Human Rights Watch (HRW) has described security forces’ raid of Daily Trust newspaper’s offices as disturbing and an attempt to stifle media freedom in Nigeria.
The group therefore charged the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to immediately take steps to curb tendencies within the military to harass and intimidate civilian actors in the northeast.
It said the President should start that by ensuring the military releases the newspaper’s northeast regional bureau chief, Uthman Abubakar, who is said to be in the custody of the military.
It also called for the return of seized computers allegedly confiscated by the security forces and the unsealing of the office of the media company.
Government security forces had on January 6, 2019 raided the newspaper’s offices in Maiduguri and Abuja and supposedly arrested its staff members, including its two journalists, the northeast regional bureau chief, Uthman Abubakar, and a reporter, Ibrahim Sawab.
While the staff members and the reporter are said to have been released, Abubakar’s whereabouts remains unknown.
In its reaction, Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement made available to Ripples Nigeria, “The military’s raid on the Daily Trust’s offices is a chilling development that the government should take immediate steps to address.
“Nigeria’s government should ensure that the military takes no further actions to intimidate or harass journalists anywhere in the country.”
Army spokesman, Sani Usman, had in a statement on Monday said that soldiers accompanied by members of the Nigerian Police Force and other security agencies conducted the raids and wanted the Daily Trust staff to answer questions about a story published on January 6.
The statement alleged that the article divulged classified military information related to planned attacks against Boko Haram and thus undermined national security.
The publication reported that the Nigerian military planned to retake the town of Baga and several other communities overrun and seized by Boko Haram fighters on December 28, 2018.
The group said it found out from the Newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Mannir Dan-Ali, that Abubakar is still in military custody at an unknown location, and that security personnel remain in possession of over a dozen computers, including laptops and desktops confiscated at the newspaper’s Abuja office.
It therefore said “Nigerian authorities should take immediate steps to curb tendencies within the military to harass and intimidate civilian actors in the northeast.”
It added that “Releasing Abubakar, returning the seized computers and unsealing the Daily Trust’s office is a good place to start.”