The Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), has received with shock the news of the Nigerian Army’s siege to the Daily Trust newspaper offices in Abuja, Lagos and Maiduguri over the weekend; arresting an editor and reporter in addition to seizure of computers thereby disrupting the operation of that newspaper.
Although the unwholesome raid was called off on the order of the Presidency, and the Army has explained that its action was warranted by the violation of the Official Secret Act by the newspaper giving prior notice of military strategy and tactics to Boko Haram insurgents, the siege left in its trail panic and anger reminiscent of the military era brutalisation of the press and the people.
The last time in this Constitutional dispensation when the Army violated Constitutional guarantee of free speech was in June 2014 when the logistics for distribution of newspapers was wantonly disrupted and newspapers confiscated across the country on spurious allegation that materials “with grave security implications were being moved across the country through newsprint related consignments.”
That action warranted an apology and payment of token atonement to the newspaper houses by the Federal Government, although same was later criminalised and newspapers made to make refunds to the EFCC.
The weekend siege on the 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 kneejerk, 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.