Nigeria: Army Under Fire for Invading Daily Trust

Nigerian Army invades Daily Trust office in Abuja.
8 January 2019

Condemnation yesterday continued to trail the Sunday's invasion of Media Trust Limited (publisher of Daily Trust newspaper) offices in Abuja, Maiduguri and Lagos as well as the arrest of the company's northeast regional editor, Uthman Abubakar and the seizure of its computers by armed soldiers.

The army has neither released Abubakar nor returned the seized computers to the company.

A reporter of the company in Maiduguri, Ibrahim Sawab, arrested alongside Abubakar, was released Sunday evening.

Soldiers brought Abubakar to the company's office in Maiduguri around 10am yesterday and requested a copy of Sunday publication of Daily Trust on military operatives in the northeast. They later took him away few minutes past 11am.

Media Trust Regional Manager in Maiduguri, Aminu Ado, confirmed that as of 10pm last night, Abubakar was yet to be released.

Having been interrogated by the Nigerian Army Intelligence Officers on Sunday, Abubakar has been handed over to the Department of State Security for further interrogation.

An eyewitness said Abubakar was brought to the Media Trust office in Maiduguri yesterday twice to pick some things and taken back to the custody.

"He was first brought here at 11:00am to pick up his prescribed drugs that he needed to use and could not do so since Sunday evening; and an hour later, he was also escorted to the office to pick up a copy of the newspaper published on the day of the arrest," the witness said.

A source in the Civilian JTF yesterday said he saw Abubakar at the premises of the Nigerian Army 7-Division headquarters located within the Maimalari Military Cantonment, Maiduguri.

Abubakar, 55, was twice allowed to make phone calls to his family and some of his colleagues to tell them that he was still in the custody being interrogated by the DSS unit of the team that invaded the Daily Trust Maiduguri Bureau Office on Sunday.

Efforts yesterday to contact Army Spokesman Brigadier-General Sani Usman on why Abubakar and the company's computers were still being held were unsuccessful as he did not respond to calls and text messages sent to him.

The Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN): In a statement yesterday by its Executive Secretary, Feyi Smith, said the army's siege to Daily Trust offices left in its trail, panic and anger reminiscent of the military era brutalisation of the press and the people.

"The last time in this constitutional dispensation when the Army violated Constitutional guarantee of free speech was in June 2014 when the logistics for distribution of newspapers was wantonly disrupted and newspapers confiscated across the country on spurious allegation that materials "with grave security implications were being moved across the country through newsprint related consignments.

"The weekend siege on the Daily Trust newspaper premises was clearly unconstitutional, without due process and an act of self help. Additionally, it showed a poor appreciation of the advancement in information dissemination in the global village where news is disseminated at the touch of a keyboard and not necessarily in a fixed address."

The International Press Institute: A global network of editors, media executives and journalists, condemned the army's action and demanded immediate release of the detained journalist.

In a letter to the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed,by its Executive Director Barbara Trionfi, the IPI described the invasion as an attack on media freedom in Nigeria.

He said the authorities had provided no evidence "that the information published by the Daily Trust would endanger military lives or the security of military operations to an extent that would outweigh the freedom and responsibility of any independent newspaper to inform readers of significant developments of public interest, of which the Nigerian government's response to the activities of terrorist organizations is undoubtedly one".

Trionfi described the army's action as inappropriate and disproportionate "and appear to constitute an attempt to silence independent media in the country."

The Abuja chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists: It described the army's action as reprehensible and inimical to the nation's democracy.

The chairman of the union, Emmanuel Ogbeche, said this yesterday when he led the leadership of the union on a solidarity visit to the head office of the company in Abuja.

According to him, with the general elections fast approaching, if media organisations become targets of military invasion, it means non-state actors can leverage on the fear created, thereby making journalists easy preys.

The Inter-Party Advisory Council: The media committee secretary, Akinloye Oyeniyi, described the invasion as a threat to press freedom and the 1999 Constitution.

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre: The centre also condemned the invasion. Its Executive Director Auwal Musa Rafsanjani said yesterday in a statement that the methods deployed by army responding to allegation of professional misdeeds related to some publications by the newspapers were uncalled for.

Atiku reacts

The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar and leaders of over 50 political parties in the country also condemned the military's action.

Atiku, in a statatemt yesterday by his Special Adviser on Media, Paul Ibe, said attack on the media in a democratic dispensation was an attack on the freedom of all Nigerians.

Atiku also appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to call the security forces to order to end attacks on the media and press freedom.

"This is a travesty, the likes of which we have not seen since the heinous days of military rule. Atiku Abubakar and other pro-democrats did not risk their lives fighting for democracy for this to happen.

"This is unacceptable. The media is not only a partner in progress to the government, but they are also a quasi-arm of government being, as Edmund Burke propounded, the Fourth Estate of the Realm.

"The particular use of heavily armed soldiers also shows the abuse of scarce resources which has exacerbated the insecurity currently plaguing Nigeria.

"Our soldiers should not be used to target law-abiding citizens. A dutiful and prudent commander-in-chief should rather deploy them to either the Northeast or the Zamfara-Katsina axis, especially after the Governors of both states held New Year's Day conferences bemoaning the breakdown of law and order in their respective states.

"Again, we urge President Buhari to use his powers as C-in-C to protect the people, rather than to oppress Nigerians.

A non-governmental organization: Safer-media Initiative, in a statement by its Executive Director Iorter Peter, viewed the invasion as an attempt to stifle the flow of news through systematic censorship, harassment and assaults on journalists and media houses.

The Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom , in a statement, said the invasion was the latest in over 200 reported cases of attacks and harassment of journalists in 2018 as recorded by the Press Attack Tracker, describing it as a major threat to democracy, freedom of the press and individual liberties of journalists and other media professionals.

"The action of the military is also a threat to democracy with the presidential elections, in less than 40days. This gives a negative connotation of the government on freedom of the press and how it is been neglected," it said.

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