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 Initiativealso 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.