Local and international groups, including Media Rights Agenda (MRA), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), the International Press Centre (IPC), the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) have condemned the raid, occupation and seal off of the offices of Daily Trust newspaper in Abuja and Maiduguri, the Borno State capital they also castigate the military for the arrest of the newspaper’s regional editor, Uthman Abubakar, and one of its reporters, Ibrahim Sawab in Maiduguri.
On January 6, 2019, armed soldiers raided, occupied and sealed off the offices of the Daily Trust newspaper in Abuja and Maiduguri. They confiscated compuers 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”.
Later same day, the federal government directed the military to vacate Daily Trust premises. In a tweet on the military invasion of Daily Trust, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu said: “The Federal Government has directed the military to vacate the premises of @daily_trust and the order has been complied with. Issues between the military and the newspaper as they affect the coverage of the war in the Northeast will be resolved through dialogue.”
MRA on January 7 condemned the actions of the military 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.”
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.
The Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) in a statement by its executive secretary, Feyi Smith said it condemned, in very strong terms, the siege on Daily Trust, the arrest and detention of its staff as well as seizure of its computers. It demanded an apology from the Nigerian Army and payment of a token to the newspaper, for disrupting its activities.
The NGE, in a statement by its President, Mrs. Funke Egbemode and Social/Publicity Secretary, Ken Ugbecihe, condemned what it called “this uncouth affront on Media Trust Limited and by extension on the Nigerian media by the military”.
They described the invasion of Daily Trust, by heavily armed soldiers and other security agencies as primitive and brutal adding, it does not have a place in the 21st century.
The statement 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 picture painted by this brutal and primitive incursion into the workplace of a media organisation in a democracy in the 21st Century does incalculable damage not only to the psyche of Nigerians, young and old, it also de-markets the country before the rest of the world.”
Mr. Chris Isiguzo, the NUJ President, reacting to the event urged the military authorities to immediately release the journalists. He said: “… we want to urgently call on the military to release the journalists that were arrested. Journalists are not enemies of democracy rather they are the conscience of the society. Clamping down on journalists is unacceptable and we call the military authority to release them.’
IPC in a statement by its Director, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said: “We condemn in strong terms, the forceful closure of Daily Trust Newspapers’ head office in Abuja and the organisation’s Maiduguri office by military personnel. … 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.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemning the Army’s raids and the arrests of two of its editorial staff said in a statement on January 8 that the raid was a serious violation of press freedom, and urged the Nigerian authorities not to obstruct journalists, regardless of the stories they cover.
Arnaud Froger, head of RSF’s Africa desk said: “It is unacceptable that the military should take justice into their own hands, carrying out arbitrary arrests, seizing equipment and intimidating journalists just because an article was not to their liking,”
“It is also imperative that the Nigerian authorities should stop treating journalists who cover Boko Haram’s activities as this rebel group’s accomplices.”
He added: “We ask them to order the release of the journalist who is still being held and the return of the confiscated equipment, so that the newspaper can continue to do its job to report the news.”