By Joseph Erunke, Dirisu Yakubu & Henry Ojelu
THE Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN; Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE; Presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar; Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and others, yesterday, condemned the invasion of Abuja and Maiduguri offices of Daily Trust Newspapers.
The reactions came as Nigerian Army explained the reasons its personnel invaded the offices of the newspaper.
No to siege on the press— NPAN
In its reaction, NPAN in a statement signed by its Executive Secretary, Feyi Smith, described the invasion as unconstitutional, without due process and an act of self-help.
The statement read: “The weekend siege on 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. This is 2019 and those who gave the vexatious order ought to know better.
“The NPAN condemns, in very strong terms, the siege on Daily Trust, the arrest and detention of its staff as well as seizure of its computers.
“Where an infraction is alleged, the best option is to follow due process and civility, not knee-jerk, not intimidation and spread of fear in the civil society.
“We have gone too far in search of law and order regime than to countenance such display of raw power and emotion over due process.”
Action brutal, primitive —NGE
NGE, in its reaction, described the action of the military as brutal and primitive.
Reacting in a similar manner, the Nigerian Guild of Editors said in a statement signed by the President, Funke Egbemode and Publicity Secretary, Ken Ugbechie: “The Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, condemns in very strong terms the Sunday invasion of the premises of Media Trust Limited, publishers of Daily Trust newspaper and other titles by fully armed military men with a sprinkling of operatives of other security agencies.
“The crude invasion, intimidation and arrest of journalists discharging their constitutional duties in the Maiduguri zonal oflice of the newspaper by heavily armed soldiers is not the type of story befitting the military in a democracy.
“The picture painted by this brutal and primitive incursion into the workplace of a media organisation in a democracy in the 21 Century does incalculable damage not only to the psyche of Nigerians, young and old, it also de-markets the country before the rest of the world.
“The manner of this operation, hatched with precision and coordinated fashion at three different locations shows it was planned and painstakingly executed for maximum effect. It is a throwback to the dark days of military rule, an era Nigerians do not remember with any ounce of nostalgia.
“The Guild condemns this uncouth affront on Media Trust Limited and by extension on Nigerian media by the military, which has enjoyed very liberal reportage and partnership from the same media it is striving to muzzle.
“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of the arrested journalists. While we welcome the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari who has ordered the vacation of the premises of Trust Media Limited by the soldiers, we also demand an unreserved apology to the management of Media Trust by the military authorities.
“The explanation of the military that Media Trust breached the Official Secrets Act in its reportage of military operations against Boko Haram in its Sunday, January 6, 2018 edition hence jeopardized national security, is not enough justification for its action.
“If Media Trust is perceived to be in the breach of national security, there are democratic channels and means of dealing with such matters without offending the fundamental human rights of the journalists as enshrined in our constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which Nigeria is signatory to.
“We seize this opportunity to assure the military of the unflinching support of the Nigerian media as they wage a war against insurgency. We make haste to say that it is a war they are fighting on behalf of ail Nigerians including journalists; we will not, therefore, willfully do anything to undermine their efforts.
“We plead with the military and other security agencies to see media as their partner in their onerous task to defend the territorial integrity of the nation and safeguard the lives and property of the people.
“The Guild, hereby, implores the military to seek the path of civility in conformity with established democratic ideals and values to resolve the issues arising from the Media Trust report and any other issues in future.
“The military and the media are partners and the one should treat the other with respect and restraint.”
We’re considering all options
— Editor-in-Chief, Daily Trust, Manir Dan Ali
Speaking on the development last night, Editor-in-Chief, Daily Trust Newspaper, Manir Dan Ali said: “Like we said yesterday, soldiers vacated our office at about 9: 30pm. After they left with some computers in the newsroom, we were able to scramble some computers to produce the print edition.
“We wanted to make sure that there is no breakage in our publication. As I am talking to you, I am sitting on my desk. The only abnormality is that our Bureau Chief is still being held by the military. They released the junior reporter but our Bureau Chief is still being held probably because his name appeared in the story that the military has issues with.’’
Asked if Daily Trust management had any communication with the military on the issues, Manir said: “We are not in any direct communication with the military. They have not called us and we also have not called them. We have only been relating with the civilian authorities which have the constitutional responsibility for whatever happens in the country. They have assured us that our computers will be returned but we will believe them when it happens.”
Speaking on what the organisation intended to do next, he said: “All options are open. We have not made any decision yet but I can tell you all options available to us are being considered.”
Why we moved against Daily Trust — Army
The Army, in a statement by its spokesman, Brigadier General Sani Usman, yesterday, said the action of the media organisation, contained in its lead story on Sunday Trust publication, undermined national security.
In the statement captioned:”Clarification on invitation of Media Trust Staff by the security agencies,” the Army insisted that it moved against the media house because in the story, the newspaper disclosed details of planned military operations against Boko Haram terrorists.
The statement further said the disclosure of classified security information amounted to a breach of national security and afforded the Boko Haram terrorists prior notice of military plans, giving them early warning to prepare against the Nigerian military.
According to the Army, this is sabotaging the planned operations and putting the lives of troops in imminent and clear danger.
Despite the explanation by the Army, more organisations and individuals have continued to condemn the arrest and continued detention of the journalists.
This is a travesty—Atiku
In the latest reaction, presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2019 election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in a statement, yesterday, by his media aide, Paul Ibe, said: “We totally condemn these actions and call on President Buhari to immediately call off his forces to order and end their attack on the media and the freedom of the press.
‘’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.
“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 North-East 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.”
Labour condemns siege
Also, NLC through its President, Ayuba Wabba, said: “We wish to condemn the arrest of the Borno State Editor of Daily Trust, plus other staff and closure of the state office by the military.
‘’No explanation is good enough for this extreme action. It is bizarre and represents repression and violation of press freedom. We are in a democracy and the media constitute one of the strong institutions in our democracy.
‘’The Daily Trust Group represents some of the best traditions in journalism practice. They are neither associated with sensationalism nor some of the darker sides of journalism.
The arrest of its personnel and shutdown of its office portend evil and represent a throwback to the dark days of the military.’’
In its reaction, Media Rights Agenda, MRA, in a statement by Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, said: “It is imperative that the President takes further action to discourage this sort of high-handedness in future as anything short of punitive action against the perpetrators of the act would amount to encouraging impunity.
“We, therefore, call on the President to demonstrate his commitment to the rule of law and disdain for abuse of power and impunity.”