Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today condemned the military invasion, occupation and takeover of the Abuja and Maiduguri offices of Daily Trust newspaper and called on the Federal Government to take punitive action against the perpetrators in order to end the cycle of abuse of power by military officers.
While commending President Muhammadu Buhari for his “swift response to the unlawful and unjustifiable action of the military” in directing the soldiers to immediately vacate the premises of the newspaper, MRA’s Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe said: “It is imperative that the President takes further action to discourage this sort of highhandedness in future as anything short of punitive action against the perpetrators of the act would amount to encouraging impunity. We therefore call on the President to demonstrate his commitment to the rule of law and disdain for abuse of power and impunity.”
MRA’s statement was in response to the action of armed soldiers who on January 6, 2019, raided, occupied and sealed off the offices of the Daily Trust newspaper in Abuja and Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and arrested the newspaper’s regional editor, Uthman Abubakar, and one of its reporters, Ibrahim Sawab in Maiduguri.
The actions of the military was reportedly taken in reaction to the newspaper’s report of the same day detailing how the Nigerian military assembled troops and equipment in preparation for an operation to retake Baga and five other towns in Borno State from the militant Islamist insurgent group, Boko Haram. Nigerian Army spokesman, Sani Usman, said in a statement that the newspaper in its lead story of the day “divulged classified military information, thus undermining national security”.
The Army also accused Daily Trust of culpability in strengthening Boko Haram with the lead story by disclosing information about the military, specifically as regards its fight against the terrorists.
Saying that it was not enough for the President to ask the military to vacate the newspaper’s premises, Mr. Longe insisted that “whatever offence the newspaper or its reporters may have committed, if indeed they committed any offence, there is a presumption under our Constitution that a person is innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. The military has by its actions judged, condemned and carried out its judgment on the newspaper and its reporters having made itself the accuser and constituted itself into a law court and the judgment enforcer. This is strange in a democracy and does not portray the government as a respecter of the rule of law”
MRA called on the Federal Government to order a thorough investigation into the raid of the newspaper’s premises to identify the perpetrators as well as those who ordered it and prosecute them accordingly.