By Philip Agbese
During the 2010 Jos riots and the subsequent months, international news wire service, Reuters, did a disservice to Nigeria that many people might not have noticed but which was nonetheless bad, horrible actually for a news outlet that is perpetually steeped in virtue signaling. At that time, Reuters was engaged in reporting the crisis in a manner that further pitched one side of the crisis against the others by constantly highlighting casualties on an ethno-sectarian basis, an approach that was intended to sustain a tit-for-tat killing spree as each side was engaged in constantly trying to avenge the casualty figures reported for its side by Reuters.
Being the resilient nation that it is, Nigeria weathered that storm and remained in existence despite this kind of psychological operation ((PSYOP), a war designed to undermine Nigeria and unravel the country for whatever benefit that global media operations like Reuters are after. Wikipedia described PSYOP as “operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.”
It went on to explain that “PSYOP can encourage popular discontent with the opposition’s leadership and by combining persuasion with a credible threat, degrade an adversary’s ability to conduct or sustain military operations. They can also disrupt, confuse, and protract the adversary’s decision-making process, undermining command, and control. When properly employed, PSYOP have the potential to save the lives of friendly or enemy forces by reducing the adversary’s will to fight. By lowering the adversary’s morale and then its efficiency, PSYOP can also discourage aggressive actions by creating disaffection within their ranks, ultimately leading to surrender.”
Reuters’ latest so-called investigative report against Nigeria, “The Abortion Assault: Nigerian Military ran secret mass abortion programme in war against Boko Haram” is a dangerous deployment of PSYOP that must be condemned by all right thinking persons as an irresponsible attempt at manufacture of dissent, which refers to a cause that is so unpopular that it is solely driven by money, fake news media, or rogue intelligence agencies, which Reuters is proving to be.
The opening lines of the report, which is marketed to be an investigative piece, actually read like a fiction novel, more vested in holding the reader spell-bound than conveying vital information, which ought to have been the intention of a news outlet. The writers’ style belied their confusion as they struggled to make sense of whether they are running a first person narrative, or a third person reported account. What they succeeded in doing was to largely assume the omniscient tone, a see-all-know-all format that is favoured by fiction novelists, which totally dismissed the entire report as something that should only be found on the fantasy section of fiction novels.
According to a research and policy group, Humanitarian Outcomes, “As of the end of 2019 there were 74 identified organisations working in the northeast, including 6 UN agencies plus OCHA and IOM, 28 INGOs, and 33 Nigerian national and local NGOs.” These NGOs have at various times raised alarm about issues, often accusing the Federal Government especially the military of one thing or the other but not once has any of them raised the issue of 10,000 forced abortions. Even the UN representatives interviewed in the report denied knowledge of what Reuters is insinuating.
In Reuters’ own words, “This investigation is based on interviews with 33 women and girls who say they underwent abortions while in the custody of the Nigerian Army.” This presents an interesting scenario. It reported there were 10,000 forced abortions but it was only able to sample 33 women and girls. St. Olaf College recommended that “Generally speaking, the smaller the population, the larger the sampling ratio needed. For populations under 1,000, a minimum ratio of 30 percent (300 individuals) is advisable to ensure representativeness of the sample. For larger populations, such as a population of 10,000, a comparatively small minimum ratio of 10 percent (1,000) of individuals is required to ensure representativeness of the sample.” So how come Reuters conveniently disappeared 9,977 other “victims” of the atrocity it reported and never bothered to interview them? How did speaking with 33 alleged victims become 10,000 forced abortions?
It is interesting to note that the news outlet doubted its own report and acknowledged it is part of a damaging operation targeting Nigeria. For instance, it stated that “Reuters was unable to establish who created the abortion programme or determine who in the military or government ran it. Nigerian military leaders denied the programme has ever existed and said Reuters reporting was part of a foreign effort to undermine the country’s fight against the insurgents.”
Reuters also exposed how its reported 10,000 forced abortions was a concoction of figures provided by sources that were so unreliable that they could not be named. The report is so trashy that the International Criminal Court (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor declined to comment on Reuters’ findings. The entire report was replete with phrases and clauses that hinted at uncertainty about the allegations being made, which makes one wonder why that organization proceeded to publish the report under such circumstances.
A five page statement that Director of Defence Information, Major General Jimmy Akpor, issued has totally rubbished the Reuters report for the hogwash that it is so there is no point rehashing the strong points that the military has raised about the sanctity of life and the military’s adherence to rules of engagement that ensure that even hardened terrorists are treated humanely when captured to talk less of their victims.
The tragic facing part, however, is that Reuters may succeed in its intention for publishing the report unless the Nigerian military and the Federal Government chose to be deliberately strategic and robust in their response to the propaganda attack. A critical factor to achieving this is to properly contextualize Reuters’ attack, identify its collaborators and anticipate the next moves in the PSYOP that has been revived against Nigeria. In terms of contextualizing the environment around the report, it is important to note how the publication was hastily pushed out at a time when there has been successive killing or capture of terrorists – Boko Haram/ISWAP and bandits; focusing on the publication could create distractions that would interfere with the progress of the counter-terrorism efforts.
It should equally be noted that Reuters, a news platform that ought to be neutral, openly participating in the propaganda war against Nigeria signals a desperation on the part of those that have been propping up the terrorists with propaganda support. In the past they have used groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch without the kind of defining success they have in mind.
The Nigerian Army (and the Federal Government) should attenuate Reuters’ attempt to bring it into disrepute and promote terrorist propaganda against the Nigerian State. This should be done by outlining and highlighting the successes that have been recorded in dismantling the foreign-backed terror infrastructure that they want to gain root in Nigeria. The government should promote its rehabilitation and reintegration programmed for victims and repentant terrorists because these are the kind of success stories that make those running evil entities like Reuters to bristle and froth at the mouth. There is a whole lot of good things that the Nigerian Army is making to happen and that should be the focus and not wasting efforts on Reuters’ irresponsibility.
And for the records, Reuters got it wrong when it surmised that the pack of conjectures, half-truths, fictions, and the lies in its report would be swallowed by all and sundry hook, line, and sinker. Reuters got it wrong when it thought it could easily pick up with doing damage in Nigeria from where it left off in the 2010 Jos Crisis. The dynamics have changed in a manner that have left the Reuters goons behind. Its propaganda efforts will fail worse than those of its collaborators that had attempted to undermine Nigeria in the past.
Agbese is a UK trained human rights expert writing from Abuja.