In the early hours of June 12, 2017, heavily armed operatives from Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), invaded the head office of Sun Publishing Limited, publishers of The Sun newspaper in the Apapa area of Lagos, claiming to have “orders from above” to seal up premises. According to a statement from the newspaper house, on arrival at the premises, the EFCC operatives, at gun-point, ordered the media house’ security personnel to take them round the company premises and for one hour, prevented staff from either entering or leaving the premises, and also disrupted the circulation process.
Various groups, including the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), International Press Centre (IPC), and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) all unequivocally condemned the raid on the premises of Sun Publishing Ltd.
A statement by the newspaper said “for one grueling hour, EFCC operatives subjected our staff to crude intimidation, psychological and emotional trauma,” adding that some of the EFCC operatives accused The Sun newspaper of publishing pro-Biafra, Boko Haram and Niger Delta militant stories.
It disclosed that in 2007, the anti-graft agency obtained an interim forfeiture order in respect of some assets of The Sun, attached to a suit against its publisher, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, for which the media house has filed an appeal, which is pending in court.
The medium also recalled that the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu had written a letter signed by him dated May 23, 2017 which it said it received on June 7. The letter, it said, asked The Sun management to report to the Commission’s office on June 5, with a report detailing its operations in the last 10 years, on account of an interim order of forfeiture under appeal.
The Sun said its lawyer, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), responded, reminding the Commission that the issue was pending before the court of Appeal.
The medium expressed shock that, in spite of the acknowledgement of its response by the agency, it will still invade its premises under any guise, saying the action “is condemnable and reprehensible”.
It dismissed the charge of publishing Biafra, Boko Haram and Niger Delta militant stories as “very ridiculous, baseless and anti-Press freedom”, adding that the medium is neither an ethnic, political nor religious newspaper, but the Voice of the Nation, reflecting all sides, all views and all shades of opinion in line with the ethics of journalism profession.
A statement by Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, the EFCC spokesman claimed: “The visit which lasted for less an hour was part of routine efforts to ascertain the state of the assets of the publishing company which is subject of subsisting interim forfeiture order.”
Wilson claimed that prior to the visit, the Commission wrote to the management of the newspaper asking it to account for its management of the assets for the period of the subsisting court order and that the Commission still awaits the response of the Sun newspaper.
He debunked The Sun newspaper’s allegations that its operatives molested and intimidated the newspaper personnel or that EFCC operatives accused it of publishing pro-Biafra, Boko Haram, and Niger Delta Militant stories.
Condemning the invasion, the NGE in a statement signed by Mrs. Funke Egbemode, its President, expressed shock over the news of the invasion.
The NGE said “As a statutory agency birthed by an Act of Parliament in a democracy, we had expected the EFCC to explore civil means of perceived infraction by a critical stakeholder in the Nigerian democratic project.’’
It called on the agency “to purge itself of all anti-democratic tendencies in order to foster mutual cooperation with the media and other stakeholders in its anti-graft crusade”, and advising it to put an end to its current attempts to gag the press while demanding an unreserved apology from the commission to The Sun Publishing Ltd.
Condemning the invasion, MRA described the incident as an attack on and an attempt to muzzle the press, saying that the agency’s action was unacceptable in our democracy which should run by the rule of law moreso as the said 2007 interim order of forfeiture has been appealed at a higher Court. It called on the EFCC to cease henceforth from enforcing a non-existent order and to apologise to the media house for the unwarranted assault and intimidation.
NPAN in a statement signed by Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, its President recalled the incidents in the premises of the newspaper when the EFCC invaded it noting that: “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.”
NPAN pointed out that the EFCC, being a state institution and a creation of the law, cannot be above the law, adding that “the manner of the invasion tends to suggest that the EFCC was out on a self-help mission, a voyage to intimidate journalists, criminalise journalism and cower free speech.”
Continuing, Mr. Obaigbena said “We should continue to remind ourselves that this crude tactics 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.
NPAN called call on the Federal Government 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.”
The IPC, in a statement signed by Mr. Lanre Arogundade, its Director, expressed concern about the invasion describing it as “done without any legal backing or justification, as a violation of the individual rights of the journalists and media workers besides constituting an assault on press freedom.”
Mr. Arogundade said the act was uncalled for and that the EFCC owed the Nation as a whole and the media and freedom of expression community in particular, an explanation for the unwelcome raid.
NUJ, in a statement issued by its President, Mr. Abdulwaheed Odusile, also denounced the invasion calling it an “ugly development”.
The NUJ said it was really worried that the same security operatives that needed the support of the media in their fight against terrorism, corruption and other criminal activities in the country were now attacking it.
Mr. Odusile said no matter the perceived offence security personnel should not be seen to be intimidating the media in a democracy advising that civilised means and ways should be employed to check any excesses or misdemeanour.
The NUJ advised the commission to tender an unconditional apology to The Sun Newspaper for its “untoward” action.
The Lagos State Council of the NUJ also condemned the invasion describing it as barbaric. The Chairman of the Council, Deji Elumoye, gave the EFCC a 72-hour ultimatum within which to publicly apologise to The Sun management and the affected staff for the unwarranted siege or it would seek legal action against the agency.