Posted by News Express | 7 June 2014 | 4,189 times
Outrage yesterday greeted the action of armed soldiers, said to be acting on “orders from above,” who invaded newspaper distribution centres across the country in the early hours of Friday, seizing vans and newspaper parcels. The operation continued for most of the morning hours.
Reports from virtually all state capitals and major cities in the country indicated that armed soldiers laid siege to distribution centres and to major roads, preventing media houses from conveying their newspapers to buyers.
The military authorities, however, justified their action, grounding it in intelligence reports that newspaper distribution channels could be used to compromise the nation’s security.
But the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) described the military’s action as scandalous and its excuse as unacceptable.
Media vehicles conveying newspapers from Lagos and Ibadan to Warri, Abuja and other states were impounded and searched for possible hidden bombs.
At the Niger Bridge in Lokoja, Kogi State, a detachment of soldiers was seen searching for newspaper parcels.
Two vehicles conveying newspapers to Abuja and other parts of the North were detained.
A similar situation was reported from the Abuja-Kaduna Road, Warri, among others.
In Kwara State, at the popular newspaper distribution centre on Emir’s Road, Ilorin, soldiers seized the Friday edition of several newspapers.
The military operation affected other parts of the metropolis.
Nearly all the distribution vans conveying newspapers were stopped at the Eiyenkorin area, on the Ilorin-Ogbomosho expressway leading to the state capital.
Some drivers of the newspaper vans were detained and their phones seized.
In Osogbo, the Osun State capital, about 16 armed soldiers stormed the newspaper distribution centre, located at Gbaremu, early in the day, and searched through the parcels of two national dailies for undisclosed content.
A source at the place told Saturday Tribune that the soldiers arrived in the area around 5.45 a.m. and cordoned off the spot where the newspapers’ agents were waiting for vendors.
In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, vendors and distributors watched helplessly at the distribution centre at the Oke-Padre junction as no fewer than 100 armed soldiers seized newspaper delivery vans.
Witnesses said the soldiers arrived in the area after a few copies of the national dailies had been distributed.
As onlookers watched in amazement and wondered about the motive behind such a development, believed to have last been experienced during the military area, the soldiers reportedly began to request for certain newspapers.
Saturday Tribune gathered that soldiers laid siege to Ore and Ajuwe in Ondo State to screen vehicles carrying newspapers to Benin, Warri, Asaba and other states in the eastern part of the country.
Drivers of the vehicles were delayed for at least one hour after the soldiers seized their keys and went away.
One of the drivers, Uche Uka-George, said the soldiers forcibly parked his van with its contents at Okuokoko, an entry point to Warri at aout 5:40 a.m., and ordered him to keep a distance from the vehicle.
He said the soldiers told him that they were instructed to detain the vehicles and the contents until bomb experts arrived from Benin, Edo State.
“I got here at about 5.40 a.m. when they stopped me. The soldiers said they had information from Abuja to stop all newspaper vehicles and make sure they were all searched for bomb because they were the ones carrying bombs all over the country.
“When the day had broken, they also stopped another vehicle, but they soon released that one. They said I would have to wait till bomb experts came from Benin. I have been waiting since 5:40 a.m. They have even seized the car key from me,” Uka-George said.
As of 2.30 p.m., several newspaper copies were still being prevented from distribution.
In Jalingo, the Taraba State capital, soldiers were said to have taken to the streets and removed copies of national dailies believed to be widely read in the state.
Their arrival at about 10.00 a.m. reportedly created tension as people ran quickly from the streets, unsure of the intentions of the soldiers.
But speaking on the matter, Director of Defence Information, Major General Chris Olukolade, said: “Troops, this morning, embarked on thorough search of vehicles conveying newspapers and newsprints across board.
This followed intelligence report indicating movement of materials with grave security implications across the country using the channel of newsprint related consignments.
“The Defence Headquarters wishes to clarify that the exercise has nothing to do with content or operation of the media organisations or their personnel as is being wrongly imputed by a section of the press.
“The military appreciates and indeed respects the role of the media as an indispensable partner in the ongoing counter-insurgency operation and the overall advancement of our country’s democratic credentials. As such, the military will not deliberately and without cause, infringe on the freedom of the press.
“The general public and the affected media organisations in particular are assured that the exercise was a routine security action and should not be misconstrued for any other motive.”
Editors condemn military clampdown
However, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, in a statement signed by its President, Mr Femi Adesina, condemned the crackdown which, it said, caused huge economic losses to the publishing houses.
The editors’ body described the development as reminiscent of the days of military repression which Nigerians would want to put behind them for good.
The statement read: “The explanation from the military is unacceptable. In fact, it goes a long way to reinforce the “apocryphal belief quite commonplace among security agencies that they are much more patriotic than anybody else.
“Apparently, they had been itching to open a battlefront with the country’s ever-irrepressible media, and thus hid behind a smokescreen to deal a lethal blow at the economic jugular of newspapers.
“The media do not bear arms, rather we bear information, which sheds light on darkness, no matter how seemingly impenetrable the darkness is. Information sets free. It emancipates from shackles. It develops the mind, and helps people to make independent, rational judgments.
“Let no one accuse the media of any flimsy and nebulous security breach, and hide under that umbrella to traumatise us. Count the media out of anything not designed for the cohesion and general good of our country.
“These are perilous times in Nigeria. The military and other security agencies, as well as the media, have all been at the receiving end of the evils of insurgency.
“For the military, which already has its hands full, to open another flank of battle against the media is indefensible, even downright ridiculous. It is a throwback to the days of military repression, which we thought we had long put behind us as a country.
“We reject the label of bearer of arms, or any other form of ordnance, to do mischief against our own country. If the siege arose out of the need to call the dog a bad name in order to hang it, Nigerian editors roundly and soundly reject such negative profiling.”
In the same vein, the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) has vowed to mobilise Nigerians against the development which, it said, could be a prelude to the clampdown on the media in contradiction of the various charters on human rights that Nigeria is signatory to.
National Vice President of the organisation, Mr. Taiwo Otitolaiye, expressed dismay at the turn of event by the government.
He said the Federal Government should concentrate on using the military to tackle the raging insurgency in the northern part of the country instead of using them to muzzle the media.
“The CDHR sees this as a brigandage employed by the Federal Government using security agent to carry out what is clearly a rape on the right to information and freedom of expression.
“We see it as a form of human rights abuse of the drivers who are detained and vendors and other workers affected by this development.
“It is a rape of the right to freedom of information; it is a gag against the media. The government should look within itself and face the serious insurgency of Boko Haram and use the military there instead of using them against the media.
“We call on Nigerians to be vigilant and fight for their rights because freedom is never won on a platter of gold. A people will always get the type of government they represent themselves. As for us in the CDHR, we are ready to mobilise Nigerians against this development. We condemn it in very strong terms,” Otitolaiye said.
•Adapted from a Saturday Tribune report.
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