Nigeria's military bans Unicef over 'spies' training claim

The military has accused the UN children's agency of hosting workshops in Maiduguri and training people for 'clandestine' activities that are 'sabotaging' counterterrorism efforts.

FILE; Children stand in the shade of a temporary structure in one of the IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps in Pulka on 1 August 2018. As the presidential race heats up ahead of February polls, the Nigerian government and officials of Borno state, the epicentre of the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, are encouraging and facilitating the "return" of tens of thousands of people. Picture: AFP

LAGOS - Nigeria's military on Friday suspended Unicef from operating in the country's ravaged northeast over claims it was training "spies" who are supporting Boko Haram jihadists.

The military said that the United Nations children's agency had on 12 and 13 December held workshops in the northeast city of Maiduguri training people for "clandestine" activities that are "sabotaging" counterterrorism efforts.

Boko Haram's Islamist insurgency has killed more than 27,000 people since it began in 2009 and triggered a humanitarian crisis in the wider Lake Chad region, where the jihadists have stepped up attacks in recent months.

"There is credible information that some of them 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," said the press release signed by Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu.

"Consequently, the Theatre Command Operation LAFIYA DOLE is suspending the operations of Unicef in the North East theatre until further notice," said Nwachukwu.

A Unicef spokesperson said that the organisation was working to verify the information.

"It's self-explanatory, when you read it you will understand everything," said army public relations director Brigadier General Sani Usman to AFP about the suspension statement.

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 following the recent surge in attacks as he gears up to seek re-election 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 human rights violations and war crimes during its fight against Boko Haram.