality, and then radicalised, the girl child who wants to escape the grip of poverty in the region becomes an easy target.

The insurgency led to a massive humanitarian crisis that has left about 1.7 million people homeless, with about 800,000 displaced hard-to-reach areas, Norwegian Refugee Council said in June.

UNICEF is one of the donor agencies working in the region to bring aid to children and women affected by the insurgency.

It said it aims “to accelerate the realisation of the rights of all children and women to survival, development, protection and participation.”

The Nigerian Army, which declared three UNICEF employees “persona non grata” in April, however, insisted that the agency has abdicated its core responsibilities. It accuses the United Nations organ of “playing the terrorists’ script with the aim to continue demoralising the troops.”

It also accused UNICEF of training some personnel to deliberately sabotage its counterinsurgency by making “spurious and unconfirmed allegations bothering on alleged violations of human rights by the military.”

This is not the first time UNICEF will be accused of working against the Nigerian Army.

A Coalition of Civil Society Organisations on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution in Nigeria report, back in May, said that UNICEF was frustrating the efforts of the Nigerian Army to combat terrorism.

“An identified worrisome dimension is the seeming collaboration between these NGOs and top officials of the UNICEF who are directly involved in the execution of this agenda against the helpless people of Nigeria,” the coalition said in the report.

The director-general of the coalition Maxwell Gowon accused Amnesty International, which has been very critical of the alleged human rights abuses committed by Nigerian troops in the Northeast, and UNICEF of “paying journalists and NGOs to compile fictitious reports against the Nigerian military.”

At a press conference in Abuja in September, Gowon doubled down on the claims that “foreign agents” were working against Nigeria’s interest.

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