The International Press Institute (IPI) has condemned the high-handed action of the Nigerian Army against Daily Trust and demanded the immediate release of the regional editor of the newspaper arrested on Sunday, January 6, 2019.
In a letter sent to the Nigerian minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, copy of which was seen by our reporter, the IPI described the arrest of journalists and siege of the newspaper’s offices in Maiduguri and Abuja as an attack on media freedom in the country.
It will be recalled that the Nigerian Army arrested the Daily Trust regional editor, Uthman Abubakar and reporter, Ibrahim Sawab in Maiduguri and laid a siege of the Daily Trust offices in Maiduguri and Abuja and seized a number of computers.
“However, the authorities have 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”, IPI Executive Director, Barbara Trionfi, said in the letter to the minister.
Trionfi further wrote that the Army’s actions in raiding the Daily Trust’s offices and arresting two of its journalists “are inappropriate and disproportionate and appear to constitute an attempt to silence independent media in the country.”
“This is a clear attack on media freedom in a country which claims to uphold democratic principles.
“We understand that the Nigerian Army has attempted to justify these actions by claiming that the Daily Trust’s publication of news about a planned operation by the armed forces in Borno region against Islamist militants had put the lives of army officials in danger and undermined national security.
“We would like to mention here that the Nigerian security services appear to have adopted a habit of arresting and detaining journalists for their investigative reporting on perceived sensitive subjects.
The IPI recalled that “in August last year, the security forces arrested Samuel Ogundipe, a journalist with the Premium Times, for his report about a letter sent by the inspector general of police to the vice president detailing actions of the former director of the State Security Service. The police demanded that Ogundipe reveal his sources.”
Also, it noted that “during the IPI World Congress in June 2018, we raised the issue of the illegal detention of journalist, Jonas Abiri, which the government initially denied. However, the government was later forced to produce Abiri before a court after two years spent behind bars. Eventually, Abiri was freed by the court.”
“Your Excellency, we request you to address this breach of press freedom by the army and ensure that the army releases the regional editor of the Daily Trust and returns the computers taken from the newspaper’s offices.
“We hope that you will keep the promise that President Muhammadu Buhari and you made at the IPI World Congress to uphold media freedom and create a conducive climate for independent media to thrive in Nigeria,” Trionfi said in the letter.
The Vienna-based IPI is a global network of editors, media executives and journalists around the world.