Federal authorities in Abuja, Friday, launched a stern attack on PREMIUM TIMES in what appears to be a creeping onslaught on independent national voices.
Information Minister, Labaran Maku, who spoke of the federal government’s “utmost displeasure” with the social media community, pointed accusing fingers broadly at “some online media reportage” but singled for particular attack, Premium Times, and news website, SaharaReporters, that he claimed were “publishing reports capable of undermining military strategy against extremists, and stir mutiny within the military.” He offered no single example or particular reference to his sweeping accusations.
Mr. Maku’s attack came, however, in the intersection of two compelling policy challenges facing the administration: a desperate urge to regulate the internet and the social media landscape, on the one hand, and a way to manage a string of operational slip ups in the ongoing anti-terror campaign, the latest which was the extra-judicial murder of about seven young men in the Apo neighbourhood in Abuja.
Speaking in Osogbo, Osun state, where he attended the 44th National Council on Information with the theme “Social Media and Public Information Management,” Mr. Maku, a former newspaper editor, claimed that both PREMIUM TIMES and Sahara Reporters “frequently publish online reports deliberately contrived to undermine military strategy, demoralise our troops, or even cause incitement to mutiny.”
“This is unacceptable,” Mr. Maku, now supervising minister for the defence ministry ominiously promised his audience, not disclosing what the administration plans to do. The comment was later emailed to news organizations in a statement signed by his aide, Joseph Mutah.
But in a swift reaction, PREMIUM TIMES refuted Mr. Maku’s claims, and described the administration’s action as a scheme to blackmail and intimidate independent media voices from performing the important role of holding government and its officials accountable.
PREMIUM TIMES’ Managing Editor, Musikilu Mojeed, spoke of “the professional integrity, the deep sense of accuracy, balance, and fairness that define the news ethics” of the newspaper, but regretted that the paper “could not apologise if its uncompromising independence created discomfort for officials in the corridors of power.”
“The commitment to a democratic, accountable and transparent nation, that assumes its place of pride in the comity of nations is our well advertised position, and we cannot be persuaded that the sacrifices we make for the nation are inferior to the daily claims made by public officials” Mr. Mojeed said.
He added: “when we expose government’s neglect of Nigerian troops on mission, as well as the violations by security forces confronting the brutal insurgency of Boko Haram, we do not come with a sense of diminished national or patriotic spirit. We speak for the higher ideals that define the aspirations of the best among our compatriots.”
As an investigative reporting medium, PREMIUM TIMES has maintained a lead role in reporting massive corruption in high places, gross violations of human rights by state and non-state actors, as well as regulatory failures that have put citizens at the short end of the policy and governance stick in the country.
Mr. Mojeed said he understood that the paper will not be the darling of those in power, but urged the minister to restrain in using his position of power and privilege to abridge and abuse the honoured right to freedom of expression of citizens, and to remember that “the history of our land and of many nations of the globe have proved that governments work best only when they see the media as partners in the progress of building a virile nation and stable democracy.”
He said he was therefore pleased to hear from Mr. Maku’s remarks that “the government believed in media freedom and will not gag any medium.” Mr. Mojeed assured its readers that PREMIUM TIMES will always exhibited a sense professionalism and discretion in its reporting, and would continue to do so while upholding the people’s right to know.
He said: “We love Nigeria, our nation, and care even more about the welfare and security of our men and women in uniform, among whom we have parents, siblings, and relations. Coming with this type of unalloyed commitment, then, it is unacceptable that people will imagine that our concerns are negotiable.”
“We see ourselves as a public trust which owes its readers and the Nigerian people the honoured promise of truth, accountability, and commitment to true democracy. We cannot pretend to appreciate intimidation and blackmail in this process”, he said.