Friday, January 18, 2019
Nigerian journalists and Free Press Award winners Kemi Busari and Fisayo Soyombo express their deep concern over the raids by the Nigerian army of the most popular newspaper in the north of the country, the Daily Trust. Last week, three of the outlet’s offices, in Maiduguri, Lagos and Abuja, were closed and two journalists were briefly detained in a secret facility. Busari and Soyombo see the incident as part of a worrying trend, with military and police routinely gagging the media.

The Daily Trust published information about an upcoming offensive against Boko Haram and Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP). In an editorial, it also raised some serious questions about the progress of the Nigerian military in the offensive against terrorism in the northeast of the country, comparing its results to those of the Niger Armed Forces. The army took the view that the information jeopardised the security of the military.

'Against the constitution'

Investigative journalist Kemi Busari won Free Press Unlimited’s Newcomer of the Year-Hans Verploeg Award in 2018. His opinion about the incidents is unambiguous: "Every journalist must condemn the raid on the Daily Trust and must stand to defend the freedom of the press, which is enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria. The law is unequivocal in addressing these kinds of issues, if the Nigerian Army feels an article in a newspaper tends towards compromising national security, there is the court of law where it can seek redress. Going ahead to attack journalists and to pack their tools is a negative return to old days of military overlordship. This act stands condemned," he told Free Press Unlimited.

'Dialogue instead of invasions'

His colleague Fisayo Soyombo is Managing Editor of SaharaReporters and an opinion contributor to Al Jazeera English. He won the Newcomer of the Year-Hans Verploeg Award in 2016. He understands the discomfort of the military with the published information: "The moment I read it, I thought it should never have been published. It details the army’s high-wire preparations for an attack on Boko Haram. The report gave the army out to the enemy. The insurgents, if they read it - and I bet they did - would have enjoyed the benefit of counter-acting the army’s plans. I’m sure the Daily Trust editors would agree, with the benefit of hindsight, that they could have been more circumspect in withholding the information at their disposal from the public."

Yet, like his colleague Busari, Soyombo condems the raids on the newspaper: "That said, the army could have dialogued with the editors instead of arresting them and invading their offices," he said.

'Bullying the media into submission doesn't work'

Both journalists see the raids as part of a wider pattern of journalists being harassed by security forces. Soyombo: "In all other cases of interference of the army with the press, the high-handedness of security agencies has been there for all to see. These include the arrest of journalist Jones Abiri by the Department of State Service (DSS) on trumped-up charges of terrorism and the arrest of Premium Times journalist Samuel Ogundipe by the Police over his failure to disclose the source of a little-more-than-routine story. It is sickening that the overarching strategy of the military is always to try to bully the media into submission. It hasn’t worked so far, it never will."

Possible self-censorship

Busari: "There is a worrying trend of attacks on journalists in Nigeria. Due to many years of military rule, Nigerian leaders still rely on the rule of the gun to right wrongs. This however is taking a big toll on the fourth estate of the realm. This is not the first time the army will carry out such an operation and the fact remains that the more they do this without facing the consequences, the more they will do it again and again. So, as long as nobody is brought to book, which doesn't seem likely, this will definitely continue. The consequence of this is a gag on journalists, created by the system. If I have an exclusive which I am convinced would not compromise national security, should I go to press with it or keep in my folder to avert possible victimisation? The reaction of the Nigerian government to this latest interference by the army will give an answer to this and consequently, the future."