• Enlists member countries of MNJTF • Invades Daily Trust, arrests two journalists
By Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
In its bid to reclaim its 2018 World Military Ranking as the 43rd country in the world with the greatest firepower, the Nigerian military has deployed thousands of soldiers, armoured tanks and fighter jets recover Baga, Borno State, and other towns lost to Boko Haram terrorists two weeks ago.
It also enlisted member countries of the Multi-national Joint Task Force against terrorism (MNJTF), notably Niger Republic and Chad, in the operation.
This is coming as the Presidency last night ordered the military to vacate Daily Trust office.
The military had commenced a clampdown on journalists over report claiming that some parts of the country have been captured by Boko Haram terrorists.
To this end, some soldiers yesterday invaded the Maiduguri office of Daily Trust which broke the story of the fall of Baga and four other towns in northern Borno State to the terrorist group last week.
The military had denied losing Baga to the terrorists but fleeing residents confirmed that ISWAP operatives were patrolling the streets and indeed conducting early morning prayers in mosques in the affected towns.
By the accounts of the residents, the terrorists are in control of five towns notably Baga (host to the 7 Brigade Headquarters of the Multi-national Joint Task Force); Doron-Baga, Kross Kawwa, Bunduran and Kekeno.
Defence spokesman, Brigadier-General John Agim, said the military was not disposed to disclosing any of its plans to launch a military offensive.
“If we are planning a military offensive, we cannot tell you, otherwise we will be disclosing our plans,” he said.
Also, the Nigerian Air Force spokesman, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, declined to comment on the matter.
However, other NAF sources confirmed that jet fighters are already on ground, adding: “Our aircraft and pilots are already on ground in the North-east. We are poised to go.”
THISDAY further gathered that signals had since been sent to thousands of soldiers drawn from different military divisions across the country, putting them on alert while hundreds of others were already deployed and massing around the affected towns.
Also, armoured tanks and other military equipment were also moved into the “target” towns for the offensive.
Top military sources told THISDAY that the decision to launch the grand offensive informed several visits and meetings between the Defence Minister, Brigadier-General Mansur Dan Ali (rtd), and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin, who were both “specially assigned to review the preparedness of the military for the offensive.”
The duo had several meetings with military chiefs already stationed in Maiduguri on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari.
A competent military source also told THISDAY that member countries of the MNJTF were part of the drive to move against the terrorists, adding, “Members of the MNJTF will be part of the operation.”
Chadian soldiers had some days ago decimated over 200 Boko Haram fighters operating around the borderline of Nigeria and Niger Republic.
The Chief of Air Staff said recently at the International Air Power conference held at the NAF Centre in Abuja, that the Air Force had agreed with Chadian officials to launch air strikes from Chad’s airfields.
Also speaking at the weekend, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Yusuf Buratai, charged soldiers to fight to finish even as it launched a special motorcycle section in Chibok, Borno State.
In line with Buratai’s directive to the troops of Operation Lafiya Dole to take the war to their enclaves and flush out the remnants of the Boko Haram terrorists, the acting General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 7 Division Nigerian army and Commander Sector 1 Operation Lafiya Dole, Brigadier General Abdulmalik Bulama Biu, charged troops under his command to redouble their efforts with renewed vigour, gallantry and doggedness in the fight against insurgency and terrorism in the region.
The Commander of 28 Task Force Brigade Sector 1 of Operation Lafiya Dole, Brigadier General Mohammed Usman, also charged troops of 117 Task Force Battalion to be proactive and committed in the fight against terrorism while commissioning the battalion Quick Response Group (QRG) Special Motorcycle Section in Chibok.
Usman stated that the motorbikes would certainly boost the fighting capacity and morale of the troops in the war against Boko Harram terrorists within the theatre of Operation Lafiya Dole especially around the Chibok general area.
Meanwhile, the Presidency last night ordered the military to vacate the office of Daily Trust Newspaper.
Some soldiers had earlier yesterday invaded the, Abuja, Lagos and Maiduguri offices of Daily Trust which broke the story of the fall of Baga and four other towns in northern Borno State to the terrorist group last week.
According to an eyewitness who spoke on condition of anonymity to THISDAY, some armed soldiers yesterday invaded Daily Trust regional office in Maiduguri, Borno State, and arrested the regional editor, Uthman Abubakar, and a reporter, Ibrahim Sawab.
He said they requested for the third person who shared the byline, Hamza Idris, who incidentally is based in Abuja and remains the political editor of the newspaper.
Telephone calls made to the two arrested journalists were not going through as their mobile phones were switched off.
However, the military could not be reached for comments on the incident.
Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief of Media Trust Limited, Mannir Dan-Ali confirmed in a statement yesterday that the armed soldiers loaded in four vehicles occupied the head office of Media Trust Limited, publishers of the Daily Trust titles, for four hours, sending away journalists and other staff.
“Before the siege was called off at about 9.30 p.m., the soldiers has ransacked the newsroom and carted away dozens of computers and effectively strangulated the production of the Monday edition of the paper. Earlier in the day at about 4 p.m, another detachment of soldiers and plain cloth security officials went to the Maiduguri regional office of the company and conducted a search at the end of which they took away the Regional Bureau Chief, Uthman Abubakar and a reporter, Ibrahim Sawab. Neither the company nor the families of the 2 reporters have heard from them since. A production staff who was taken away from the Abuja head office alongside our computers was released after a period of detention at the Mogadishu barrack in Abuja,” the statement explained.
“In Lagos, military men in seven vehicles arrived our offices at Textile Labour House in Agidingbi at about 9 p.m and remain there until the time of issuing this statement.
“We have not been told of the reason for the military operation against this newspaper but suspect it may have to do with the lead story of the Daily Trust on Sunday that dwelt on the military’s effort to retake some towns recently reported to have been lost to insurgents. Another clue is that during the invasion of our premises both in Maiduguri and in Abuja, the military men were asking for the reporters who wrote the story,” the statement added.
“Media Trust Limited condemns this unlawful act and calls on the military authorities to release the 2 reporters arrested in Maiduguri and return the dozens of computers that were taken from our newsroom. We also like to thank our colleagues in the media and all others who have been calling and supporting us in our hour of need. We also appreciate the efforts of some government officials who insist that there is a better way of handling relations with the media,” the statement said.
However, the federal government has directed the military to vacate the premises of the newspaper.
Presidential spokesman, Shehu Garuba, said in tweet last night that the order has been complied with.
“Issues between the military and the newspaper as they affect the coverage of the war in the North-east will be resolved through dialogue,” he added.
In a related development, the International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos, has condemned in strong terms, the forceful closure of Daily Trust Newspapers’ head office in Abuja and the organisation’s Maiduguri office by military personnel.
According to a statement by the Director of IPC, Lanre Arogundade, senior editorial staff of the organisation confirmed the military onslaught on the media establishment, stating that staff had been ordered out of the premises, with laptops and computers seized and operations halted.
“No reason, he said, was given for the action. IPC considers this development as a fresh threat to freedom of the press as well as the freedom and individual liberties of journalists and other media professionals working in Daily Trust. The action of the military is also a threat to democracy with the presidential elections, less than two months away.
The military is bound by the laws of the land and cannot in any circumstance be allowed to resort to extra judicial measures no matter its grievances,” Arogundade explained.