According to a report published by Reuters news agency, “since 2013, the Nigerian military has conducted a secret, systematic and illegal abortion program in the country’s northeast ending at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls.” The report's findings provide further evidence of the use of rape as a weapon of war against Nigerian civilians by Islamist insurgents.
The report shows that the 7th Division - the Nigerian military force tasked with fighting the insurgents - imposed chemical or surgical abortions on tens of thousands of women raped by Islamist insurgents such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State Province of West Africa (ISWAP), a self-declared regional “caliphate” of ISIS.
Soldiers involved in the army's forced abortion program told Reuters the reason for the program was that “the children of insurgents are predestined, by the blood in their veins, to one day take up arms against the Nigerian government and society. Four soldiers and one guard said they were told by superiors that the program was needed to destroy insurgent fighters before they could be born.”
Another argument made by four of the health workers interviewed by Reuters is that “the program was for the good of the women and any children they might bear, who would face the stigma of being associated with an insurgent father.”
Reuters verified that the Nigerian military beat and coerced women, some as young as 12, into abortions under the most unsanitary conditions. Bintu Ibrahim, a woman who had one such forced abortion, told Reuters: “If they had left me with the baby, I would have wanted it.”
The Failure of the Nigerian State
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which monitors religious persecution around the world, released a report in November noting a “sharp increase in genocidal violence by militant non-state actors, including jihadists” in Africa. According to the ACN, the situation is particularly serious in Nigeria, which “is on the verge of becoming a failed state.”
ACN's November report states that in Nigeria, the “number of attacks and killings has risen sharply, with more than 7,600 Christians killed” between 2020 and 2022. Although previous reports have detailed the Islamists' use of rape as a terror tactic, the Reuters article highlights the massive scale of the jihadists' rape campaign.
Now, there is concrete evidence that radical Islamic insurgents in Nigeria have perpetuated a systematic campaign of torture and rape against women, with at more than 10,000 victims since 2013.
A woman, identified by Reuters as Fati, was abducted, regularly beaten and raped, and forcibly married to three successive Islamist extremists. According to testimonies from victims and Nigerian soldiers, Fati's horrific experience is the norm for women captured by Boko Haram and ISWAP.
Reuters explains how, after years of repeated torture and rape at the hands of jihadist militants, Fati was rescued by the Nigerian military and forced to undergo a chemical abortion during which she felt searing pain, surrounded by other women who had had similar abortions.
Abortion Strongly Frowned Upon
An aggravating factor is the fact that “abortion is widely frowned upon in culturally conservative Nigeria, in both the Christian-dominated south and in the majority-Muslim north. It is also illegal except to save the life of the mother. In the north, any person found guilty of participating in an abortion, including the woman, can be charged with a felony and given up to 14 years in prison, and potentially a fine.”
“Causing a woman's death by performing an abortion without her consent is also punishable by life in prison in the north. Reuters could not determine how frequently abortions result in criminal prosecution.”
Forced abortions may also violate the Nigerian military’s code of conduct. The most recent version publicly available, issued in 1967, states that ‘under no circumstances should pregnant women be ill-treated or killed.”
Predictably, all officers interviewed denied the program and claimed it was impossible for such a horror to have happened in the country. But the Reuters report is based on such a body of evidence that it does not seem possible to dismiss it.