15 December 2018

Nigerian Army Lifts Ban of Unicef After Spy Accusations

Nigeria's army has revoked a ban on UNICEF after claiming it had held workshops to train spies for Boko Haram. The group's Islamist insurgency has killed more than 27,000 people since 2009 and left 1.8 million homeless.

The Nigerian military on Friday lifted a ban on UNICEF operations in the country's northeast, after accusing the aid agency of training "spies" supporting Boko Haram jihadists.

Earlier on Friday the military said the United Nations children's agency had this week held workshops in the northeast city of Maiduguri, where it was training people for "clandestine" activities that were "sabotaging" counterterrorism efforts.

The ban was revoked after a meeting between the military and the aid agency late Friday, where there was an "intervention by well-meaning and concerned Nigerians," army spokesman Onyema Nwachukwu said.

"During the meeting, the Theatre Command admonished the representatives of the organization to desist from activities inimical to Nigeria's national security and capable of undermining the ongoing fight against terrorism and insurgency," he said in a statement.

Read more: Is Islamic extremism on the rise in Africa?

"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," Nwachukwu said.

Pressure ahead of presidential election

Boko Haram's Islamist insurgency has killed more than 27,000 people since it began in 2009 and has caused a humanitarian crisis in the wider Lake Chad region, where the jihadists have increased attacks in recent months.

The group's violent uprising in northeastern Nigeria has left 1.8 million people homeless and millions dependent on aid for survival.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, who came to power in 2015 on promises to end the violence, is under pressure to act as he seeks re-election in February. He has been criticized in the past for claiming the Islamists were "technically defeated."

The Nigerian military has hit out at media reporting casualty figures of the Boko Haram attacks and even threatened legal action against organizations for publishing unofficial death tolls.

Read more: What makes young African Muslims join jihadi groups?

It has also dismissed reports from international human rights organizations that it has committed rights violations and war crimes during its fight against Boko Haram.

UNICEF has not formally commented on the ban, but earlier a UNICEF spokeswoman said the organization was "verifying the information."

law/bw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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