NPAN Asks FG to Rein in EFCC, Says Agency is Cowering Free Speech

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• Presidency defends commission, says APC will last 200 years

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

The Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) Tuesday joined other Nigerians and media organisations to condemn Monday’s invasion of the Lagos office of The Sun Newspapers by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), warning that the invasion of media houses has never worked and will never work.

A statement signed by the President of NPAN and Chairman/Editor-in-Chief of THISDAY Newspaper Group, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, also called on the federal government to call EFCC to order for the greater good of the country and the rule of law.

Obaigbena, in the statement said: “We have received with grave concern, the Monday, June 12, 2017 invasion by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) of the Apapa, Lagos corporate headquarters of The Sun Newspapers.

“Facts before the NPAN indicate that the EFCC operatives swooped on the newspaper in the early morning of June 12, while Nigerians were commemorating the historic day of Free Expression, and ordered security men to take them on a guided tour of the premises of the newspaper.

“The EFCC operatives subsequently prevented journalists and staff from performing their constitutional duties, and abridging their rights to Free Speech by preventing those who were in the premises from leaving, and others reporting for duty from entering the premises.

“Although the EFCC said they were there to enforce a 10-year-old interim order of forfeiture on the shareholding of The Sun Newspapers, the Editors of The Sun Newspapers said the EFCC officials were there on a vengeance and intimidation mission to settle scores on several stories published by the newspaper, including the alleged ownership of certain properties by the wife of the EFCC acting chairman for which the acting chairman had threatened libel lawsuits.

“Instead of lawsuits, the EFCC operatives raided the newspaper offices to revive a 10-year-old interim order of forfeiture that is already before an appellate court.”
Given these developments, Obaigbena said it was the considered view of NPAN that the EFCC, being a state institution and a creation of the law, could not be above the law.

He noted that the manner of the invasion also suggested that the EFCC was out on a “self-help mission, a voyage to intimidate journalists, criminalise journalism and cower free speech”.
“We should continue to remind ourselves that this crude tactic of invasion of media houses and harassment of journalists did not work in the past, is not going to work now, and will never work. It is unknown to the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“We call on the Federal Government of Nigeria and all people of reason and goodwill to call the EFCC to order for the greater good of the Federal Republic Nigeria and the rule of law,” he cautioned.

Despite the outcry over the invasion of The Sun, the presidency Tuesday defended the action, saying the anti-graft agency was in the premises of the newspaper organisation to inspect the property.

Speaking on the issue, the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, said the media organisation was under an order of interim forfeiture, adding that the EFCC operatives went there to look at the property to ensure that it had not depreciated.

The presidential aide also dismissed the notion that the reign of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would be short-lived due to growing sectional agitations in the country, saying the party would exist for more than 200 years.

Speaking at the national secretariat of the APC Tuesday in Abuja, during the official presentation of his book titled “APC: The Making of the Change Agents” to the party’s National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun, Obono-Obla said he was not aware of any crisis rocking the ruling party at any level.

Obono-Obla said: “I said in the next 200 years APC will be alive. Yes, why not? Because we have done very well and we are going to remain in power as long as we continue to do well, we believe the Nigerian people will always vote for us.”

While justifying the invasion of The Sun in Lagos by the EFCC, the presidential aide said: “EFCC has not gone after the media. What happened is that The Sun Newspaper was under an order of interim forfeiture, so they went there to look at the property to make sure it has not depreciated, and nothing is wrong with that.

“They didn’t go there because The Sun published a news story that was considered against EFCC or government, they went there to do their work as part of their mandate to fight financial crimes.
“Besides, you know that the media house is owned by a former governor who is under trial, and if you are under investigation, EFCC has the powers to go to court and get an order of interim forfeiture, pending the hearing of the case against you.”

The APC national chairman described Obono-Obla’s book as an insider account of the merger process that culminated in the formation of the APC.

He charged other stakeholders who “participated intimately” in the formation of the party to document their accounts of events for posterity.
He also hailed the contributions and sacrifices of the leaders of the legacy parties that merged to form the APC.