The Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, has condemned Monday’s “invasion” of the Lagos premises of The Sun Newspapers by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
In a statement by its President, Funke Egbemode, the NGE said it received the news of the “siege” with shock.
The Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, has also flayed the “ugly development” in a statement issued by its President, Abdulwaheed Odusile, in Abuja.
The NGE said the action of the EFCC on the media house was “a sad reminder of the dark years of military dictatorship and a deliberate effort to muzzle the press”.
The guild said the action of the EFCC was unbecoming of a government agency set up by an Act of parliament in a democracy.
The NGE said it expected the commission to pursue civil means of addressing perceived infraction by a critical stakeholder in the Nigerian democratic project.
“Rather than see the Fourth Estate of the Realm as an opposition, the commission should realise that the media is an indispensable partner in its fight against corruption.
“The NGE notes that the latest affront on The Sun by operatives of the EFCC is one in a number of targeted attempts by a section of the nation’s security agencies to gag free press.
“We call the recent expulsion of Mr Olalekan Adetayo, the State House correspondent of The Punch Newspapers from Aso Rock by Bashir Abubakar, the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to President Muhammadu Buhari.
“The Guild condemns the EFCC action in its entirety and calls on the Commission to purge itself of all anti-democratic tendencies in order to foster mutual co-operation with the media and other stakeholders in its crusade against graft.
“The Guild also calls on the EFCC to put an end to its current attempts to gag the press and demands an unreserved apology from the Commission to the SUN Publishing Limited,” it said.
On its part, the NUJ said it was truly worried that the media was now being attacked by the same security operatives that needed its support in fighting terrorism, corruption and other criminal activities in the country.
“In a democracy, security personnel should not be seen to be intimidating the media no matter the perceived offence.
“Rather, civilised means and ways should be employed to check any excesses or misdemeanour.
“It becomes more disheartening when such an invasion is carried out without any cogent reason, thus giving the impression that the action was merely a political act aimed at instilling fear into the organisation.
“The union regrets this violation of press freedom and freedom of Journalists to work without being molested,” it said.
The NUJ advised the commission to tender an unconditional apology to The Sun Newspaper for its “untoward” action.
The newspaper had earlier alleged that “heavily armed’’ EFCC operatives invaded its Lagos office on Monday morning and subjected its workers to molestation and intimidation.
It claimed that the raid lasted for one hour during which the workers were subjected to “crude intimidation, psychological and emotional trauma’’.
The media organisation said its security personnel were ordered by the EFCC operatives at gunpoint to take them round the company premises.
“Afterwards, the operatives proceeded to prevent staff from either entering or leaving the premises, and disrupted our circulation process,’’ it further alleged.
Owned by a former governor of Abia, Orji Kalu, the media firm is the subject of a forfeiture order obtained by the EFCC in a money laundering suit filed against Kalu.
The newspaper said an appeal it filed against the forfeiture order was still pending in court, and wondered why its premises would be invaded by the commission.
Reacting to the allegation through a statement, the spokesperson of the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, described it as diversionary.
Mr. Uwujaren said the operatives only “visited” the premises to verify the integrity of the company’s asset.
According to him, no staff of the media outfit was molested or intimidated during the “few minutes spent by the operatives in the premises”.
“The visit, which lasted for less than an hour, was part of routine efforts to ascertain the state of the assets of the publishing company which is subject of subsisting interim forfeiture order.
“Prior to the visit, the commission had written to the management of the company to account for its management of the assets for the period of the subsisting court order.’’
He said the anti-graft agency was still awaiting the response of The Sun, and would not be distracted by any attempt to whip up sentiments by referring to an appeal which has been pending for 10 years.