Ejiofor Alike with agency reports
Media stake holding groups, including the International Press Institute (IPI), Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) have condemned Sunday’s military occupation of Daily Trust newspaper and demanded the immediate release of all its detained journalists.
The Nigerian Army had arrested the Daily Trust Regional Editor, Mr. Uthman Abubakar, and reporter, Mr. Ibrahim Sawab, in Maiduguri, Borno State, and laid a siege to the newspaper’s offices in Maiduguri and Abuja, seizing a number of computers.
In a letter addressed to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, IPI’s Executive Director, Barbara Trionfi, condemned what the global network of editors, media executives and journalists, described as the high-handed action of the Nigerian Army against the Daily Trust.
IPI described the arrest of journalists and siege to the newspaper’s offices in Maiduguri and Abuja as an attack on media freedom in the country.
“The authorities have provided no evidence that the information published by the Daily Trust would endanger military lives or the security of military operations to an extent that would outweigh the freedom and responsibility of any independent newspaper to inform readers of significant developments of public interest, of which the Nigerian government’s response to the activities of terrorist organizations is undoubtedly one,” Trionfi said in the letter to the minister.
Trionfi further stated that the Army’s actions in raiding the Daily Trust’s offices and arresting two of its journalists are inappropriate and disproportionate and appear to constitute an attempt to silence independent media in the country.
The IPI official stated, “We would like to mention here that the Nigerian security services appear to have adopted a habit of arresting and detaining journalists for their investigative reporting on perceived sensitive subjects. In August last year, the security forces arrested Samuel Ogundipe, a journalist with the Premium Times, for his report about a letter sent by the inspector general of police to the vice president detailing actions of the former director of the State Security Service. The police demanded that Ogundipe reveal his sources.
“During the IPI World Congress in June 2018, we raised the issue of the illegal detention of journalist Jonas Abiri, which the government initially denied. However, the government was later forced to produce Abiri before a court after two years spent behind bars. Eventually, Abiri was freed by the court.”
Also, NPAN has stated that it received with shock the news of the Nigerian Army’s siege to the Daily Trust newspaper offices in Abuja, Lagos and Maiduguri over the weekend; arresting an editor and a reporter in addition to seizure of computers, thereby disrupting the operation of the newspaper.
The Executive Secretary of NPAN, Mr. Feyi Smith, said in a statement yesterday that the siege left in its trail panic and anger reminiscent of the military-era brutalisation the press and the people.
It said, “The last time in this constitutional dispensation when the Army violated constitutionally guaranteed of free speech was in June 2014 when the logistics for distribution of newspapers was wantonly disrupted and newspapers confiscated across the country on spurious allegation that materials ‘with grave security implications were being moved across the country through newsprint related consignments.’
“That action warranted an apology and payment of token atonement to the newspaper houses by the federal government, although same was later criminalised and newspapers made to make refunds to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).”
NPAN added that Sunday’s siege to the Daily Trust newspaper premises, “was clearly unconstitutional, without due process and an act of self-help”.
It added, “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.
“The NPAN condemns, in very strong terms, the siege on Daily Trust, the arrest and detention of its staff as well as seizure of its computers.”
NPAN argued that where an infraction is alleged, the best option is to follow due process and civility, and not knee-jerk, or intimidation and spread of fear in the civil society.
“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.”
In another statement by NGE’s President, Mrs. Funke Egbemode, and the Social/Publicity Secretary, Mr. Ken Ugbechie, the editors demanded the immediate release of the detained journalists.
“While we welcome the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari, who has ordered the vacation of the premises of Trust Media Limited by the soldiers, we also demand an unreserved apology to the management of Media Trust by the military authorities,” NGE said.
NGE also implored the military to seek the path of civility in conformity with the established democratic norms to resolve the issues arising from the newspaper’s report and any other future issues.