The 840 Nigerian soldiers buried in a military cemetery in Maiduguri were killed by the Boko Haram terrorists since 2013, Senator Ali Ndume said this week.
Ndume, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, the figure did not include the soldiers killed and buried in other military cemeteries in the North-East geopolitical zone.
He also denied the story by the Wall Street Journal that 1000 soldiers were buried in secret graves. He was briefing reporters in Abuja.
“The Senate panel was already investigating allegations that some non-governmental agencies, operating in the North-East, were providing useful information to the Boko Haram leaders,” he added.
WHY ARMY BANNED NGOS OPERATING IN THE NORTH-EAST
Nigerian Army has alleged that some NGOs, are breaching security and sabotaging ongoing counter-insurgency measures. The Army shut down NGOs offices of Action Against Hunger, Mercy Corps and UNICEF.
Most NGOs have denied the allegation. They have said the Army’s ban on their organisations has left millions with access to humanitarian support. They said the Nigerian government did not adequately provide for the needs of the displaced citizens – leaving them vulnerable.
Abiodun Bayiewu, executive director of Global Rights, commented: “Historically, Nigeria has been known to use food as a weapon of warfare. If you think as far back as the civil war, we’ve used denying access to food [as a tactic].
“But this is not a very straightforward matter because, in those camps, there are children and non-belligerent people.”
An official of an NGO, who spoke on condition of anonymity, corroborated this claim.
“Starvation is a military strategy … if we’re doing food distribution, NGOs don’t pick sides, and the army doesn’t like that.”
WHY NIGERIAN ARMY DENIED BURYING 1000 SOLDIERS IN SECRET MASS GRAVE
The Nigerian military has refuted a Wall Street Journal story which claimed about 1000 soldiers were buried in unmarked graves.
The story claimed that the bodies of soldiers were covertly transported from overcrowded mortuaries and laid in trenches in the dead of night.
The soldiers were given an undignified burial to conceal the true death toll resulting from Boko Haram insurgency.
“Several of my comrades were buried in unmarked graves at night and are being deleted from history,” said a soldier from the Maimalari barracks, where more than 1,000 soldiers are based.
“The secret graveyard at Maimalari isn’t the only one in Nigeria’s troubled northeast”, the senior government official said.
The report had caused an outrage among Nigerians while the opposition politicians like Atiku Abubakar had expressed serious concerns and demanded an urgent investigation.
Reports at the time of the report suggested that for security reasons Nigeria’s government has stopped reporting the deaths of soldiers killed by Boko Haram or a splinter group the Islamic State West Africa Province.
The Army spokesperson, Onyema Nwachukwu at the time stated the military had a custom of giving their fallen heroes a befitting burial. He said they would not bury any soldier without the knowledge of their families.
“It features a funeral parade, gravesite oration, solemn prayers for the repose of departed souls by Islamic and Christian clerics, as well as 21-gun salutes, aside from other military funeral rites,” he said.
Col Ado Isa, the deputy director of Army Public Relations, also released 26 photographs as evidence the Army was not hiding the deaths of soldiers. The photographs came from a burial on July 18, after Col. E.E Elemele and five soldiers were killed along Jakana-Benisheik road, Borno in a Boko Haram ambush.
No date was given for the completion of the Senate investigation into the secret graves and the banning of the NGOs.