For several hours last Sunday, armed soldiers laid siege to the offices of Media Trust Limited in Abuja and Maiduguri. The company publishes the Daily Trust titles. The siege to its Abuja head office lasted from 4.30pm to 9.30pm. While it lasted, the soldiers drove away the staff and took away desktop and laptop computers as well as a production member of staff. At the Maiduguri office, they arrested the regional bureau chief Uthman Abubakar and a reporter. They were however released, gladly,Tuesday.
Daily Trudy’s Chief Executive Officer and Editor in Chief Malam Mannir Dan-Ali, in a late night press statement same Sunday said: “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 (Boko Haram) insurgents. Another clue is that during the invasion of our premises both in Maiduguri and Abuja, the military men were asking for the reporters who wrote the story.”
The Nigerian Army, on its own part, explained in a statement by its spokesman Brigadier General Sani Usman that the siege was over a report that undermined national security. “We would like to state that soldiers of the Nigerian Army along with elements of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies were indeed at Abuja and Maiduguri offices of the publishing company to invite the staff of the company over its lead story on Sunday Trust publication which divulged classified military information, thus undermining national interest. In it, the newspaper disclosed details of planned military operations against the Boko Haram terrorists.” He said the story was in breach of sections 1and 2 of the Official Secrets Act. “We would not tolerate a situation where a publication would consistently side with the terrorists and undermine our national institutions….” A threat that was executed Sunday night.
We at People’s Daily join other well meaning Nigerians in condemning this attack on a sister newspaper company. It was an unwarranted, dastardly attack on one of the very pillars of the nation’s young democracy. It came only few weeks after Chief of Army Staff Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai invited journalists to his Maiduguri base where he told them that the military considered the media a partner in the counter insurgency campaign. The invasion of the Daily Trust premises was at variance with that declaration.
We also find the army’s reason for the punitive measure against the Daily Trust inappropriate. If the company had violated an extant law, what was the right thing to do? Certainly not a full scale invasion, but a resort to the rule of law. However, in this case, the army had become the accuser, judge and jailer. This is unacceptable under democracy that abhors impunity.
We condemn this latest military onslaught against the media , and demand an unreserved apology and an assurance that what happened would not repeat itself. We also support the suggestion from the presidency that dialogue, rather than impunity, should guide resolution of any dispute between the media and the establishment.