9 June 2014

Nigeria: Newspapers - Latest Explosives

Photo: Daily Trust
Though the Defence spokesperson, Major-General Chris Olukolade denied the clampdown, the army intercepted Daily Trust newspaper distribution to some states of the country and there was heavy presence of military men near the corporate headquarters of Media Trust Limited

THERE is more to the military's clamp down on newspapers than it disclosed in an obviously hurried statement that failed to notice the contradictions in the defence it provided. According to Defence Headquarters, newspaper circulation vans were stopped based on security reports that they were to be used to ferry bombs from the North East to other parts of the country.

Which newspaper is published in the North East? Which of the seized newspaper vans was coming from the North East? Have newspapers become explosives? The military should not use "security reports" to create more confusion.

It acted with impunity and the authorities should have better explanations for the latest abbreviation of the operations of the press. Soldiers, at various points they stopped newspaper vans, acted as people out to disrupt the businesses of the media.

They ordered off-loading of the newspapers in the rain, left them there for hours after seeing nothing incriminating in the vans. We expected the vans would have been allowed to continue with their business after the searches. They were delayed beyond reason, unless they were checking if the explosives could be imported on the spot.

How could a 13-hour detention of newspapers vans be justified by suspicion that they bore explosives? What was the purpose of keeping them after no explosives were found? Were the newspapers already guilty before the arrest of their vans? Who would pay for their losses? Who gave the nebulous orders Defence Headquarters so poorly explained?

The act was deliberate. Its continuation for a second day leaves the intention of the military to several interpretations, one of which is its discomfort with the media's coverage of the security operations in the North East, especially, its insipid management of information on the operations.

Silence from the Presidency fuels impressions that the military was acting on its behalf, using security as cover to harass newspapers. It is appalling for a democratic government to align against the press, contrary to the Constitution it swore to defend.

Section 22 of the Constitution states, "The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people".

The Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, must go beyond condemning the harassment. It is an assault on rights of individuals to free speech; it is also a breach of the media's constitutional rights to hold governments accountable to the people.

NPAN should seek legal interpretation and applications of Section 22, in addition to pressing for compensations. We should not beg for our rights, when we do, we diminish them.

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