DHQ denies WSJ’s claims of secret cemetery for dead Nigerian soldiers

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Nigerian Army has been burying hundreds of soldiers in secret unmarked graves, in a bid to cover up the casualty figures in the ongoing war against insurgency within the North East, a report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) claims.

According to the report titled,  “Nigeria Buries Soldiers at Night in Secret Cemetery”, at the northern edge of Maiduguri city’s sprawling military base, a vast field of churned soil conceals the hidden toll of a deadly offensive by the allies of Islamic State.

The subtitle of the article read, “While president says war against Islamist insurgency is won, army conceals toll in unmarked graves”.

It further states that after dark, the bodies of soldiers are covertly transported from a mortuary that at times gets so crowded the corpses are delivered by truck.

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The report says that the bodies are laid by flashlight into trenches dug by infantrymen or local villagers paid a few dollars per shift.

WSJ says its report is based on accounts from Nigerian soldiers, diplomats, and a senior government official.

A soldier who spoke from the Maimalari barracks is quoted as saying, “Several of my comrades were buried in unmarked graves at night,” where more than 1,000 soldiers are based. “They are dying and being deleted from history.”

The secret graveyard at Maimalari isn’t the only one in Nigeria’s troubled northeast, said the senior government official quoted by WSJ.

Meanwhile, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the last general election, Atiku Abubakar,  has called for the setting up of a  Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the claims made by WSJ.

Reacting via his verified Twitter handle, Atiku said, “To ensure that we get to the bottom of this matter, I urge that a Judicial Commission of Inquiry headed by a non-partisan and reputable jurist, be inaugurated to investigate the findings of the Wall Street Journal.

“While this is ongoing, I strongly urge a panel of inquiry comprising distinguished former military officers be set up to investigate and report to Nigerians the true state of the war on terror and what must be done to ensure Nigeria brings a speedy end to the ongoing insurgency.”

“Even the death of one soldier affects me. But the alleged cover-up of the deaths of scores of soldiers is a national emergency that should shock all statesmen and leaders of thoughts into action to save Nigeria,” he added.

The Defence Headquarters has however, denied the claims of the WSJ stating that there are no secret graveyards in the North East Theatre.

In a communique by the Director Defence Information, Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, the military states that “this insinuation can only emanate from an uninformed position of the author of the said publication.”

It insisted that “the Armed Forces of Nigeria has a rich and solemn tradition for the internment” of its fallen heroes.

The statement further reads, “It must be unambiguously clarified that the Armed Forces of Nigeria does not indulge in secret burials, as it is sacrilegious and a profanity to extant ethos and traditions of the Nigerian military.”

Colonel Nwachukwu also stated that in tandem with the traditions of the Armed Forces, fallen heroes are duly honoured and paid the last respect in befitting military funeral of international standard, featuring funeral parade, gravesite oration, solemn prayers for the repose of departed souls by Islamic and Christian clerics, as well as gun salutes, aside other military funeral rites.

According to the DHQ spokesman, “The cemetery described in the publication, which is situated in Maimalari military cantonment is an officially designated military cemetery for the Armed Forces of Nigeria in the North East theatre, with a cenotaph erected in honour of our fallen heroes.

“The official cemetery has played host to several national and international dignitaries, where wreaths were laid in honour of the fallen heroes.

“It is, therefore, a far cry from the sacrilegious impression being painted by Wall Street Journal.”

The DHQ urged members of the Armed Forces and the general public to disregard “such a misinformed publication and see it as a figment of the imagination of the writer, whose knowledge of military valued ethos and traditions is grossly misplaced”.

Yetunde Adegoke

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