Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the Nigerian army's raids on the Daily Trust newspaper and arrests of two of its journalists in response to a report that the army had lost of control of several northeastern towns. Condemning this serious press freedom violation, RSF urges the Nigerian authorities not to obstruct journalists, regardless of the stories they cover.
Yesterday's issue of the Daily Trust, one of northern Nigeria's most popular newspapers, nearly did not appear as a result of the raids on 6 January on its headquarters in the capital, Abuja, where computers were seized, and on its bureau in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, where bureau chief Uthman Abubakar and one of his reporters, Ibrahim Sawab, were arrested.
Sawab was released yesterday morning but Abubakar is still held. Soldiers also took up position on 6 January outside the Daily Trust bureau in Lagos, the business capital, and stayed there all day without going inside.
Daily Trust editor Mallam Mannir Dan-Ali told RSF that the raids were prompted by an article in the 6 January issue reporting that a faction of the Jihadi terror group Boko Haram had occupied several towns in the northeastern state of Borno and that the army was massing troops with the aim of retaking the towns.
The army, which had never recognized the loss of these towns, defended the raids on the Daily Trust on the grounds that the newspaper had "divulged classified military information, thus undermining national security."
"It is unacceptable that the military should take justice into their own hands, carrying out arbitrary arrests, seizing equipment and intimidating journalists just because an article was not to their liking," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk.
"It is also imperative that the Nigerian authorities should stop treating journalists who cover Boko Haram's activities as this rebel group's accomplices. We ask them to order the release of the journalist who is still being held and the return of the confiscated equipment, so that the newspaper can continue to do its job to report the news."
This is not the first time that Nigeria's military have targeted the Daily Trust, regarded as one of the leading sources of coverage of Boko Haram activities in northern Nigeria. Soldiers stormed into the newspaper's office in 2013 in an attempt to arrest a reporter who wrote a story critical of the military. Delivery trucks of the Daily Trust and three other newspapers were seized by soldiers the following year to prevent distribution of issues containing reports reflecting badly on the military.
Nigeria's journalists are often obstructed in the course of their work and are the frequent victims of heavy-handed operations by soldiers or the intelligence services. According to RSF's tally, journalists and media outlets were the targets of more than 30 press freedom violations in 2018, eight of them directly attributable to the security services.
Nigeria is ranked 119th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.