Military Invasion Of Daily Trust

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The January 6 invasion of Daily Trust Newspaper offices in Maiduguri, Lagos and Abuja by the military over the newspaper’s lead story on its Sunday publication is déjà vu. Even worse was the arrest and detention of the Northern Regional Editor of the newspaper, Uthman Abubakar. It is a sad reminder of the era of jackal when civility was an anathema.
We recall that several instances of this autocratic tendency had featured under the present administration. Prominent among them was last year’s invasion of the National Assembly by some elements in the Department of State Services (DSS), leading to the dismissal of the agency’s former boss, Lawal Daura.
This latest episode involving the media is a clear indication that Nigeria, in spite of its nearly 20 years of uninterrupted civilian regime, has not risen above the level of military dictatorship.
As usual, the military would find an explanation which often times points to national security to justify the invasion of Daily Trust. And indeed, it did.
According to the spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Sani Usman, Daily Trust Newspaper was invaded for disclosing classified security information that amounts to a breach of national security and which runs contrary to Sections 1 and 2 of the Official Secrets Act.
This explanation may seem plausible against the backdrop of the fact that Nigeria is currently at war with insurgents in the North East. Therefore, any piece of information that could encourage the insurgents and their sponsors to up their games or possibly expose the Nigerian Army to further attacks should have been avoided by the media.
Given the already known fact that the military is over-stretched and tense, with its ranks believed to have been infiltrated by moles who leak information to the insurgents, it is fair that Daily Trust exercised caution and restraint in the piece of information it dishes out to the public. We say this because any piece of information that could make the military vulnerable endangers national security.
Notwithstanding the goof by Daily Trust, we had expected the military to resort to civil means of rebuking the newspaper, rather than the brinkmanship and show of shame displayed by its men. The Nigerian Army could have reported the excesses of Daily Trust to the Nigerian Press Council for proper sanction or, at least, seek redress in a court of competent jurisdiction.
Again, the military itself goofed by not embargoing its information. Why announce to the world that it has acquired or was going to acquire fighting helicopters? If the announcement was meant to assure Nigerians that the Army would soon be on top of the game, it was very expensive, knowing that it may encourage the insurgents and their sponsors to also up their games.
To us in The Tide, the military siege laid on Daily Trust and subsequent arrest and detention of its regional editor are unnecessary. They portend a glaring threat not just to the Press but to the nation’s democracy, especially now that the country is grappling with socio-economic instability and unfavourable human rights records.
The torrents of backlash that trailed the invasion of Daily Trust are clear proofs that Nigerians are not ready to trade the nation’s democracy for dictatorship. The criticisms should, therefore, serve as a warning to the military that Nigerians would resist any backlash on democracy or a descent to undemocratic rule.
At this period when the general elections are a month away, we expect the military and other security agencies to key into the democratic experiment by being civil in all their engagements.
We, therefore, urge President Muhammadu Buhari to rein in the military and other security agencies in the country. Whether the actions of the security agencies in trying to muscle the Press and militarilise the nation’s democracy have the direct or indirect approval of the Presidency, Buhari, as the President and Commander-In-Chief of the nation’s Armed Forces, should take full responsibility for all the actions and inactions of his men. The buck stops at his table, after all.