By Owei Lakemfa
AS a former newspaper Editor, I would not have published the Daily Trust lead story of January 6, 2019 titled: Military prepares massive operation to retake Baga, others, which led to the newspaper’s invasion by armed soldiers. My editorial judgement would not have been based on the army’s fairy tale that the story violated national security, but because it was primarily, a rehash of information that was already in the public space. I would have asked the reporter to provide fresh information or a new angle to the story.
Despite the fact that the story contained no new information, the Nigeria Army was so incensed that it sent combat troops to the Maiduguri regional office of the newspapers, conducted a search and abducted the Regional Bureau Chief, Uthman Abubakar and Reporter, Ibrahim Sawab.
Then, in five trucks, it struck at the Abuja headquarters of the organisation. Some of the journalists claimed that in the commando-style raid, the soldiers seized their computers and laptops before herding them out of the premises at gun point. The soldiers also went away with a trophy: a production staff who was detained at the Mogadishu Barracks, Abuja. Armed soldiers riding in seven vehicles also occupied the Lagos office of the newspapers.
Amazingly, the army claimed that its attacks on the media house was merely to extend an “invitation”. It cheekily titled the statement announcing its successful occupation of the three Daily Trust offices as a: “Clarification on invitation of Media Trust Staff by the security agencies.” What a way to invite a people!
The army claimed that it launched the attacks on the media house because it: “… disclosed details of planned military operations against the Boko Haram terrorists (which) afforded the Boko Haram terrorists prior notice of our plans and gave them early warning to prepare against the Nigerian military, thus sabotaging the planned operations and putting the lives of troops in imminent and clear danger.” This is baffling because the Nigerian Army itself had announced the attack on Boko Haram in Baga and surrounding communities, one week before the Daily Trust publication.
The army on Sunday, December 30, 2018 in a statement by Colonel Onyeka Nwachukwu, announced it is planning to relocate residents of Baga in Borno State “to safer locations in view of the ongoing military operations in the area.” The media reported that this announcement of an on-going military operation in Baga was circulated by Brigadier-General Sani Kukasheka Usman, the Army’s spokesperson on his Facebook page.
Also, other Daily Trust information on a security meeting to discuss a comprehensive response to the Boko Haram invasion of Baga and its environs and the involvement of the Navy and Airforce, had been publicly disclosed by military authorities. In his statement, Colonel Nwachukwu had disclosed that the Theatre Command, Operation LAFIYA DOLE and other security agencies will shed more light on the issue of the on-going military operations in a Security Council meeting with the Borno State Government, scheduled to hold on Monday, December 31, 2018.
Apart from the fact that the fight against Boko Haram involves all arms of the military, the Nigeria Air Force itself announced that it deployed several aircraft to bomb gatherings of the insurgents who had attacked Baga. So it is not the media that disclosed these, but the military itself! The Daily Trust story was actually stale news.
Therefore, the Army’s statement after the Daily Trust invasion that it: “…would not tolerate situation where a publication would consistently side with terrorists and undermine our national institutions” is merely a red herring. The main issue seems to be the army’s dilemma on Baga which it had announced was not in the hands of the Boko Haram. On Friday, December 28, 2018, Major-General Lamidi Adeosun, the Army’s Chief of Training had at a news conference in Maiduguri told the world: “Baga town is not in the hands of the Boko Haram. They contested it but they lost the contest.” So if Baga was never taken in the first place, why is the army trying to retake it and why would Daily Trust be accused of leaking secrets?
The army is not the only organisation involved in claims that Boko Haram is not holding Baga and other towns. An organisation, the Centre for Conflict Resolution and Management had three days before the Daily Trust publication released a report allegedly based on its five-day tour and research of Baga and other parts of North-Eastern Nigeria, and announced the fake news that Boko Haram is not holding any territory in Nigeria.
A Mrs. Betty Aku claiming to be the Centre’s Executive Director claimed that: “Baga town and its environs are not under the control of Boko Haram Insurgents… There is no section of the state under the control of Boko Haram Insurgents.”
On the undeniable influx of internally displaced persons from Baga and surrounding towns, the Centre’s Report claimed: “It was a case of palpable fear as a result of past experiences and not as a result of the occupation of these communities by Boko Haram insurgents. …it was indeed a misrepresentation by some media houses that reported that Baga and other communities were under the control of Boko Haram Insurgents.”
The ‘Centre’ blamed opposition politicians “…who are either protesting a loss or a defeat or who have in one way or the other benefited from the malaise over the years” for the news that Baga had fallen. This at best, is an innocuous centre, fronting an invisible woman pretending to engage in investigative reporting and spreading false news to deceive Nigerians.
The invasion of Daily Trust is an affront on fundamental human rights and a gross violation of the Constitution. Nobody or organisation is allowed to take the laws into its hands and no government worth its salt will allow such naked attack on Nigerians without bringing the perpetrators to book.
The victory of the military at the gates of the media, is temporary, unsustainable and unwise. Those who employ the army to cow perceived enemies, should be wise enough to know that they are riding the tiger’s back.
Like others before them, the powerful will wake up to the fact that although they can send soldiers to seize media houses and point guns at journalists, the pen can never be conquered.
No matter the number of guns pointed, no matter the array of bayonets displayed, no matter the armoured tanks rolled up, no matter the aerial superiority, I will continue to put my daily trust, in the media for news and not the army.