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Nigerian Army conducts secret abortion operation; terminates 10,000 pregnancies over Boko Haram war

Thousands of women and young girls have been kidnapped, raped and frequently drugged by the Islamic insurgents who have unleashed terror on the country since 2009.

• December 7, 2022
A composite of Pregnant woman and Nigerian soldiers used to illustrate the story
Pregnant woman and Nigerian soldiers

The Nigerian Army has been exposed for conducting a vast abortion operation for women and young girls who were victims of the raging Boko Haram insurgency in the country’s northeast.

Soldiers and other agents of the Nigerian military forcibly terminated at least 10,000 pregnancies to stop the birth of children of Islamic militants, fearing they might take up arms against the Nigerian state in future or become a stigma to their families.

Thousands of women and young girls have been kidnapped, raped and frequently drugged by the Islamic insurgents who have unleashed terror on the country since 2009.

According to witnesses and documents reviewed by Reuters, the controversial operation started in 2013 and ran until at least November 2021, exposing how the military-run programme of forced abortions performed on women and girls who were held captive and impregnated by the insurgents. 

The report also revealed that the Nigerian military used oxytocin to induce abortion in some women, a drug with side effects reserved to induce contraction during normal labour by women. Surgical abortion operations were also carried out on some women without their consent.

Due to the secrecy involved in the illegal act by the Army, Reuters was unable to know precisely how many abortions had been held against the wishes of the victims.

But at least 33 victims were reportedly identified, the outlet reported. The military has long claimed it was rehabilitating the women and children scattered in different makeshift camps across the troubled region.

Sources interviewed by Reuters said the victims were asked at times if they wanted an abortion, but the investigation could not determine how many gave their consent. 

Maimalari Barracks, Giwa Barracks, Umar Shehu Hospital and State Specialist Hospital are reported to be among the facilities used to conduct the controversial operation.

Melanie O’Brien, an associate professor of international law at the University of Western Australia, called the potential crimes “extremely grave”, describing them as horrific.

Ms O’Brien told Reuters the vulnerability of the women and the young age of the victims as possible aggravating factors.

“If these numbers are accurate, it’s horrific, really horrific,” she said.

Under a principle in international law called “command responsibility,” Ms O’Brien added that Nigeria’s top military commanders could be held accountable for crimes by troops under their supervision, even if the soldiers weren’t acting on orders. 

The Defence Headquarters in Abuja tried to preempt the damning investigation ahead of publication, distributing a statement to the Nigerian media that sought to mitigate the scandal from spreading to Nigerians.

“The fictitious series of stories actually constitute a body of insults on the Nigerian peoples and culture,” Defence spokesman Jimmy Akpor, a major-general, said. 

Mr Akpor added: “Nigerian military personnel have been raised, bred and further trained to protect lives, even at their own risk, especially when it concerns the lives of children, women and the elderly.”

Northeastern Nigeria has been the epicentre of insurgency launched by the dreaded Islamic Boko Haram group in 2009. 

Thousands of people have been killed and over two million residents displaced in the conflict, which has also split into neighbouring Chad and the Niger Republic.

The controversial abortion policy of the military spanned the administration of Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, despite both leaders promising to improve the country’s toxic human rights reputation.

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