The Defence Headquarters has denied that it has secret graveyards in the north-eastern flank of the country where it buries dead soldiers from the insurgency in that part of the country.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), quoting local sources, soldiers, diplomats, and a senior government official broke what appeared to be an exclusive story, which the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in February’s election, latched onto to issue a statement calling for inquiries.
The Defence Headquarters said the insinuation in the WSJ story emanated from an uninformed position of the author of the publication.
The Director of Defence Information, Col. Onyeama Nwachukwu, said: “It therefore becomes necessary to inform the public that the Armed Forces of Nigeria has a rich and solemn tradition for the interment of our fallen heroes. Therefore, it must be unambigously 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.
“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, grave site oration, solemn prayers for the repose of departed souls by Islamic and Christian clerics, as well as gun salutes, aside other military funeral rites.
“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 Defence Headquarters therefore urges 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”.
WSJ, in its report, claims the Nigerian Army has been burying hundreds of soldiers in secret and unmarked graves to cover up the number of deaths from the insurgency.
According to the report, bodies of dead soldiers are secretly moved from a mortuary that at times gets so crowded the corpses are delivered by truck.
The report says that the bodies are laid by flashlight into trenches dug by infantrymen or local villagers paid a few dollars per shift.
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.”
On Thursday, Atiku weighed in describing the report as heart-breaking and shocking.
He called for a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the veracity of the WSJ claims, as well as a panel of retired army officers to brief Nigerians on the true state of the insurgency.
His words: “Heartbreak for the families and friends of those soldiers who, if the report is true, have lost their loved ones, without being allowed to bury them or even to have any sense of closure as regards their fate.
“Shock, that such a thing could happen under a democracy, such as Nigeria is supposed to be. I shudder to think that the cover-up of such an event of epic proportions can be true.
“The men and women of our armed forces are our first, second and last defence against our domestic and foreign enemies and should be treated with love, respect, dignity and appreciation for the invaluable service they render to Nigeria.
“I cannot fathom that in the space of a year, 1000 of these great patriots were killed and buried secretly without their families being told. I hesitate to believe that deceit on such a grand scale is even possible.
“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 occurring, I also strongly urge that 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.
“Nigeria must ensure prudent use of finances, so we can redistribute national resources in such a way that ensures that our military and security forces are well armed and well remunerated.
“Even the death of one soldier affects me. But the alleged cover-up of the deaths of one thousand soldiers is a national emergency that should shock all statesmen and leaders of thoughts into action to save Nigeria”.