That Mil­i­tary In­va­sion of Daily Trust

Sunday Trust - - PAGE 3 COMMENT -

The in­va­sion of Daily Trust’s head of­fice and two of its re­gional of­fices by armed sol­diers on Sun­day last week was one of the most out­ra­geous cases of il­le­gal self-help, tram­pling on the law and vi­o­la­tion of cit­i­zens’ rights by any Nige­rian gov­ern­ment agency in re­cent times. It was also self-de­feat­ing in that it tears apart the co­op­er­a­tion of crit­i­cal stake­hold­ers needed to win the war against ter­ror­ists and in­sur­gents. At the same time, it drove a dag­ger into the heart of this coun­try’s record of hu­man rights and its claims to democ­racy and rule of law.

At mid-day last Sun­day, sol­diers in­vaded Daily Trust’s re­gional of­fice in Maiduguri and took away two re­porters, in­clud­ing the bu­reau chief. While the re­porter was re­leased that night, the bu­reau chief was kept for three days. Two hours later, armed sol­diers in five trucks ar­rived at the head of­fice in Abuja, cor­doned it off, pre­vented move­ment in or out, and pro­ceeded to in­vade the premises. They drove out all the staff, ripped off desk­top com­put­ers from desks and con­fis­cated per­sonal lap­top com­put­ers. They took these away and are yet to re­turn them. They also took away the pro­duc­tion ed­i­tor and threat­ened to shoot him if he did not show them the houses of some wanted staff mem­bers.

The siege was only lifted at 9.30pm that night but around the same time, armed sol­diers stormed and sealed Daily Trust’s La­gos re­gional of­fice at Ikeja. Even af­ter lift­ing the siege, the Army still de­manded that two key line ed­i­tors of Daily Trust re­port at Direc­torate of Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence. They did so last Thurs­day and were in­ter­ro­gated for sev­eral hours.

All these il­le­gal siege and ha­rass­ment arose be­cause the mil­i­tary brass was unhappy with the lead story of Daily Trust on Sun­day last week, which said the army was pre­par­ing to launch an op­er­a­tion to re­cap­ture Baga and six other Borno towns from Boko Haram’s Is­lamic State in West Africa Prov­ince [ISWAP] fac­tion. In­ci­den­tally, Daily Trust re­ported the six towns’ cap­ture six days ear­lier. The Army dis­puted the re­port and said “it did not re­flect the re­al­ity on the ground,” only to post sto­ries and pic­tures at the week­end say­ing the towns had been re­cap­tured. Pray, how can you “re­cap­ture” some­thing that was never lost in the first place?

The army al­leged that the sto­ries com­pro­mised mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions but that is not true at all. No mil­i­tary se­cret, op­er­a­tional plan, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in­tel­li­gence, troop lo­ca­tion, troop num­bers, weaponry or dates were dis­closed in the of­fend­ing re­port. That there was large move­ment of troops from Maiduguri to Monguno was ob­vi­ous to the thou­sands of refugees that fled Baga, Kukawa and other towns for safer climes and it could not pos­si­bly be a se­cret. Talk about vi­o­lat­ing the Of­fi­cial Se­crets Act was not ten­able be­cause no of­fi­cial doc­u­ment was cited in the story.

In any case, if any law was vi­o­lated, the Army like ev­ery other agency or cit­i­zen must pur­sue the mat­ter through the po­lice and courts. No one has the right to re­sort to armed self-help, which is what fight­ing ter­ror­ism and in­sur­gency is all about. If agen­cies of the state that bear arms in­stead re­sort to the il­le­gal use of such weapons, then the dis­tinc­tion be­tween them and ter­ror­ists be­comes all that blurred. Nor was this the first time that this hap­pened. Back in 2014, the army seized dis­tri­bu­tion ve­hi­cles of Daily Trust and sev­eral other news­pa­pers on the spu­ri­ous grounds that they were sus­pected of fer­ry­ing weapons for ter­ror­ists. That case ended when the News­pa­per Pro­pri­etors As­so­ci­a­tion of Nige­ria [NPAN] threat­ened to go to court but the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment made an out of court set­tle­ment.

Among the many con­sci­en­tious and pa­tri­otic na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions that con­demned this lat­est out­rage in­clude Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion [NHRC], News­pa­per Pro­pri­etors As­so­ci­a­tion of Nige­ria [NPAN], In­ter­na­tional Press In­sti­tute [IPI], Nige­ria Guild of Ed­i­tors [NGE], North­ern Me­dia Fo­rum, Nige­ria Union of Jour­nal­ists [NUJ], Me­dia Rights Agenda [MRA], In­ter­na­tional Press Cen­tre [IPC] and Coali­tion of United Po­lit­i­cal Par­ties, CUPP. Civil So­ci­ety Leg­isla­tive Ad­vo­cacy Cen­tre (CISLAC), Nk­welle Ezu­naka in Oyi Coun­cil Area of Anam­bra State, Sir Si­las Ikeh, the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment, PDP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Atiku Abubakar, Nige­ria Labour Congress [NLC], Coali­tion for Whistle­blow­ers’ Pro­tec­tion and Press Free­dom [CWPPF], Con­fer­ence of Nige­ria Po­lit­i­cal Par­ties [CNPP], In­ter-Party Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil [IPAC] and Safer-Me­dia Ini­tia­tive also con­demned the in­va­sion, as did many other pa­tri­otic groups and cit­i­zens.

How­ever, the most im­por­tant con­dem­na­tion that Nige­ri­ans and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity were wait­ing to hear was the one that never came. Apart from the ini­tial state­ment say­ing the Pres­i­dent or­dered the mil­i­tary to va­cate the premises of Me­dia Trust Lim­ited, the Pres­i­dency did not come down hard on the il­le­gal ac­tion. Its si­lence is not golden, for it could be con­strued, es­pe­cially by the mil­i­tary, to mean ac­qui­esce and an open li­cense for it to tram­ple on con­sti­tu­tional free­doms of cit­i­zens in the name of “na­tional se­cu­rity.” The day we con­cede that right to the mil­i­tary is the end of con­sti­tu­tional or­der. Those in a po­si­tion to speak up but did not do so, will one day have no one left to speak for them.

The Pres­i­dency failed to take a pub­lic po­si­tion on this out­rage. Its si­lence is not golden, for it could be con­strued, es­pe­cially by the mil­i­tary, to mean ac­qui­esce and an open li­cense for it to tram­ple on con­sti­tu­tional free­doms of cit­i­zens in the name of “na­tional se­cu­rity”

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