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UNICEF: Army lifts suspension

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Nigerian Army has lifted the suspension on the activities of the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in northeast Nigeria, less than 24 hours it imposed one on the aid agency.

“Suspension lifted,” Geoffrey Njoku, UNICEF Nigeria’s communication officer told The Guardian in an email.

The agency was accused of sabotaging the Nigerian military’s war on the insurgency in the Northeast. The suspension was to last three months.

The army said the suspension was lifted following the “intervention by well-meaning and concerned Nigerians.” It is unclear, however, why the army will choose to prioritise suspension intervention over the allegations it made against UNICEF.

Prior to the lifting of suspension, a meeting with UNICEF representatives was held. At that meeting, the aid agency’s was admonished and was told “desist from activities inimical to Nigeria’s national security and capable of undermining ongoing fight against terrorism and insurgency,” an army spokesman Onyema Nwachukwu said.

“[The suspension] has become inevitable since the organisation has abdicated its primary duty of catering for the wellbeing of children and the vulnerable through humanitarian activities and now engaged in training selected persons for clandestine activities to continue sabotaging the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts of troops,” an army spokesman Onyema Nwachukwu said in a statement on Friday.

Boko Haram, loosely meaning western education is forbidden, has been waging a nine-year-old war against the Nigerian government, at a point declaring a large swathe of land in Nigeria’s northeast as its caliphate.

With its members drawn from its immediate locality, and then radicalised, the children, especially, the girl, who wants to escape the grip of poverty in the region becomes an easy target.

The insurgency led to a massive humanitarian crisis that has left about 1.7 million people homeless, with about 800,000 displaced hard-to-reach areas, Norwegian Refugee Council said in June.

UNICEF is one of the donor agencies working in the region to bring aid to children and women affected by the insurgency.

It said it aims “to accelerate the realisation of the rights of all children and women to survival, development, protection and participation.”

The Nigerian Army, which declared three UNICEF employees “persona non grata” in April, however, insisted that the agency has abdicated its core responsibilities. It accuses the United Nations organ of “playing the terrorists’ script with the aim to continue demoralising the troops.”

It also accused UNICEF of training some personnel to deliberately sabotage its counterinsurgency by making “spurious and unconfirmed allegations bothering on alleged violations of human rights by the military.”

Amnesty International, another organisation that has a frosty relationship with the Nigerian military, said the suspension was in bad faith and described the decision as “absurd”.

“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 much-needed humanitarian assistance.”


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