A lawyer from Reuters, Clifford Kalu, walked into the hearing session of the Special Independent Investigative Panel on Human Rights Violations in Counter Insurgency Operations in the North East on Friday, despite the international media organization’s refusal to appear before the panel.
Earlier, the panel’s Secretary, Mr. Hilary Ogbonna, had invited Reuters to appear before the panel to substantiate its allegations of abortion of 10,000 pregnancies, massacre of children, and other forms of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against the Nigerian military in its counter-insurgency operations in the North East.
The National Human Rights Commission expressed concern about the curious manner in which the lawyer came to the panel, having earlier declined to appear. The Commission is therefore of the view that Reuters’ behavior suggests foul play because when a member of the secretariat of the panel asked him to wait in the waiting room, as the panel cannot have both Reuters and the Army in the hall while the cross-examination of the top military official is going on, Mr. Clifford left, again unannounced, and never came back.
Before Clifford’s unexpected visit to the panel, his client, Reuters, had written to the Commission explaining its inability to honor the summons. This is unfortunate because Reuters seem not to cooperate with the Commission and this is unexpected for such a news agency.
On March 21, 2023, Reuters, through the services of Olumide Babalola chambers, wrote a letter to the Commission titled, “Notice of objection to summons to witnesses dated the 16th day of March 2023 issued on Paul Carsten, Reade Levinson, David Lewis, Libby George, and Christophe Van Der Perre brought pursuant to Section 6 (2)(b) (e) of the National Human Rights Commission Act 2010. In the letter, Reuters claimed that the witnesses do not have any physical or business presence in Nigeria and, by extension, are outside the territorial jurisdiction of the panel.
Meanwhile, the panel heard the testimony of Mr. Emmanuel Ajah, country director of Marie Stopes, an international organization that provides family planning services. Marie Stopes was alleged to have been involved in the abortion saga. In his testimony, Mr. Ajah said that his organization does not conduct illegal abortions but provides post-abortion care and that the Reuters allegation is a pure misrepresentation of facts.
Mr. Ajah, who said his organization collaborated with public offices in the country in the course of their services, the country director, and Dr. Kingsley Odogwu, a specialist gynecologist with Marie Stopes in their oral evidence before the panel said that they only had cases where women who are at risk of their lives are given medical assistance to save their lives during complicated medical conditions.