The Nigerian military authorities in Borno State on Tuesday said they do not know the whereabouts of the Daily Trust regional editor, Uthman Abubakar, whom they arrested alongside a reporter on Sunday.
Mr. Abubakar and Ibrahim Sawab were picked up by soldiers who raided their Maiduguri office on Sunday over a story published by the newspaper about the military’s counterinsurgency operation in northeast Nigeria.
While justifying the arrest of the two journalists as well as the sealing up of the newspaper’s offices in at least three cities across the country, the army said the story undermined national security.
The presidency, however, on Monday ordered the military to withdraw soldiers from the offices of the newspaper.
Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, told journalists in a phone interview that the presidency also ordered that the two journalists be released at once and their seized equipment returned to them.
However, only the reporter, Mr. Sawab, was released late Sunday night.
When members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Borno State on Tuesday visited the headquarters of the Operation Lafiya Dole to demand the release of Mr. Uthman, the military command denied knowledge of where he is being held.
Led by the vice chairman of NUJ in the state, Aji Modu, the journalists met the new Theatre Commander, Benson Akinroluyo, a major-general, who commended them for the show of support for their arrested colleagues.
The journalists asked to see the detained editor and pleaded for his release to them.
The Theatre Commander extolled the benefits of a good working relationship between the military and the media, saying they must work together for the progress of Nigeria.
“I commend you guys for coming to check after your colleagues, which is a good sign of camaraderie that is known of Africans. This can happen to anyone. It is Daily Trust today, it could be any other person tomorrow,” Mr Akinroluyo said.
“I have had a good working relationship with the media even when I was at the 3 Div and it was the media that actually bailed us out during the search for late General Alkali. (The retired officer was ambushed last year on a trip to Bauchi from Abuja and murdered).
“We are all stakeholders in this project called Nigeria; just as we are stakeholders in the issue of national security.
“Thank God in this delegation we have other journalists who are from Daily Trust. This goes to show that the army and the military have no particular interest against any media organisation.
“But we have had discussions on what constitutes national security and national interest. National interest and security have no single definition; we may see it from one perspective or the other. But the most important thing is that your work does not jeorpadise the interest of the nation.
The army general noted that Nigeria must exist before there could be a Nigerian Union of Journalists.
“I would not want us to belabour what has happened,” he said.
“I’m aware the president has made some pronouncements concerning the issue of Daily Trust; we’ve all heard comments that have been made front and back…. But the bottom line is what is the way forward?
“We will make sure the person that you are talking about is still here, and we will look at it critically and give it … administration, then we will all forge and move forward. But we must all know what is national security and avoid what will jeopardise it.
“We must understand that what thrives Boko Haram is fear and that’s why they try to always spread fake rumor.”
Asked if the journalists could at least see their detained colleague, the Theatre Commander simply said “I wish I could help you on that; honestly, but I don’t even know where he is being held.”
Journalist’s detention ‘condemnable’
Saddened by the refusal to release Mr Abubakar, the NUJ Borno council issued a statement condemning the action of the military.
The statement signed by the council’s secretary read:
“The Nigeria Union of Journalists NUJ Borno Council having exhausted all diplomatic avenues to secure the release of Daily Trust Newspaper Bureau Chief Uthman Abubakar strongly condemns his continued detention by the military.
“NUJ is deeply saddened by the military’s arrest of two of its members and staff of Daily Trust newspaper, Uthman Abubakar and Ibrahim Sawab (released Monday 7/1/19) in Maiduguri on Sunday 6th January 2019 following a publication on a military operation.
The union maintained that the country’s armed forces are more equipped and experienced than the Bokoharam insurgents.
“NUJ believes the report of Daily trust of Sunday 6/1/19 was misinterpreted by our gallant military which was only promoting a show of force and not the contrary,” the statement continued.
“We implore the concerned authority to see good in polishing justice with understanding and release the Bureau Chief Uthman Abubakar still in custody.
“He is not well to undergo such detention and the Presidency through SSA to The President on Media, Garba Shehu, has ordered his release which has not been effected and strongly rejected by all of us.
“The Pen Profession and Armed forces have enjoyed a long cordial relationship before and during the Boko haram insurgency which has lasted almost ten years now.
“Let us all not give in to the antiques of the insurgents who will be happy with this negative trend and remain united to fully overcome the elements of terror.”
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