Olalekan Adetayo, Everest Amaefule, Chukwudi Akasike, Adelani Adepegba, Mudiaga Affe, Success Nwogu, Oladimeji Ramon, Olaleye Aluko and Abiodun Nejo
Public outrage has greeted the armed soldiers’ invasion of the national headquarters of Media Trust Limited, the publishers of the Daily Trust titles in Jabi, Abuja and its outstation office in Maiduguri on Sunday night.
Armed soldiers had on Sunday invaded the premises of the media outfit in Abuja, and Maiduguri and carted away computers, laptops and arrested the Regional Editor, Uthman Abubakar, and a reporter, Ibrahim Sawab.
But the United Kingdom, the presidential candidate of the Peoples democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria, the Nigerian Guild of Editors and other civil society organisations have condemned the action.
Why we invaded Daily Trust offices – Army
However, the Nigerian Army said it invaded the Daily Trust offices in Abuja and Maiduguri, Borno State, to invite workers of the media company over a story in its Sunday publication “which divulged classified military information, thus undermining national security.”
The army said the invasion was “done with the best of intention” claiming that its invitation to the newspaper organisation’s workers was to enable them to realise the import of the publication to national security.
The Director, Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Sani Usman, in a statement, said the publication of classified security information amounted to a breach of national security and ran contrary to Sections 1 and 2 of the Official Secret Act.
Usman was however silent on the carting away of computer sets from the media organisation and the arrest of two workers in Maiduguri, whose whereabouts were reportedly unknown as of press time.
The army spokesman said, “We would like to state that soldiers of the Nigerian Army along with the elements of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies were indeed at the Abuja and Maiduguri offices of the publishing company to invite the staff of the company over its lead story on Sunday which divulged classified military information, thus undermining national security.
“In it, the newspaper disclosed details of planned military operations against the Boko Haram terrorists. The disclosure of classified security information amounts to a breach of national security and runs contrary to Sections 1 and 2 of the Official Secret Act. It afforded the Boko Haram terrorists prior notice of our plans and giving them early warning to prepare against the Nigerian military, thus sabotaging the planned operations and putting the lives of troops in imminent and clear danger.
“We would like to state that the invitation of those responsible for divulging military plans was done with the best of intention in order to make them realise the import of such acts to our national security. We would not tolerate a situation where a publication would consistently side with terrorists and undermine our national institutions.
“We would like to further assure that the invitation is for further investigation and if need be, all those culpable of jeopardising operations security will be prosecuted by the relevant law enforcement agency.”
UK condemns invasion, says action rash
But in spite of the Army’s explanation, the United Kingdom on Monday condemned the military invasion of the Daily Trust newspaper offices in Borno and Abuja and the arrest of its journalists by soldiers on Sunday.
It described the action as rash, noting that a free press which is able to challenge and comment on the actions of the nation was an essential cornerstone and hallmark of democracy across the globe, insisting that “this freedom is an inviolable and absolute right.”
The UK Department for International Development in Nigeria in a statement in Abuja on Monday by its Communications Officer, David Smith, advised the military to engage in constructive dialogue with stakeholders on how best to work together to deliver for the people of Nigeria.
The DFID stated, “Whilst we welcome the swift and decisive action from the Federal Government in resolving this incident, the existence of the raid alone remains a concerning development in Nigeria.
“The United Kingdom believes that freedom of the press and freedom of speech are fundamental democratic principles, and their right is absolute and inviolable.
“A free press is the hallmark of a civilised and democratic nation, and efforts to subvert or silence such organisations are the colours of tyranny and authoritarianism.
“Rather than resorting to rash tactics of raids and arrests, a strong foundation of dialogue and trust will resolve issues before they create friction.”
The United Kingdom said it would continue to monitor the situation closely, particularly as the 2019 presidential election drew closer.
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Also, the Head of the UK Department for International Development in Nigeria, Ms Debbie Palmer, said, “This is a concerning development for Nigeria, and I am disappointed that such rash action was taken by the authorities.”
Invasion shocking, illegal, says NPAN
Also, the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria, in a statement on Monday by its Executive Secretary, Feyi Smith, said it received the news of the invasion with shock.
Decrying the invasion NPAN said, “The weekend siege to the Daily Trust newspaper premises was clearly unconstitutional, without due process and an act of self-help.
“Additionally, it showed a poor appreciation of the advancement in information dissemination in the global village where news is disseminated at the touch of a keyboard and not necessarily in a fixed address. This is 2019 and those who gave the vexatious order ought to know better.
“We have gone too far in search of law and order regime than to countenance such display of raw power and emotion over due process.”
NGE wants Daily Trust journalists released
In the same vein, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, rebuked the military in a statement jointly signed by its President, Funke Egbemode, and Social and Publicity Secretary, Ken Ugbechie.
The NGE said, “The crude invasion, intimidation and arrest of journalists discharging their constitutional duties in the Maiduguri zonal office of the newspaper by heavily armed soldiers is not the type of story befitting the military in a democracy.”
The body further described the invasion as “a throwback to the dark days of military rule, an era Nigerians do no remember with any ounce of nostalgia.”
It demanded the immediate release of the journalists, while welcoming the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari who had ordered soldiers to vacate the offices of the newspaper.
The NGE, however, assured the military of “the unflinching support of the Nigerian media as they wage a war against insurgency,” and urged the military to see the media as its partner.
Atiku condemns action, says invasion a travesty
Atiku in a statement by his Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, on Monday said he was alarmed over the military invasion of the newspaper organisation and the arrest of its journalists.
According to him, the “invasion is a travesty, the like of which the nation had not seen since the days of military rule.”
Atiku said, “The particular use of heavily armed soldiers also shows the abuse of scarce resources which have exacerbated the insecurity currently plaguing Nigeria.
“Our soldiers should not be used to target law-abiding citizens. A dutiful and prudent commander-in-chief should rather deploy them to either the North-East or the Zamfara-Katsina axis, especially after the governors of both states held their New Year’s Day conferences bemoaning the breakdown of law and order in their respective states.”
He added, “If the government has issues with the Media Trust Limited, it should bring charges against it in a court of competent jurisdiction or the Nigeria Press Council, the statutory body that governs ethical standards in the Nigerian press.”
CUPP wants reporters released, Daily Trust compensated
Also, the CUPP on Monday demanded the immediate release of the Daily Trust’s reporters and compensation for any damages that occurred in the process of the siege.
Its position was contained in a statement by its first national spokesman, Imo Ugochinyere.
He said as provided for in Chapter II Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, the mass media “shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.”
Ugochinyere added, “The President should be more interested in solving insecurity issues rather than oppressing the press who are just doing their job as written in the constitution.”
He advised the Presidency and the ruling All Progressives Congress to focus their rage on the Boko Haram insurgents and let the press do their works.
“We hereby demand the immediate release of the journalists of the Daily Trust newspapers and full compensation for any damages that occurred in the process of the siege,” he said.
Buhari should punish officers who ordered invasion – MRA
Similarly, the Media Rights Agenda has condemned the invasion in a statement on Monday by its Programme Director, Ayode Longe.
MRA said Buhari should not stop at ordering the military to vacate the newspaper’s premises but he should go further to punish the soldiers involved in the invasion.
The body said, “It is imperative that the President take further action to discourage this sort of highhandedness in future as anything short of punitive action against the perpetrators of the act would amount to encouraging impunity.
“We, therefore, call on the President to demonstrate his commitment to the rule of law and disdain for abuse of power and impunity.”
Also, the Social Action, a non-governmental organisation, has called on the Federal Government to investigate and sanction officers who ordered the invasion.
It described the invasion of the offices of Daily Trust newspapers by men of the Nigerian Army as an alarming threat to the nation’s renascent democracy.
It also condemned the arrest of journalists by the security outfit, saying the action remained a gloomy development in Nigeria’s polity.
The group stated that the resort to self-help, intimidation and brutality by the military over any perceived grouse against the media outfit was a slap on the face of Nigeria’s democracy and a danger to press freedom.
In a statement in Abuja on Monday, the Head of National Advocacy of Social Action, Nigeria, Vivian Bellonwu-Okafor, said that the invasion of the media house was an attack on Nigeria’s democracy.
Bellonwu-Okafor, therefore, asked the Federal Government to urgently investigate the illegality perpetrated by the military against the Daily Trust newspapers.
“The recent reported invasion of a Nigerian media house, the Daily Trust newspapers and the brutalisation and arrest of journalists therein by the Nigerian Army is another gloomy development in the country’s polity and an alarming threat to its renascent democracy.
“For a nation with full-fledged rule of law institutions in place, including robust and active judiciary, the Nigerian Army’s recourse to a futile self-help, intimidation and brutality to vent whatever perceived grouse it has against the media outfit, is a slap on the face of the country’s democracy and a clear threat to basic freedoms.
“This deed is reminiscent of the dark and dreary days of military regime in the country of which its yokes, pains and indeed scars are still very much fresh in the memory of Nigerians and the country as a whole,” Bellonwu-Okafor said in the statement issued in Port Harcourt on Monday.
She, however, expressed the need for those behind the invasion of the media house to face sanctions in order to strengthen the country’s democracy.
Bellonwu-Okafor said, “Social Action Nigeria, therefore, strongly charges the government to immediately investigate this illegality and sanction all the culpable officers who both authorised and carried out the act in other to reinforce the critical safeguards of the country’s democracy.”
Also, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre has condemned the method deployed by the Nigerian Army in response to its allegation of professional misdeeds related to some publications by the newspapers.
CISLAC’s Executive Director, Auwal Ibrahim Musa, said, “The unnecessary show of excessive force and arbitrary arrests of staff of the media outfit, as well as the invasion of Daily Trust offices in Abuja and Maiduguri, amount to intimidation and threat to freedom of press and undermine the rule of law.”
Musa said in a statement on Monday that “a free and proactive press is indispensable in a true democratic society and remains a veritable platform for informing and educating citizens to effectively engage issues of governance.”
According to him, the press can hold government accountable only by public presentation of facts and articulation or publication of findings without fear or favour.
He said, “While we believe that journalists and the media should be responsible within the rule of law and avoid acts that could undermine the peace and security of the nation, we insist that the military cannot resort to self-help and excessive show of force to intimidate civilians whenever it feels aggrieved.
“The laws of our land have made adequate provisions for how such should be addressed and the military should not act outside of these laws.”
CISLAC called on security agencies to desist from taking the law into their own hands as there were proper channels to be followed whenever they felt that they had issues with organisations or persons.
Shun FG’s activities, Agbaje group tells journalists
However, the Atiku-Agbaje Media Engagement Network has called on media organisations to shun the APC-led government activities following the invasion of the premises of Daily Trust in Abuja and Maiduguri.
AAMEN in a statement on Monday issued by its Executive Secretary, Mr Felix Oboagwina, said the military’s action showed a violent descent into anarchy, impunity and human rights abuse.