Nigerian military lifts ban on UNICEF in restive northeast

ABUJA, The Nigerian military lifted a ban on UNICEF operations in the ravaged northeast late Friday after earlier suspending the aid agency and accusing it of training spies supporting Boko Haram jihadists.

The military earlier Friday said the United Nations children's agency had

this week held workshops in the northeast city of Maiduguri training people

for clandestine activities that were sabotaging counterterrorism efforts.

Boko Haram's Islamist insurgency has killed more than 27,000 people since

it began in 2009 and has triggered a humanitarian crisis in the wider Lake

Chad region, where the jihadists have stepped up attacks in recent months.

But after a meeting between the military and the aid agency late Friday,

army spokesman Onyema Nwachukwu said the ban had been revoked following an

intervention by well meaning and concerned Nigerians.

During the meeting, the Theatre Command admonished the representatives of

the organisation 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.

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.

He said after extensive deliberations the Theatre Command has henceforth

lifted the three months suspension earlier imposed on UNICEF activities in

northeastern Nigeria.

Nwachukwu had earlier said there was credible information that some

(UNICEF representatives) are indulging in unwholesome practices that could

further jeopardise the fight against terrorism and insurgency, as they train

and deploy spies who support the insurgents and their sympathisers and that

UNICEF operations would therefore be suspended until further notice.

Boko Haram's bloody uprising in northeastern Nigeria has spread to

neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, leaving 1.8 million people homeless

and millions dependent on aid for survival.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, who came to power in 2015 pledging to

end the violence, is under increasing pressure to act as he gears up to seek

reelection in a February ballot.

He has come under attack for previously claiming the Islamists were

technically defeated.

The Nigerian military has hit out at media reporting casualty figures of

the attacks and even threatened legal action against organisations for

publishing unofficial death tolls.

It has also dismissed reports from international human rights organisations

that it has committed rights violations and war crimes during its fight

against Boko Haram.

Amnesty International had on Friday condemned the suspension and called on

Nigeria to reverse the decision.

We see the suspension of UNICEF as part of a wider drive to intimidate

international humanitarian and human rights organisations who are working to

save lives in this devastating conflict, said Amnesty's Nigeria director

Osai Ojigho.

The Nigerian army has accused UNICEF of 'aiding Boko Haram' � an absurd

charge. The suspension of UNICEF will in fact deprive those whose lives have

been devastated by the Boko Haram conflict from receiving muchneeded

humanitarian assistance, Ojigho said.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)