The United Kingdom on Monday condemned the brazen military invasion of the Daily Trust newspaper offices in Borno and Abuja and the arrest of its journalists by soldiers on Sunday.
It described the action as rash, pointing out that a free press, which is able to challenge and comment on the actions of the nation, is an essential cornerstone and hallmark of democracy across the globe.
The UK Department for International Development in Nigeria said this in a statement in Abuja by its Communications Officer, David Smith, saying the freedom of the press “is an inviolable and absolute right.”
It advised the military to engage in constructive dialogue with stakeholders on how best to work together to deliver for the people of Nigeria.
The statement read partly, “Whilst we welcome the swift and decisive action from the Federal Government in resolving this incident, the existence of the raid alone remains a concerning development in Nigeria.
“The United Kingdom believes that freedom of the press and freedom of speech are fundamental democratic principles, and their right is absolute and inviolable.
“A free press is the hallmark of a civilised and democratic nation, and efforts to subvert or silence such organisations are the colours of tyranny and authoritarianism.
“Rather than resorting to rash tactics of raids and arrests, a strong foundation of dialogue and trust will resolve issues before they create friction.”
The United Kingdom made it clear that it would continue to monitor the situation closely, particularly as the 2019 presidential election drew closer.
The Head of the UK Department for International Development in Nigeria, Ms Debbie Palmer, added, “This is a concerning development for Nigeria, and I am disappointed that such rash action was taken by the authorities.”
The presidential candidate of the Peoples democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria, the Nigerian Guild of Editors and other civil society organisations have also condemned the military invasion.
Mr. Abubakar said in a statement by his Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, on Monday that he was alarmed over the military invasion of the newspaper organisation and the arrest of its journalists.
He said, “The invasion is a travesty, the like of which the nation had not seen since the days of military rule.
“The particular use of heavily armed soldiers also shows the abuse of scarce resources which have exacerbated the insecurity currently plaguing Nigeria.
“Our soldiers should not be used to target law-abiding citizens. A dutiful and prudent commander-in-chief should rather deploy them to either the North-East or the Zamfara-Katsina axis, especially after the governors of both states held their New Year’s Day conferences bemoaning the breakdown of law and order in their respective states.
“If the government has issues with the Media Trust Limited, it should bring charges against it in a court of competent jurisdiction or the Nigeria Press Council, the statutory body that governs ethical standards in the Nigerian press.”
The Nigerian Army had unsatisfactorily explained on Monday that it invaded the Daily Trust offices to invite their workers over a story in its Sunday publication “which divulged classified military information, thus undermining national security.”
The Director, Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Sani Usman, in a statement, claimed that the attack was “done with the best of intention”.
According to him, the invitation to the newspaper organisation’s workers was to enable them to realise the import of the publication to national security, adding that the publication of classified security information amounted to a breach of national security and ran contrary to Sections 1 and 2 of the Official Secret Act.
The army spokesman was however silent on the computers of Daily Trust, which were taken away by the invading soldiers and the arrest of two workers in Maiduguri.
Their whereabouts remain unknown.