By Muhammad Bello,
High level security sources have fingered the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Doctors Without Borders, operating in the North-east, where the organisation’s Brussels Operational Centre is currently based in Maiduguri, in an allegation that it is clandestinely involved in fuelling the Boko Haram conflict.
LEADERSHIP Friday findings reveal that the MSF has been refusing to allow the Nigerian Army verify that it was actually distributing food and medicine as it claimed whenever it left Maiduguri into rural areas and did not inform the authorities.
Since the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency, which has claimed the lives of over 100,000 Nigerians, numerous aid and humanitarian organisations have flocked into the country and established offices with the stated goals of assisting Nigeria take care of the millions of displaced created by the conflict.
Due to the urgency of the humanitarian situation in North-east Nigeria, many of these agencies were not properly vetted by the security agencies before they were allowed to set up offices in the country.
This has created a situation where the security services are said to be concerned about the activities of certain purported aid organisations that have been discovered to be engaging in questionable activities.
According to information made available to this paper by confidential sources, one of the most questionable organisations which has been quietly engaging in alleged suspicious activities is the MSF.
MSF Suspended From Niger Republic In 2008
Nine years ago, a Wikileaks document made available to the paper indicated that Niger Republic suspended MSF-France from operating in some of its region, namely Maradi and Agadez where its programmes manifestly focus on combating malnutrition and health issues such as meningitis, measles and malaria.
“The Government of Niger (GON)”, wrote Wikileaks, “forced MSF-France to suspend its Agadez program last fall after three MSF-F vehicles were stolen in a short time frame, which the GON considered “voluntary imprudence” on MSF-F’s part.”
But the real reasons for the suspension were also linked to speculation at the time that MSF colluded with the rebel group, MNJ, to plan the theft. According to the then head of the French chapter of MSF in Niger, Emmanuel Lavieuville, there were strained “relations between MSF-F and the GON… since at least the 2005 food crises, as well as GON suspicions that MSF-F sympathized with the rebel group (MNJ),” Mouvement des Nigériens pour la justice, known in English as Nigerien’s Movement for Justice, which has been battling the Niger government since 2007.
In 2014, Aljazeera reported that Myanmar kicked out the organization from the country for its role in caring for sick people, hiring Muslims and lack of “transparency in its work”.
…Sets Up Shop In North-east Without Security Vetting
Security operatives in Nigeria have accused the organisation of flouting Nigeria’s national security and disregarding the country’s sovereignty since it established operations here.
One source in the military command in Maiduguri, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that the organisation had refused to inform the headquarters of Operation Lafiya Dole of its movements into areas military operations were still ongoing against the Boko Haram terrorists, and places where special security measures were still in place in Borno State.
According to the military source, this was creating a situation where MSF personnel were traveling without informing the relevant authorities, in places where they could be abducted or killed by insurgents, which would create a public relations nightmare for the country.
“Where does it happen that foreigners refuse to obey the rules set by the local authorities in an active war zone? Or is it because it is Nigeria, they feel they can get away with flouting our sovereignty?” a source asked.
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The source also said, “They could be bringing in weapons and what have you to store in their warehouses in Maiduguri, and be delivering them to Boko Haram during their clandestine travels along the highways, and we will not know because they refuse to allow us inspect their warehouses and verify that they are not storing items detrimental to Nigeria’s security”.
Another military source said that MSF’s refusal to allow inspection of its warehouses, inform the military before venturing out into areas with insurgent presence, and to take military escort when doing so as other humanitarian agencies do, seemed to indicate that there was something the organisation did not want Nigeria to see it doing.
…Smuggled Salkida To France
High ranking security officials have also labelled the MSF as being a threat to Nigeria’s security, following intelligence reports that the organisation had secretly flown former journalist and alleged Boko Haram propagandist Ahmad Salkida, from Nigeria to France where they had contracted him to help them get in contact with the terrorist group, so they can negotiate with the terrorists for MSF to supply food and other items to the few areas controlled by the sect.
It would be recalled that last year Mr Salkida was accused by the Nigerian Army of aiding and abetting terrorism under the Terrorism Prevention Act. His international passport had been seized at the Nigerian diplomatic mission in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where he had been residing, as he had gone to renew it.
Shortly thereafter he had returned to Nigeria, and an agreement had been reached between the State Security Service and the Nigerian Army whereby Mr Salkida would be housed in Abuja, and his passport returned to him, provided he sought permission from the Army via the SSS before he leaves the country. Also he was to desist from publishing Boko Haram videos the terrorists send to him to publish.
However, according to sources who spoke to LEADERSHIP Friday, Mr Salkida had connived with MSF to get a Schengen Visa and fly to France without informing the SSS and the Army, in violation of the agreement reached.
“MSF did not seek and has not sought the Nigerian government’s permission to initiate dialogue with Boko Haram, and to reach a deal with the sect to supply it with food and medicine and other things as it plans to do”, a highly placed intelligence official said.
“They are planning to supply food and other things that we don’t know to Boko Haram. To terrorists. And they acting clandestinely like they are an intelligence organisation, not an aid agency”, he said.
“Why can’t MSF ask Nigeria’s permission or inform the government before engaging Salkida and get approval to talk to the enemies of this country? What are they hiding? Is that how it is done? Do you go to a country and start arranging to supply food and medicines to its enemies and you are hiding it from the government?”, another source queried.
A Nigerian Army source told LEADERSHIP Friday that the Army does not want food and medicine to be delivered to Boko Haram under the guise of humanitarian aid, and will oppose it vehemently if such a proposal was put before it by any aid organisation.
He said, “Who wants to be feeding his enemy in war? Make no mistake if MSF begins to deliver food and medicine to Boko Haram as we know it has contracted Salkida to do, it will be providing material support to terrorists who have killed Nigerian soldiers and civilians.
“The excuse they are giving to some people that they have been meeting in Abuja which we are aware of, is that they want to provide food and medicine to women and children under Boko Haram control. This excuse does not fly, because we know Boko Haram will use those foods and medicine for its fighters first, which enables it to stay in the fight longer.
“Our strategy is to starve, kill and deprive Boko Haram of any logistical support so that hunger will push its fighters to come out and surrender, and especially if they have families they will be forced to surrender for their families to see food.
“If they are shot we want them to find no medicine, and have to surrender to get treatment. MSF supplying them food and medicine as we know they are working to do, only prolongs the course of this war and keeps BH in the fight longer, and that is unacceptable”, he concluded.
According to these sources, the woman in charge of the MSF’s attempt to talk to Boko Haram and arrange to supply it food via Ahmad Salkida, is a certain Ghada Hatim, who used to be MSF Head of Mission in Nigeria. She recently handed over to another person and left the country, but has returned below the radar to work on this plan.
People who held meetings or were present at meetings requested by Ms Hatim, with some political, diplomatic and security actors, speaking anonymously, claimed that she refused to recognise that Nigeria had legitimate security concerns if MSF began to transfer food and medicine to Boko Haram.
One of them said she did not see her acting covertly inside Nigeria and her speaking clandestinely with terrorist enemies of the country without informing the government, as flouting Nigeria’s sovereignty and acting against Nigeria’s national security interests.
The source said, “The most insufferable thing about her and MSF is they dismiss Nigeria’s sovereignty and trivialise the fact that they are planning to supply aid to a terrorist organisation which has killed tens of thousands of Nigerians.
“If this was Egypt can they do that and not get arrested and locked away? Look at how Egypt dealt with those Aljazeera journalists it felt were trampling on its rights as a sovereign nation, that is how we should treat people like Mrs Hatim who are actively working to sabotage our security”.
MSF Denies Involvement In Conflict
When contacted via email, Ms Hatim replied through the same medium that the MSF entertains “interviews/ Q&As on any matter with regard to our humanitarian relief operations in the North East of Nigeria” but sought further information about the newspaper.
After she got our response, an email was sent by the Operational Communications Advisor, Sophie Madden, who, wrote that Hatim passed on our enquiry to her. She asked that all questions for which clarifications are sought should be through to her “or to the Nigeria comms email address (which is in copy) for any future enquiries, rather than going direct to our operational team.”
She said “MSF is not involved in supporting any party to the ongoing conflict in Borno State,” instead the organization is “a medical humanitarian organisation that works in more than 60 countries around the world.
After several email exchanges, Madden replied to questions emailed to her including the ones on the alleged role the organization played in unlawfully ferrying Salkida out of the country, saying: “MSF does not engage in “questionable activities” in Borno state. We would be grateful if you could provide more background information about your questions, which do not reflect the work of MSF.
“As a part of our registration, we comply with official regulations. We inform the authorities of our movements in areas of ongoing conflict, and regularly meet them at state and federal level to provide updates on the work we are doing. It is routine for us to engage with journalists, including those working for publications such as your own, in the course of our work.” Madden added.
She further added: “MSF is a medical humanitarian organisation that has been registered in Borno since 2014, and has been working in Nigeria since 1985. We currently provide much-needed medical humanitarian assistance in eleven places across Borno, including in Maiduguri, Monguno and Ngala.
“Between July and December last year, our staff provided medical consultations to 175,516 people, admitted 3,306 people to hospital and distributed food to 32,365 families in Borno.
“We provide emergency medical humanitarian assistance to people who need it, during conflicts and disease outbreaks, following natural disasters or where people would not otherwise have access to medical care.
“We work according to medical ethics and our own charter which is based on principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality. We treat anyone who needs medical care, regardless of their political affiliation, religion or ethnicity and do not take sides in any of the conflicts in which we work,” she submitted.
Reps Reject Bill On Stigmatisation Of Boko Haram Victims
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives yesterday rejected a bill for an Act to prohibit the stigmatisation of victims of insurgency or militancy.
The bill, which was sponsored by Hon. Ahmed Yerima (Kano-APC), sought to provide for prosecution of any person or group, who may prevent such victims from reintegrating in the community.
Leading the debate on the bill, Yerima had said that the bill, if passed, would uphold and protect the fundamental rights of the victims to dignity and freedom of association as enshrined in the Constitution.
According to him, the bill targets victims of Boko Haram insurgency who, after rehabilitation, still find it difficult to reintegrate due to stigmatisation.
While canvassing support for the bill, the lawmaker stressed the need for a mechanism to restrain those who stigmatised such victims in the country.
In his contribution, the chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Mr Emmanuel Orker-Jev (Benue-APC), opposed the bill.
Order-Jev argued that what the bill sought to achieve had been provided for in relevant sections of the 1999 constitution as amended.
He said, “The Constitution is supreme over Acts of parliament”, and urged members to drop the bill.
After contributions by members, the bill was rejected through a unanimous vote put by the Speaker of the House, Mr Yakubu Dogara.