Media Crack Down: Armed Soldiers Impound Newspapers’ Distribution Vans, Confiscate Copies, Assault Distributors

Media Rights Agenda
By Media Rights Agenda July 15, 2014 13:06 Updated

Media Crack Down: Armed Soldiers Impound Newspapers’ Distribution Vans, Confiscate Copies, Assault Distributors

For several days early in June 2014, armed soldiers and operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) embarked on a massive crackdown on media organizations around the country during which they stormed the premises of some major newspapers, assaulted media workers, impounded media equipment, including distribution vans, and confiscated copies of publications while others were intercepted and destroyed in the process of being distributed in different states nationwide.

In the early hours of June 6, 2014, armed soldiers in Warri in Delta State and in Abuja, Nigeria, impounded the distribution vans of two dailies: “Leadership” and “The Nation” newspapers and confiscated the day’s edition of the newspapers meant for several locations. The soldiers claimed that they were acting on orders from their superiors.

In the Abuja incident, soldiers mounting a roadblock close to the entrance to Abuja along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway intercepted the Leadership newspaper’s van heading to Kaduna and confiscated the entire consignment of the paper meant for North-west region of Nigeria.

Mr. Azubike Ishiekwene, managing director of the Leadership Group of Newspapers

Mr. Azubike Ishiekwene, managing director of the Leadership Group of Newspapers

Azubike Ishiekwene, managing director of the Leadership Group of Newspapers, said the driver of the vehicle and another staff of the newspaper company, were detained, with their cell phones seized. He added that another consignment of the newspaper meant to be flown to states in the South-east was also confiscated by authorities at the Abuja airport.

Similarly, The Nation newspapers’ distribution vans were intercepted by soldiers who waylaid the vans along the Area 1 Road, Garki, Abuja. the soldiers ordered the drivers to offload the day’s edition they were distributing.

In Lagos, copies of the day’s edition of The Punch newspapers were impounded by armed soldiers who stormed the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Ikeja.

Patrick Ochoga, the Edo state correspondent of the newspaper in Benin City, the Edo State capital, also reported that the consignment of the newspaper heading to Kogi and Edo states was also intercepted and seized by soldiers in Kontagora.

Reports also had it that soldiers of the 3 Battalion of the Nigerian Army at Okwuokoko in Delta State intercepted several distribution vans conveying The Nationmewspapers to various stations in the South-south and other parts of the country. All copies of the day’s edition of The Nation newspaper were also seized.

Another detachment of troops stormed The Nation’s circulation depot located in Effurun, Delta State, in search of the newspapers and the company’s staff.

Another report said a detachment of soldiers also condoned off the Edo State office of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Benin City, confiscating all copies of Leadership and The Nation newspapers from newspaper vendors.

In Ado-Ekiti, armed soldiers stormed Okeyinmi, the town’s major newspapers distribution area, around 6.10am, in three Hilux vans marked NA 32 OPS 08, NA 32 0PS 05 and NA 32 OPS 07. They demanded copies of The Nation, Daily Trust and Leadership.

Similar scenes played out in other states including Oyo, Ondo, Osun and Rivers where armed soldiers ensured that Leadership, The Nation and Daily Trust newspapers were prevented from being distributed.

The military action was suspected to be linked with the publication of a news story on its June 3, edition entitled “Aiding Boko Haram: Army Court-martials 10 Generals, 5 Others”. The news report was extensively referenced by foreign media but vehemently denied by the military authorities who claimed the report was false.

Both newspapers are owned by members of the opposition political party, All Progressives’ Congress (APC).

The Defence Headquarters later confirmed that troops were given directives to search newspaper distribution vans for “materials with grave security implications,” saying it “was a routine security action and should not be misconstrued for any other motive.”

The Director of Defence Information, Major General Chris Olukolade, said in a statement that “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.”

Saying that “The Defence Headquarters wishes to clarify that the exercise has nothing to do with content or operation of the media organizations or their personnel as it is being wrongly imputed by a section of the press”, he stressed that  “The general public and the affected media organizations in particular are assured that the exercise was a routine security action and should not be misconstrued for any other motive.

The military onslaught on the media continued for another two days without letting.

 Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, The Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN)

Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, The Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN)

On June 7, the media onslaught was scaled up: soldiers in about seven trucks laid siege to the major newspapers distribution depot in the Area 1 District of Abuja, from where all newspapers are distributed to agents and vendors across the Federal Capital Territory. They sealed it off and prevented any form of newspaper distribution.

At about 6am in Lagos, soldiers confiscated thousands of copies of the Saturday edition of Leadership newspaper meant for the Lagos area at the domestic wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Ikeja. Mr. KazeemAkintunde, theLagos editor of the newspaper who confirmed this added that a staff of the circulation department of the paper was also arrested by the soldiers.

In Benin City, the story was not different: armed soldiers who stormed the secretariat of the Nigerian Union of Journalists again prevented the distribution of Saturday editions of Leadership and The Nation newspapers.

Again, copies of the The Nation newspapers’ Saturday edition meant for Warri and Benin axis wereimpounded by men of the Nigerian army at Elele, Ikwerre council area of Rivers state early in the morning.

The newspaper distribution centre at the Airport Junction, along the Warri/Sapele Road in Effurun was taken over again taken over by a detachment of soldiers in two vans, a repeat of the experience of the previous day.The driver of The Nation newspapers’ van conveying the Saturdayedition had his phone and the vehicle’s key seized by the soldiers who impounded his vehicle.

There was no letting on the media crackdown on June 8 and 9 as even operatives of Directorate of State Security (DSS) were also drafted into the scene. This time, the military also decided to attack and intimidate newspaper vendors and sales representatives.

On June 8 Soldiers reportedly beat up vendors who displayed copies of The Nation and confiscated themin some parts of Lagos State while some newspaper vendors refused to distribute the newspapers for fear of being arrested or beaten up by soldiers.

In Warri, Delta State, plain-clothed security agents, suspected to be men of the Department of DSS or Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), replaced soldiers at the newspaper depot at Airport Junction on the Warri/Sapele Road, while six heavily armed soldiers were seen at the Jakpa Junction entry point into the city looking out for vehicles heading towards Airport junction and conveying newspapers.

In Oyo State, a vendor, Jimoh Afeez, was reportedly beaten up for displaying The Nation newspapers and in Makurdi, Benue State and Ibadan Oyo State, some soldiers stormed the distribution centres looking for the sales representatives while in Benin, Edo State, vendors were ordered not to display The Nation.

On June 9, the assault particularly focused on newspaper vendors continued in various parts of the country before it abated.

The Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) condemned the assault. Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, NPAN President said it was an attack on free speech by soldiers saying it was inconsistent with the values of any democratic society and the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria.

NPAN called upon the military authorities to lift the siege immediately and call the soldiers to order.

Media Rights Agenda
By Media Rights Agenda July 15, 2014 13:06 Updated
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