Armed soldiers, backed by agents of the State Security Services and the Civil Defence Corps, yesterday sealed Daily Trust’s regional office along the Maiduguri-Baga road. They arrested the regional editor, Uthman Abubakar and a reporter, Ibrahim Sawab.
Blueprint also learnt that the soldiers shut the gate of the regional office, after arresting the two editorial staff on sight at the time of the raid.
The raid happened hours after the newspaper published a report detailing how the Nigerian military assembled troops and equipment in preparation for a massive operation to retake Baga and five other towns in Borno from Boko Haram.
Baga was seized in the last two weeks by members of the Islamic State in West African Province (ISWAP), the faction of Boko Haram affiliated to ISIS.
Daily Trust, popular in the northern part of the country, reported that more towns were captured by the insurgents.
They include Doron-Baga, Kross Kawuwa, Bunduran, Kekeno and Kukawa after expelling their military defenders.
Witnesses said the soldiers arrived the two offices in the afternoon and surrounded the properties disallowing staff from leaving as they searched for two journalists in Maiduguri and one in Abuja.
Sources told Blueprint that they asked for Hamza Idris, the political editor of the paper; Mr Abubakar, the Maiduguri bureau chief; and Sawab, a reporter. It was not immediately clear whether Idris was arrested.
The three journalists shared by-lines on a lead story that was published on the Sunday edition of the paper.
“The armed security personnel bundled them into one of the trucks and drove them off while directing other soldiers to seal off the premises,” one staff of the newspaper who asked for protection said.
The attack on the newspaper houses have alarmed journalists and reignited concerns about the government’s tolerance of a free press.
The spokesperson for the Army, Sani Usman, did not answer or return calls when our reporter sought clarifications on the development.
Hit head office, Lagos too
Shortly after the Maiduguri invasion, the soldiers turned their attention to the head office of the tabloid in Abuja where more than two dozens of armed soldiers in five pickup trucks sealed up the main office in the Utako District of Abuja, and seized computers and other items.
It was further learnt that the soldiers opened the gates of the head office and went in with three Jokic vans loaded with armed soldiers who ordered everyone to move to the ground floor while they demobilised, and carted away computers.
They also reportedly collected the phones of all staff in the office, loaded all computers at the head office into their vans and left.
The soldiers also stationed within and outside the newspaper’s building and stopped exit and entry.
A statement by the Managing Director of the company, Manir Dan Ali said for 4 hours, the armed soldiers who came in 5 vehicles occupied the head office of Media Trust Limited, publishers of the Daily Trust titles sending away journalists and other staff.
He said: “Before the siege was called off at about 9.30 pm, the soldiers had ransacked the newsroom and carted away dozens of computers and effectively strangulated the production of the Monday edition of the paper.
“Earlier in the day at about 4 pm, another detachment of soldiers and plain cloth security officials went to the Maiduguri regional office of the company and conducted a search at the end of which they took away the Regional Bureau Chief, Uthman Abubakar and a reporter, Ibrahim Sawab. Neither the company nor the families of the 2 reporters have heard from them since. A production staff who was taken away from the Abuja head office alongside our computers was released after a period of detention at the Mogadishu barrack in Abuja.
“In Lagos, military men in 7 vehicles arrived our offices at Textile Labour House in Agidingbi at about 9 pm and remained there until the time of issuing this statement.
“We have not been told of the reason for the military operation against this newspaper, but suspect it may have to do with the lead story of the Daily Trust on Sunday that dwelt on the military’s effort to retake some towns recently reported to have been lost to insurgents. Another clue is that during the invasion of our premises both in Maiduguri and in Abuja, the military men were asking for the reporters who wrote the story.
“Media Trust Limited condemns this unlawful act and calls on the military authorities to release the 2 reporters arrested in Maiduguri and return the dozens of computers that were taken from our newsroom.
“We also like to thank our colleagues in the media and all others who have been calling and supporting us in our hour of need. We also appreciate the efforts of some government officials who insist that there is a better way of handling relations with the media.”
NUJ calls for calm
The chairman and secretary of the Borno state correspondents’ chapel, Haruna Dauda and Timothy Olanrewaju, in a statement, called on journalists to be calm.
They said they were “already on top of the matter, reaching out to the military command in Maiduguri.”
NLC wants staff released
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress yesterday said no explanation is good enough for the military to arrest the newspaper’s staff, calling for their immediate release.
A statement signed by the NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, called for the reopening of the offices without delay.
“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 offices portends evil and represents a throwback to the dark days of the military.
“If the military authorities have issues with the newspaper, even if those issues pertain to national security, there are established channels for dealing with them.
“Accordingly, we urge the military to order the immediate release of the detained staff and reopening of the newspaper’s office.
“In these frighteningly difficult times, the military needs more friends than self-made enemies.”
In a quick intervention, the Presidency has ordered the security agencies to vacate the newspaper’s premises.
Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media, Malam Garba Shehu, announced the directive.
“The Federal Government has directed the military to vacate the premises of @daily_trust and the order has been complied with,” he said via a tweet on his handle @GarShehu.
“Issues between the military and the newspaper as they affect the coverage of the war in the Northeast will be resolved through dialogue.”
Similarly, the International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos-Nigeria, has condemned “in strong terms, the forceful closure of Daily Trust Newspapers’ head office in Abuja and the organisation’s Maiduguri office by military personnel on Sunday January 6, 2019.
“IPC considers this development as a fresh threat to freedom of the press as well as the freedom and individual liberties of journalists and other media professionals working in Daily Trust, IPC said in a statement by its director, Lanre Arogundade.
“The action of the military is also a threat to democracy with the presidential elections, less than two months away. The military is bound by the laws of the land and cannot in any circumstance be allowed to resort to extra judicial measures no matter its grievances.”No tags for this post.