The Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), has joined the federal government and other agencies to strongly condemn, in very strong terms, the siege on Daily Trust, the arrest and detention of its staff as well as seizure of its computers.
In a statement signed by the Executive Secretary, Mr. Feyi Smith, NPAN said 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 reporter in addition to seizure of computers thereby disrupting the operation of that newspaper.
“Although the unwholesome raid was called off on the order of the Presidency, and the Army has explained that its action was warranted by the violation of the Official Secret Act by the newspaper giving prior notice of military strategy and tactics to Boko Haram insurgents, the siege left in its trail panic and anger reminiscent of the military era brutalisation of the press and the people.
“The last time in this Constitutional dispensation when the Army violated Constitutional guarantee 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 EFCC.
“The weekend siege on 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.
“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.
“Where an infraction is alleged, the best option is to follow due process and civility; not kneejerk, not 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.
Hours after soldiers invaded offices of Daily Trust
newspapers in Borno and Abuja, the Federal Government, on Sunday, ordered the
Army to vacate the premises immediately.
Troops invaded the premises due to an alleged security breach, alleging that the newspaper published ‘vital and confidential information’ on the plan to retake Baga and other towns occupied by Boko Haram insurgents.
A statement by Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, Malam Garba Shehu, declared that the Army had complied with the directive to vacate the premises.
In the same vein, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today condemned the military invasion, occupation and takeover of the Abuja and Maiduguri offices of Daily Trust newspaper and called on the Federal Government to take punitive action against the perpetrators in order to end the cycle of abuse of power by military officers.
While commending President Muhammadu Buhari for his “swift response to the unlawful and unjustifiable action of the military” in directing the soldiers to immediately vacate the premises of the newspaper, MRA’s Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe said: “It is imperative that the President takes 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.”
MRA’s statement was in response to the action of armed soldiers who on January 6, 2019, raided, occupied and sealed off the offices of the Daily Trust newspaper in Abuja and Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and arrested the newspaper’s regional editor, Uthman Abubakar, and one of its reporters, Ibrahim Sawab in Maiduguri.
The actions of the military was reportedly taken in reaction to the newspaper’s report of the same day detailing how the Nigerian military assembled troops and equipment in preparation for an operation to retake Baga and five other towns in Borno State from the militant Islamist insurgent group, Boko Haram. Nigerian Army spokesman, Sani Usman, said in a statement that the newspaper in its lead story of the day “divulged classified military information, thus undermining national security”.
The Army also accused Daily Trust of culpability in strengthening Boko Haram with the lead story by disclosing information about the military, specifically as regards its fight against the terrorists.
Saying that it was not enough for the President to ask the military to vacate the newspaper’s premises, Mr. Longe insisted that “whatever offence the newspaper or its reporters may have committed, if indeed they committed any offence, there is a presumption under our Constitution that a person is innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. The military has by its actions judged, condemned and carried out its judgment on the newspaper and its reporters having made itself the accuser and constituted itself into a law court and the judgment enforcer. This is strange in a democracy and does not portray the government as a respecter of the rule of law”
MRA called on the Federal Government to order a thorough investigation into the raid of the newspaper’s premises to identify the perpetrators as well as those who ordered it and prosecute them accordingly.