The Nigerian police stormed PREMIUM TIMES head office in Abuja Thursday, and arrested two of the newspaper’s staff after conducting search at the property.
The paper’s publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi, was arrested alongside its judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu, by several plain-clothed officers who arrived the office shortly after 5p.m.
The journalists were taken to the Federal Capital Territory police headquarters at Garki 2, Abuja where they were held for hours before being transferred at about 9.22p.m. to the police office at Wuse, Abuja.
The officers in charge of the case at the FCT command told a PREMIUM TIMES’ lawyer who was at the station that they had “orders from above” not to release the journalists until Friday when they would be charged to court.
Police spokesman, Don Awunah, told PREMIUM TIMES earlier the raid and the arrests were carried out following complaints filed by lawyers for the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai.
“We received complaints about defamation of character from his (Mr. Buratai) lawyers and we acted within the confines of the law,” he said.
When reminded that defamation of character is a civil case that Mr. Buratai should have pursued in the court of law, Mr. Awunah said he would try to establish if the matter involved criminal defamation.
“By tomorrow, I will know more details about the development and get back to you.”
The arrests came days after PREMIUM TIMES turned down the army’s demand to retract news stories about the Nigerian Army and its operations.
Mr. Buratai’s office had written to PREMIUM TIMES last month, demanding a full retraction of three news reports.
The Army alleged defamation against Mr. Buratai and also accused the paper of alleged sympathies to Boko Haram, allegations the paper strongly denied.
The letter was sent a few days after Lucky Irabor, the Theatre Commander of ‘Operation Lafiya Dole,’ warned the paper of serious consequences for the stories it ran concerning the military operations in the war-ravaged northeast.
In a detailed response, PREMIUM TIMES lawyers, led by Jiti Ogunye, rebuffed the Army’s claims and demanded that its authorities should, instead, apologise to the paper for the grievous and unfounded charges they levelled against the paper.
Mr. Ogunye on Thursday condemned the raid on the newspaper’s office and demanded the immediate release of the arrested journalists.
Mr. Ogunye said the “Gestapo tactics” of the Nigerian government was a throwback to the “crudity of the military era” that no longer conforms with modern democratic norms.
“PREMIUM TIMES is not a threat to national security of Nigeria or peaceful co-existence of its good people. There is no good reason in law and in fact that warrants the police arresting the staff and publisher of the paper.”
The paper’s Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, said the paper would not be intimidated.
“They should stop deluding themselves that they can muzzle the press and intimidate PREMIUM TIMES,” said Mr. Mojeed. “They should know that our loyalty lies with our readers and the Nigerian people who have a right to know.”
The arrests have sparked widespread condemnations with global rights group, Amnesty International, demanding the immediate release of the journalists arrested.
“Nigerian security should ensure that they release @DapsyOly and Evelyn Okakwu or charge them to court immediately,” the rights group said.