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Aso Rock steps up war against media •Soldiers beat up vendors, seize newspapers; clampdown on radio and TV looms

By News Express on 09/06/2014

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For the third day running, the Federal Government yesterday, through the Nigerian Army, continued its siege on the media, intensifying what appears to be an unambiguous campaign of suppression.

Just last Tuesday, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) had ordered all radio and television stations to submit details of their live programmes, at least 48 hours before live interviews, rallies and other such events. The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) has raised the alarm, saying that the two developments represent a clear attempt by the Goodluck Jonathan administration to muzzle the media.

In the continuing crackdown on the press, soldiers beat up vendors who displayed copies of The Nation were beaten up in some parts of Lagos and had their papers confiscated.

In Warri, Delta State, plain-clothe security agents, suspected to be men of the Department of State Security (DSS) or Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), replaced soldiers at the newspaper depot at Airport Junction on the Warri/Sapele Road, Warri.

Six heavily-armed soldiers were sighted at the Jakpa Junction entry point into the city.

They were on the lookout for vehicles heading towards Airport Junction conveying newspapers.

The Nation’s Sales Manager, Mr. Olaribigbe Bello, said the vehicle conveying The Nation to Jos, the Plateau State capital, was delayed for about five hours and was later released after being searched.

In Oyo, a vendor, Jimoh Afeez, was beaten up for displaying The Nation. Another vendor is said to have been in military custody since Friday.

After the newspapers had been distributed, the soldiers attacked and beat up the vendors, and sought to know how The Nation got to the market.

In Makurdi, after the papers had been distributed, the some uniformed men went to the distribution centre to look for the sales representative.

The same intimidatory tactic was adopted in Ibadan, where plain-clothes men stood at The Nation office, waiting to arrest the sales representative.

In Benin, Edo State, vendors were ordered not to display The Nation.

In some parts of Benin, newspapers were seized and were later released after about four hours.

In Lagos, soldiers beat up vendors for displaying the newspaper, and seized all the copies, especially in Abule Egba area.

The Nation’s General Manager Southsouth, Mr Olatunde Olasogba, said soldiers were at the distribution centres in Bayelsa and Benin.

Vendors, he said, were generally afraid to collect and display the newspaper for fear of being beaten up or arrested.

Soldiers confiscated all copies of The Nation and Sporting Life in a distribution van heading for Bayelsa, Delta and Edo states. The vehicle was arrested at Ahoada enroute Bayela.

Another vehicle going to Enugu via Owerri and Onitsha was arrested at Elele, detained for several hours and released at about 3pm.

“We couldn’t circulate in Enugu, Owerri, Awka and Asaba. Our sales are almost zero. The soldiers have forced our sales to crash. We could not reach most Southeast states which fundamentally affected our sales,” Olasogba said.

In what appeared like a movie scene, armed soldiers attached to the Oyo State security outfit, Operation Burst, beat up and arrested a vendor at Durbar in Oyo town for selling The Nation to customers.

All other newspapers found on the vendor’s counter whose name was given as Afees were confiscated, as he was whisked away by the battle-ready soldiers.

Afees was said to be attending to one of his customers who came to collect the day’s supply of the newspapers, including The Nation when the incident occurred.

Unknown to the unsuspecting   vendor, a plain clothe military man who was on surveillance and has been standing beside him disguised as a customer and demanded for a copy of The Nation.

As Afees was bringing out a copy secretly tucked inside the hand bag, the military man identified himself and ordered for remaining copies of the newspaper.

A few minutes later, armed soldiers from the state security outfit arrived, beat up the vendor, confiscated all the newspapers before whisking him away to an unknown destination.

The development elicited uproar from onlookers and readers around who expressed strong indignation over the siege on the media.

Since last Saturday, armed soldiers had been laying ambush in Oyo, Ogbomoso, Iseyin and Kishi towns

As early as 5:30am, the battle-ready soldiers in an army colour vehicle were on the major streets mounted road blocks and searched vehicles suspected to be carrying copies of The Nation for distribution.

The soldiers usually demanded copies of The Nation from the vendors, after which they search other newspapers on them to actually know if they did not have The Nation.

On day two of the siege, soldiers in their number had stormed the Newspapers Distribution Centre, Area 1, Abuja, stopping the distribution of Saturday Newswatch and other newspapers.

Some soldiers had earlier, on Friday, waylaid distribution vehicles of some newspapers, including The Nation, Vanguard, Daily Trust and Leadership, to stop their circulation.

The soldiers, who got to the Abuja centre at about 4am with no fewer than five Hilux vans, left the site at about 2pm, after ensuring that no newspaper was collated for distribution at the place.

Many newspapers, including Saturday Newswatch, were off the streets in most parts of Abuja yesterday, as armed military personnel continued the crackdown on the print media, by taking over the Area 1 Newspaper Distribution Centre and driving away sales representatives and vendors.

Eyewitnesses said the soldiers arrived in the early hours of the day, confiscated the newspapers being offloaded from press vans, and chased away sales agents and vendors before shutting the gate, thereby causing newspapers not to be distributed from the location.

News Express reports that the crackdown started a day after President Jonathan cautioned the media to refrain from promoting the Boko Haram terrorist sect.

Defence Spokesman, Maj.-Gen. Chris Olukolade had on Friday justified the clampdown, grounding it in intelligence reports that newspaper distribution channels could be used to compromise the nation’s security.

•Pieced together from reports in Daily Newswatch and The Nation. Photo credit: Vanguard.

Source News Express

Posted 09/06/2014 12:24:30 PM





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