A Reuters series exposing grave abuses by the Nigerian military against thousands of women and children has won the 2023 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting. Presented by the USC Annenberg School of Journalism, the Selden Ring Award is one of the most prestigious honors in investigative journalism.
‘Nightmare in Nigeria,’ by Paul Carsten, David Lewis, Reade Levinson and Libby George, revealed a previously unreported program of forced abortions and a pattern of targeted child-killing in Nigeria’s northeast, site of Abuja’s long, bloody, Western-backed war against Islamist insurgents.
On December 7, the team revealed the Nigerian Army’s secret, systematic and illegal abortion program aimed at women and girls who had been abducted and impregnated by insurgents. The program ended at least 10,000 pregnancies over a decade. The abortions mostly were carried out without consent – often without the victims’ prior knowledge. In a report on Dec. 12, the team found that the military has intentionally killed children, from babies to adolescents, with a blurring frequency across the northeast. The army’s tactics had a chilling rationale: The children were presumed to be, or were likely to become, “terrorists.” The goal was not just to annihilate the insurgency – but to wipe out a perceived insurgent bloodline. On Dec. 14, George and Carsten chronicled how one woman saw her life all but destroyed by sexual slavery under Boko Haram, a forced abortion by the army, and the death of two children.
The Reuters findings in the first three stories posed a troubling question: How could such atrocities happen, seemingly without raising suspicion, in Nigeria, a country closely allied with Western governments in its war on Islamist extremists? Relying on exclusive interviews and internal government documents, a December 28 report authoritatively showed how the U.S. and the UK had repeatedly prioritized security, economic and political partnerships with Abuja over holding its military to account for human rights abuses.
Seasoned diplomats and Nigeria specialists expressed shock at the atrocities uncovered by Reuters. Legal experts said they may amount to war crimes. The impact was immediate. The UN secretary-general, the U.S. defense and state departments, lawmakers in Washington and London, the German foreign minister, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for staff inquiries or investigations by the Nigerians. U.S. Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the secretary of state to review U.S. security aid in response to “the serious and abhorrent allegations.” Abuja initially refused to investigate, but then, amid international outcry, said it would cooperate with a probe by the country’s independent Human Rights Commission. That inquiry began this month.
For more Reuters award-winning investigative journalism, visit Reuters.com/investigates.
Heather.Carpenter @ tr.com