Veteran journalist and Managing Director of Premium Times, Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, was arrested and detained for several hours by the Nigerian Police in Abuja, following the refusal of the online news medium to retract news stories about the Nigerian Army and its anti-terrorism operations, which have generated hot exchanges between their lawyers. Mr. Olorunyomi was however released on the same day, after several hours in detention, following intense public pressure, particularly on social media, as his detention was trending on Twitter in Nigeria just three hours after he was arrested.
Plain-clothes officers conducted a search at the office following a complaint filed by the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai. Olorunyomi and Evelyn Okakwu, the paper’s judiciary correspondent were subsequently arrested.
However, intense media interest over Olorunyomi’s arrest was believed to have led to his eventual release after some hours. The judiciary correspondent was also released.
Before the arrest , the Nigerian Army and Premium Times engaged in a war of words over the alleged defamatory publications against Lieutenant General T.Y Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff and the conduct of counter insurgency operations in the North.
The Nigerian Army had earlier threatened to sue the paper for what it termed unwarranted serial provocative, unauthorised, libelous and defamatory publication” against the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, a Lieutenant General, and the army’s counter-insurgency operation in the north-east of the country.
The letter, dated December 22, 2016, and signed by I.M Alkali, a major general, on behalf of Mr. Buratai, accused the paper of publishing reports without reference to the army, adding that its stories exposed a “deep hatred for the leadership of the Nigerian Army.”
The letter expressed displeasure with three stories published by the medium between October and December last year.
The reports were those on the planned invitation of Buratai by the Code of Conduct Bureau for asset verification, the disappearance of a high number of soldiers after a Boko Haram attack and an investigation detailing how soldiers allegedly killed a kidnapped pastor and labeled him a kidnapper.
The army in its letter described the reports as “false,” “unsubstantiated,” and “unprofessional.”
Premium Times, through its lawyers, delivered a detailed response to the army, affirming its stories, and unequivocally rejecting the demand for retractions and apology.
The paper, instead, asked the army to write a letter within seven days of receiving its reply, withdrawing the allegations and threats against it and its staff, or risk being sued.
Jiti Ogunye, the newspaper’s principal counsel, who signed the response, took the army to task on the “grave implications” of its letter, describing the letter as a threat to the wellbeing and life of Premium Times’ staff.
“By your letter you have threatened the lives of our clients, and our clients are thus obliged to put the public on notice that should any harm come to them, you, the Chief of Army Staff and the Nigerian Army should be held accountable,” he wrote.
Ogunye said the “chilling threats” contained in the army’s letter was an affront on the constitutional guarantee of civilian control of the army and the freedom of the press.
The newspaper also claimed the army lied when it denied a report that its troops were being deployed to The Gambia as part of efforts to force President Yahya Jammeh from staying put in office.
In another report, the paper said the army was sending a battalion of about 800 soldiers drawn from the 19 Battalion, Okitipupa, Ondo State, to The Gambia, possibly as part of a sub regional Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) intervention force.