The Police on Thursday busted into PREMIUM TIMES head office in Abuja and arrested the publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi along with the paper’s judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu.
According the news as posted on the newspaper’s website, “Plain-clothed officers conducted search at the office shortly after 5p.m. Thursday, and said they were acting on a complaint filed by the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai.”
“The arrests came days after PREMIUM TIMES turned down the army’s demand to retract news stories about the Nigerian Army and its operations.
The paper’s Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, condemned the raid saying, “They should stop deluding themselves that they can muzzle the press and intimidate PREMIUM TIMES”.
Mojeed said, “They should know that our loyalty lies with our readers and the Nigerian people who have a right to know.
He said the paper will continue “to discharge its responsibilities in line with global best practices, social responsibility and patriotism, even at great risk to our personal liberties”.
Recall that on Wednesday last week, the newspaper published a letter dated December 22, written on behalf of Mr. Buratai, by I.M Alkali, a Major General, accusing PREMIUM TIMES of “unwarranted serial provocative, unauthorized, libelous and defamatory publications.
The letter claimed the paper published reports without reference to the army, saying the 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 army described the stories as “false, unsubstantiated, and unprofessional” but provided no evidence to back its claim.
The letter demanded PREMIUM TIMES retract the reports and apologize to the army and Mr. Buratai.
But responding, PREMIUM TIMES in a statement signed by Musikilu Mojeed Editor-in-Chief/Chief Operating Officer said its lawyers, delivered a detailed response to the Army, affirming its stories, and unequivocally rejecting the demand for retractions and apology.
Rather, the paper, demanded that the army 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, took the army to task on the “grave implications” of its letter, describing the army’s letter as a threat to the well-being 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”.
Continuing 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.
“It is our view that all working journalists and news outlets are entitled to some protection from public officers, especially of the military and security agencies who are charged with the duty to secure and protect Nigeria and Nigerians, their lives and property, and maintain law and order, but who often, because of the uniqueness of that duty and for reason of the exclusive bearing of arms and control of our commonly owned ordinance, assume very erroneously that they are above the law”.
Lambasting the army for describing PREMIUM TIMES’ stories as “unprofessional” he said the military and other public officials were not in a position to question the paper’s professionalism.
“The penchant of public officers to flippantly, arrogantly and ignorantly label media reports and stories and journalists ‘unprofessional’ once they are affected by media reports and stories must be deprecated with decorous pungency.
“It really can be exasperating and disconcerting to see public officers condescendingly castigate journalists, many of whom are not only internationally acclaimed and celebrated but who also have up to forty years of practice as journalists under their belt,” the letter stated.
While questioning the army’s penchant for claiming exclusivity of patriotism and national sacrifice, he said, “We must also rebuke the false assumption that our military men, exclusively, are an epitome of patriotism and national sacrifice, and that they love Nigeria more than civilians do.
“Sir, the Nigerian Army of which you spoke so glowingly is an heir to a military that unpatriotically subverted, many times, constitutional governance in Nigeria, plunged Nigeria into a three-year internecine civil war, committed unspeakable rights violations against the Nigerian people and thwarted the efforts of Nigerians to restore democratic governance to Nigeria.
“The Nigerian Media, if you must be reminded, played a frontline role and suffered gross human rights violation, perpetrated by the military, in the struggle to rid Nigeria of military dictatorship.
“Our clients, therefore, totally reject your claim that they hate Nigeria, their country. The Nigerian Army does not love Nigeria more than Nigerians love themselves. An armed force of less than three hundred thousand officers and men cannot claim to love Nigeria, a country of over one hundred and eighty million people, more than the Nigerian civil population.
“Even under the current civil government, the officers and men of the Nigerian Army continue to carry out acts that threaten the survival of democratic governance.
“And the recent killings that attended the insistence on right of way by the Nigerian Army against the adherents of the Shiite Islamic Sect in Zaria, in which hundreds of civilians lost their lives, are cases in point.
“A Nigerian Army that carries out such acts that not only violate the human rights of the citizens, but also subvert democracy and the rule of law cannot lay a claim to patriotism superior to the patriotism of the Nigerian media,” he said. He added that the role of the media, as that of the military, is entrenched in the constitution and one is not superior to the other.
Ogunye noted that the threats contained in the army’s letter, and by tagging it an enabler of terrorism, PREMIUM TIMES’ constitutionally-given right to practice journalism had been breached or was about to be breached.
“You should know that your wild allegations against our clients implicate the invocation, against our clients, of Section 4 of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, No. 10, 2011, which prescribes a maximum prison term of 20 years for any person convicted of knowingly, in any manner, solicits or renders support for an act of terrorism or a proscribed terrorist organization, and the death penalty where death results from such solicitation or rendering of support.
“You should also have realize that your allegations imputed, on the part of our clients, the commission of treasonable offences and aiding the enemy under our criminal law.”
PREMIUM TIMES asked the army to write a letter, addressed to its Publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi, withdrawing the threats and allegations within seven days. The paper warned of legal action to enforce its fundamental rights.
“In the circumstances, we hereby demand that you write a letter of withdrawal of these threats and allegations, to our clients, wherein you are to assure them of their safety and protection by the security and law enforcement agencies in Nigeria, in particular, the Nigerian Army.
The letter, to be addressed to Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, Managing Director of Premium Services Ltd/ Editor in Chief of Premium Times must be received within seven (7) working days of delivery of this letter to you.
“That should you fail, refuse or neglect to write and deliver the above letter as demanded, our clients will not hesitate to institute a legal action against you, your principals, the Nigerian Army and the Federal Government of Nigeria, to enforce their fundamental rights under the Constitution,” the letter stated.
Meantine, Human rights watchdog, Amnesty International has called for the immediate release of the Premium Times Publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi and reporter, Evelyn Okakwu.
In a series of tweets from its handle, the group said, “It will investigate the circumstances of this raid and the arrests of the journalists.”
It called on government to ensure that the journalists have access to their lawyers and families.
The group said the security agencies should immediately release the journalists or charge them to court even though it acknowledged that details were not available to it regarding the raid.
The management of Premium Times Thursday evening alerted the world to a clampdown on its Abuja office and arrest of its publisher and reporter by plain-clothes policemen.
The medium has recently had a running battle with the Nigerian Army authorities over reports the latter considered unfriendly.