The Nigerian military on Saturday continued its onslaught on newspapers by sealing off the popular major distribution depot in the Area 1 District of Abuja, from where all newspapers are distributed to agents and vendors across the Nigerian capital.
Witnesses said soldiers in about seven trucks laid siege on the distribution point, preventing any kind of newspaper circulation from taking place.
Media houses promptly devised an alternate and secret means to ensure their papers get to the public in the Nigerian capital promptly; a reminder of the days of military dictatorship.
The Managing Director of Leadership Group, Azubike Ishiekwene, expressed his concern at the situation.
“As I speak to you now, I’ve been driving round Abuja, there are no papers in town. The major newspaper depot at Area 1 has been shut down by soldiers in seven trucks,” he told PREMIUM TMES. “This is definitely an affront on press freedom and free speech.”
It was not only in Abuja that the military declared war on newspapers.
In Lagos, soldiers confiscated thousands of copies of the Saturday edition of Leadership newspaper at the domestic wing of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos.
The Lagos editor of the newspaper, Kazeem Akintunde, confirmed the seizure to PREMIUM TIMES.
“Yes, our paper was seized this morning at the airport around 6 a.m.,” Mr. Akintunde said.
The newspaper’s cover story for the day concerns the death of the Emir of Kano and not any report relating to military operations.
He also said a staff of the circulation department of the paper was arrested by the soldiers.
In Benin, the Edo State capital, soldiers continued their siege on the office of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, preventing all but Leadership and The Nation newspapers from being circulated.
Patrick Ochoga, the Edo state correspondent of Leadership in Benin confirmed this to PREMIUM TIMES.
The military attack on Nigerian newspapers commenced on Friday with soldiers confiscating thousands of Nigerian newspapers including Leadership, The Nation, and Punch newspapers.
The military, however, defended its actions in a statement by its spokesperson, Chris Olukolade, who said it was a routine security check.
“The Defence Headquarters wishes to clarify that the exercise has nothing to do with content or operation of the media organisations or their personnel as is being wrongly imputed by a section of the press,” Mr. Olukolade, a Major General, said on Friday.
Mr. Olukolade could not be reached on Saturday to comment on the continuing media onslaught.
The Nigerian government also, Friday, defended the military’s attack on Newspapers.
“The military will not deliberately and without cause, infringe on the freedom of the press,” Mike Omeri, the Director General of the National Orientation Agency said.
According to him, “confiscation of newspapers has nothing to do with content or operation of the media organisations or their personnel.”
The military onslaught against the media might not be unconnected with several media reports, first published by Leadership Newspapers, that nearly a dozen army generals and soldiers on lower ranks were being court-martialled for sabotaging the Nigerian government’s onslaught against Boko Haram; a report the military denied.