The Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor has called on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to launch an independent investigation into the allegation by Reuters of an illegal abortion programme by the military.
Irabor made the call when he led principal staff officers of the Defence Headquarters on a visit to the Executive Secretary of the commission, Tony Ojukwu on Friday in Abuja.
Reuters had alleged in a report that Nigeria’s military run a secret abortion programme in the country’s North East, terminating at least 10,000 pregnancies since 2013.
Speaking with newsmen at the NHRC chambers,
Irabor insisted that the allegation was baseless and false, adding that the military had nothing to hide hence the need for an independent investigation to exonerate itself.
He said there was need for the commission to carry out such an investigation in line with its responsibilities.
According to him, the armed forces as an establishment of the Federal Republic is bound by the Nigerian constitution to operate based on local and international laws.
This, he added, includes international humanitarian laws and laws of armed conflicts as domesticated in Nigeria.
He maintained that the NHRC, being an institution that was established by the 1999 Constitution, as amended, was statutorily empowered to look into allegations the media organization levelled against the Military in its report.
He said: “This afternoon, I am here with my team to first and foremost, tell the Executive Secretary and indeed every staff of the Commission that the Armed Forces, over the years, have observed the very crucial role that you play and the contributions that you have been making to the growth of this nation, by ensuring that we live within the bounds of the laws of our land.
“Secondly, to also let you know that the Armed Forces, as an establishment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a creation of the Nigerian Constitution and has its rules of engagement, based on extant laws of our land, including international laws that have been domesticated in Nigeria.
“Recognising the place of the NHRC in ensuring that all the activities of government, all the citizens and of course inhabitants and even friends of Nigeria, who are within our space, conduct their affairs in line with the laws of the land.
“Today, I have come, more so, that in recent times, there have been reports which alluded that the Armed Forces is involved in government program of abortions in the North East of Nigeria since 2013 to date.
“That report was published by Reuters and of course, when we looked at it, we felt that this is certainly not us and it does not represent the professional standing of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
“It does not also indicate the DNA of our operational engagement, not just in the North East of Nigeria but across the length and breadth of the country where we have footprints of operations in line with the dictates of the Constitution.
“So, at first, we felt that perhaps there were some extra-territorial powers that want to weaken the strength of the Armed Forces, being at the forefront of the current engagement that seeks to bring peace to our land. So, some actions need to be taken.
“But of course, is bound by law and guided by laws, we have taken a look and felt that the right establishment that should undertake the investigation is the NHRC.
“It is in that light that I have come to formally inform you if perhaps you are not thinking about it, I am sure you have also seen the reports that were published, that we as an Armed Force, stand ready for any establishment and I am certain that in this case, the NHRC stands a good ground to carry out an investigation.
“And if that will be what you decide to do, I wish to use this opportunity to assure you of unfettered access that we will grant you to all our operations across not just the North East but across the country.
“Our doors will be open to you as you so desire, in the course of any investigation you may want to carry out. And to also assure you that if you require to invite any of our officers, they will be available for you to ask them questions that you think will be appropriate, in the light of the allegations that have been given.
“We are doing this because we believe that we have remained very transparent in our operational engagement and so we have nothing to fear.
“We have also indicated before now that that report is evil and we believe that since we are the one have been alleged to have been involved as an agency of government, which of course the report indicated that it is a government program championed by the Armed Forces, we felt that since we are at the core of the allegation, it is necessary for us to give the assurance that we stand ready for you to carry out the investigation.
“This is also an opportunity to let you know that we, the Armed Forces, we have codified our various operational rules and regulations that we have articulated in the standing operational procedure, as well as Rules of Engagement.
“In each of this, the tenets of international humanitarian law and other relevant laws have been well captioned.”
In his response, Ojukwu said the request was in line with the determination of the Commission to investigate the allegations because of the human rights implications.
“Accordingly, your visit and request have coincided with the resolve of the Commission to investigate the allegations in the Reuters report because of the human rights implications of the reports.
“As you may be aware, the investigation process of the Commission must meet the International Human Rights standard required for this kind of investigation”, Ojukwu added.
He said the investigation must be public and open, transparent, accord with principle of fair hearing and non-discriminatory.