by Stanley Azuakola
On Friday, Aljazeera, a foreign media organisation aired a report which claimed that there have been lots of civilian deaths in the North East since the State of Emergency was declared there by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The report featured footage of a military offensive which Aljazeera claimed was recorded by a soldier who took part in the operation in Borno state. In the video, soldiers were seen dragging dead bodies, most of whom the soldier claimed were innocent civilians.The identity of the soldier was not revealed but he claimed in the report that he was doing it because only few Boko Haram terrorists have been killed, whereas there have been up to 3,000 civilian casualties.
The spokesman to President Goodluck Jonathan released a statement on Saturday condemning the Aljazeera report, calling it an attempt “to mislead the general public and the international community about the on-going State of Emergency and military operations in three states of the Federation: Adamawa, Yobe and Borno.”
Abati insisted that the operations so far have followed the president’s directives that they “be conducted in line with applicable rules of engagement and peculiar care in managing a unique situation.” He said the president had made it clear to the military high command and received assurances that those who violate their operational orders will be disciplined accordingly.
“There is nothing to suggest so far any violation of operational orders by the troops operating in the North East. Their intervention has received popular support, among the civilian populace, and within two weeks of operation, the possibility of calm and normalcy resonates even as enclaves of terrorists are raided and their capacity to continue their reign of terror heavily compromised. This is a process and the Government owes it to the people of the North-East to see it through,” Abati said.
Abati said that Aljazeera’s report on Friday titled “Civilians among dead in Nigeria offensive” was a regrettable attempt to portray the government and the people of Nigeria in bad light.
“While we welcome an open interrogation of government’s activities, we reject any attempt to exploit the security situation in the North East to malign, discredit or otherwise undermine the country’s efforts by other surreptitious means,” the statement said.
To buttress his argument, Abati gave two crucial reasons why he felt the video was in bad taste. The first is the fact that the video was not of the recent military offensive after the state of emergency was announced, but of “the unfortunate incident that occurred in Bama on May 7”, which has no connection with the current operation.
He further said that despite the video being of the Bama event, the victims showed were not killed by Nigerian soldiers, but were those who were attacked by Boko Haram “before they launched an offensive on the Bama prison.”
The second reason given by Abati was that Nigerians have no way of verifying if the man in uniform shown in the Aljazeera video is indeed a Nigerian soldier, “because in a war-like theatre as we have on our hands, anybody could have been clad in a military fatigue; and we have seen Boko Haram members appear in military fatigues in their propaganda videos.”
He said the military also does not have any record of any soldier leaving the frontlines since the beginning of the operations.
Abati condemned the reporting and said that “irresponsible” reporting like that on a serious national security issue “should be deplored by all.”