Lagos — The fight against Boko Haram and its insurgency took a bizarre twist in the early hours of yesterday when armed soldiers unleashed their might on newspapers, disrupting their distribution, confiscating the newspapers and consequently stopping their sales in many parts of the country.
They, amazingly, said it was for security reasons.
Vanguard, The Leadership, and The Nation were notably affected across the country.
The distribution vans, conveying newspapers to various parts of the country were so delayed at military check-points that distribution of the papers failed. In some cases, the vehicles were detained till evening time.
As a result of the development, your favourite newspaper, Vanguard did not circulate in most parts of the South West, South East, Edo and Delta States and some parts of the North.
Reacting to ther incident, Vanguard, in a statement signed by its Editor-in-Chief and General Manager, Gbenga Adefaye, deplored "the interference with its business and professional duties early this morning (yesterday) by armed soldiers who prevented the legitimate sale and dissemination of information.
"We think it was an unconstitutional and illegal act, not expected in a civil and democratic regime. We will like to advise all aggrieved persons to abide by democratic tenets and seek redress in court for any perceived infraction of the law."
In its reaction, the Nation newspaper in a signed statement by its Managing Editor, Lekan Otusobunrin, said that "as early as 3:10 am on Friday, June 5, (yesterday) drivers of our distribution vans began filing in reports of arrest and seizures of our vehicles and consignment of newspapers for the day by soldiers across the country.
"The soldiers who stormed our offices arrested the drivers after searching the vehicles and consignment. Although, nothing incriminating was found in any of the vans searched, our vehicles and drivers were detained.
"It is necessary to point out that the seizure of Friday's edition of The Nation and Sporting Life has caused the company huge losses. The soldiers prevented us from carrying out our legitimate business. We call on the military authority to release unconditionally all our vehicles and newspaper parcels still in their custody."
However, except, the Guardian and Punch newspapers, it was gathered that other newspapers' circulation vans were detained with the ones at Ibadan particularly confiscated.
The Defence Headquarters had earlier given vague reasons for the confiscation of the newspapers worth several millions of Naira.
In a statement signed by the Director of Defence Information, DDI, Major General Chris Olukolade, it said that, "This followed intelligence report indicating movement of materials with grave security implications across the country using the channel of newsprint related consignments."
But in his narration of what happened, Vanguard Deputy Circulation Manager, Mr. Abiodun Saibu, said it was a very scary situation because the soldiers could not be identified by any means.
His words: "The papers going to Ibadan and other places were confiscated by the Army people. The ones at Ibadan are still at Oke Padre, which is a major distribution centre for all newspapers, as I am talking to you now.
We do not know what happened and nobody has told us what happened or our offence. The soldiers were armed and they used armoured tanks to barricade the roads.
"I am aware that it is only Guardian and Punch that they allowed to circulate while the other papers were still being held from distribution. The ones at Ibadan were meant for Osogbo, Oyo and Ogbomosho. They detained our vehicles with the papers until 4.30pm when they told our representatives that they were taking the confiscated items to their barracks refusing to mention which of the barracks.
" They had no name tags or numbers which would have enabled us to identify them. Their vehicles had no number plates and nobody knew what exactly was the reason for their action. The latest that I can however tell you is that they have just been released and this is 5.15pm. I think what they just wanted to achieve was to stop the business of the newspapers," Saibu said.
In Minna, soldiers also intercepted National Newspapers billed to circulate in Minna, the Niger state capital.
The Newspapers which were also billed to be circulated to other major cities of the state were also seized by the soldiers who invaded the Distribution spot in Minna.
Our correspondent gathered that three vehicles of the Nation, Leadership and Daily Trust conveying the Dailies and the Titles were intercepted at the Military Check point on Paiko-Minna road which is about 10 kilometers to Minna, the state capital as early as 6.30am.
The vehicles and the drivers were delayed at the check point for several hours and the various Dalies were not allowed to be dispatched for sale.
Besides the interception of the Dailies, another set of Soldiers with two Military vehicles with registration Nos 31AB033 NA and 31AB006NA stormed the Distribution Centre of the Dailies near Obasanjo Complex where other papers already on stand and others meant for distribution to other cities within the state were confiscated.
The Military personnel who said the orders were from "above" stayed at the spot for several hours keeping vigil.
The action was condemned by most readers who converged at various Stands but disallowed to pick their Titles saying the action was purely a reminder of the Military era and called on the federal government to investigate what they described as an "ugly " development.
Same thing happened at distribution centre at Orita Gbemu in Osogbo, the Osun state capital
The Soldiers numbering about 20 were strategically positioned along Station road, Osogbo with an armored vehicle, while some were positioned at Gbaemu junction where the newspapers are being distributed to all parts of the state.In his own account, Vanguard's Assistant Chief Driver, Amos Oyedeji, said he had thought they were armed robbers after the driver on his way to Benin alerted him.
According to Oyedeji, "About 4.30am today (yesterday) the driver taking papers to Benin called and told me that a group of armed soldiers stopped him at Odogbolu, Ogun State and offloaded the whole papers in his van, even as it was raining. I felt they could be armed robbers because no member of Nigeria Army could be imagined to offload newspapers especially at gun point for no reason. Then I cautioned the driver to be very careful with them. But as he was speaking with me, his phone went off suddenly.
"I then called the driver going to Warri to find out whether he had similar experience and he said he was stopped and the papers offloaded at four points: Odogbolu, Ore, Benin and that they still came to meet him at the Vanguard office in Warri and did the same thing to other newspapers." Major General Olukolade defended their action further: "Troops this morning (yesterday) embarked on thorough search of vehicles conveying newspapers and news prints across board.
"This followed intelligence report indicating movement of materials with grave security implications across the country using the channel of newsprint related consignments.
"The Defence Headquarters wishes to clarify that the exercise has nothing to do with the content or operation of the media organisations or their personnel as is being wrongly imputed by a section of the press.
"The military appreciates and indeed respects the role of the media as an indispensable partner in the ongoing counter-insurgency operation and the overall advancement of our country's democratic credentials. As such, the military will not deliberately and without cause, infringe on the freedom of the press.
"The general public and the affected media organisations in particular are assured that the exercise was a routine security action and should not be misconstrued for any other motive."