Nigeria raids paper, arrests journalists over Boko Haram coverage

Security forces seal offices of Daily Trust newspaper, say journalists 'divulged classified military information'.

    Soldiers raided the same newspaper in 2013 in a failed attempt to arrest journalist Hamza Idris over another report the military deemed critical [Reuters]
    Soldiers raided the same newspaper in 2013 in a failed attempt to arrest journalist Hamza Idris over another report the military deemed critical [Reuters]

    Nigeria's security forces have raided the offices of the country's Daily Trust newspaper and arrested two of its journalists over the paper's coverage of the armed group, Boko Haram.

    A team of secret police, soldiers and civil defence paramilitary stormed the newspaper's office in the northern city of Maiduguri, detaining its northeast regional editor Uthman Abubakar and reporter Ibrahim Sawab, the newspaper said on Sunday.

    "The raid was in response to our cover story today on the military preparation to retake the town of Baga which was captured by Boko Haram last week," one source at the paper told the AFP news agency.

    "They came looking for our reporter Hamza Idris, who anchored the story, but arrested the two reporters when they didn't find him," another source said.

    Armed police sealed the office after the team of security forces seized the journalists' laptops and mobile phones.

    More than two dozen armed soldiers also raided the Daily Trust head office in Abuja on Sunday evening, sources at the newspaper told AFP.

    "It is a continuation of the crackdown that started in our Maiduguri office earlier today. They stormed into the newsroom on the third floor and seized computers and laptops before ordering everyone to vacate the building," a source at the paper said.

    "They have sealed the building. This means we will not be on the newsstands tomorrow for the first time in 20 years." 

    According to the same sources, similar operations took place at the Lagos Daily Trust office at the same time.

    'Classified information'

    The Daily Trust reported on December 31 that Boko Haram members captured six localities in northern Borno state including Baga, disputing military claims that the group was not in control of any territory in the region.

    This followed a series of Boko Haram raids on military bases in the area.

    Following the report, the military issued a statement threatening to take action against "unscrupulous elements" and "inaccurate news reports by some sections of the media".

    In the emailed statement, the military said that the paper had "divulged classified military information, thus undermining national security".

    It said the journalists were arrested in order for them to realise the importance of national security and that the military did not intend to silence the press.

    The statement was issued hours after the presidency commented on the raids.

    "The Federal Government has directed the military to vacate the premises of @daily_trust and the order has been complied with," the president's spokesman, Garba Shehu, said on Twitter.

    "Issues between the military and the newspaper as they affect the coverage of the war in the Northeast will be resolved through dialogue," he added.

    Ongoing raids

    Soldiers carried out a similar raid on the same office in 2013 in a failed attempt to arrest Idris over another report the military deemed critical.

    In November, the Nigerian military threatened legal action for "fake news" after media reports stated much higher military casualties than the official toll from a Boko Haram raid on a military base in Metele village.

    181218111841052

    In June 2014, soldiers seized newspapers and delivery vans of the Daily Trust and three other newspapers over reports that "portrayed the Nigerian military in a bad light", accusing the vans of ferrying illegal arms.

    Boko Haram has killed about 30,000 people since 2009 in a series of attacks aimed at creating an independent enclave in northeast Nigeria.

    It was pushed out of the swath of territory it controlled in early 2015. But a faction that broke away in 2016 - Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) - has claimed responsibility in the past few months for a series of attacks on military bases and strategically located towns.

    The group attacked Baga - a town that borders Niger, Chad and Cameroon - in December, forcing hundreds to seek safety in Maiduguri, 200km to the south.

    SOURCE: News agencies