The Nigerian military on Thursday pushed back against a report by the Wall Street Journal that the military had been secretly dumping the remains of fallen heroes of Boko Haram war in unmarked mass graves.
Military spokesperson Onyema Nwachukwu said the American newspaper was ignorant of military burial procedure when it reported on Thursday morning that at least 1,000 fallen Nigerian soldiers of Boko Haram insurgency were being transported to an unmarked grave site in near Maiduguri for a secret and undignified burial.
The paper quoted families of fallen servicemen as saying that the military was untidy in its handling of the tragic deaths of their loved ones.
It also reported that the military sometimes failed to open up on the fate of fallen soldiers to their families.
“After dark, the bodies of soldiers are covertly transported from a mortuary that at times gets so crowded the corpses are delivered by truck,” the paper reported, quoting Nigerian soldiers, diplomats and a senior government official.
“The bodies are laid by flashlight into trenches dug by infantrymen or local villagers paid a few dollars per shift,” it added.
The paper said prior to running the story, it made several attempts to speak with the Nigerian military and Buhari administration officials without success.
The report drew a collective outrage from Nigerians, with opposition politicians like Atiku Abubakar expressing concerns and demanding urgent investigation into the allegations.
The military, however, denied the pictures painted by the Wall Street Journal, saying fallen uniformed men were adequately honoured before burial and the burial ground was officially designated for military use.
Mr Nwachukwu, a colonel, said the Armed Forces of Nigeria had a rich and solemn tradition for the interment of their fallen heroes.
“Therefore, 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.
“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.
“It features 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,” he said.
Mr Nwachukwu said the cemetery described in the publication, near Maimalari Cantonment, was an officially designated military cemetery with a cenotaph erected in honour of the fallen heroes.
According to him, the official cemetery has played host to several national and international dignitaries, where wreaths are laid in honour of the fallen heroes.
“It is therefore a far cry from the sacrilegious impression being painted by the “Wall Street Journal”.
“The Defence Headquarters therefore urges members of the Armed Forces and the public to disregard such a misinformed publication.”
He urged them “to see it as a figment of the imagination of the writer, whose knowledge of military valued ethos and traditions is grossly misplaced.”