Military Bows to Pressure, Relaxes Search on Newspaper Vans

The military authorities have in response to public outcry against what it perceived as assault on the media in Nigeria,  relaxed its ongoing screening and search of newspaper distribution vans in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and other parts of the country over security threat.

The new measures, which were said to be based on intelligence report that some newspaper distribution vehicles were being used to convey arms, ammunition and other explosive devices to terrorists had been roundly condemned by concerned Nigerians.

According to THISDAY findings, there was no search and harassment of drivers and vendors at the popular Garki, Area 1 distribution centre unlike on Saturday where the security screening of vehicles delayed the distribution of newspapers in the FCT.
Speaking on the development, the Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), Brig-Gen. Olajide Laleye, said the relaxation of the search was not based on public outcry but mostly dependent on the analysis of the security situation.

“This is not whether the search has been lifted or not, but our actions are based on intelligence and security report.
“We can only relax the situation and stop the search if we feel it is in the best interest of the nation. You must have heard of some vehicles used for other purposes carrying improvised explosive devices (IEDs),” he added.

The army spokesman could not confirm if any arm, ammunition, or IEDs making tools were found, saying: “There is no information on that at the moment.”

However, there were reports that some newspaper delivery vans belonging to The Nation, Daily Trust and Leadership Newspapers conveying papers to Minna, Niger State, were subjected to thorough security screening and search.
Speaking to THISDAY, a military source warned members of the public not to accord special privileges to any organisation or individual in the ongoing state of insecurity.

According to the source, it could be dangerous and counter-productive if terrorists are allowed to ferry their weapons and IEDs using protected newspaper vans.

The source said: “People should know that this is the reality of terrorism. Nobody or institution should feel that they are exempted from interrogation. Don’t you get delayed in the traffic for checks to ensure your safety, as top military officers, we are being subjected to all these security checks down to our boots.

“People in Pakistan won’t be surprised by these new measures. Go and check anywhere in the world where there is terrorism people are denied there convenience. Go and check the amount of traffic we are having now is it normal. And this is what the terrorists want to achieve to cause inconvenience so that the people would vent their anger against the government and the military. Come to think of it, the way some of these media people carry out their report don’t they look sympathetic to terrorists. Can such people not help them (Boko Haram) move arms and turn back to laugh at us? “What soldiers are actually ordered to do is to frisk the whole thing, and not read the papers.

They are expected to check the whole van for any arms and other materials that can constitute danger to lives and properties.”
There was palpable tension in Lagos especially at newsstands, yesterday over the recent gestapo-like clampdown of the media by the military in Abuja and some states in the country.

The tension stemmed from the rumours making the rounds that after the successful clampdown in other states, the military might have picked Lagos as its next target to raid and harass the media.
Checks by THISDAY around Lagos revealed that although the clampdown was yet to reach the state despite an order to that effect, it has affected sales and readership.

Some of the vendors who spoke on condition of anonymity said for fear of their safety, some of them did not open shop, while others who did, could not bring out all their wares for fear of it being destroyed.

However, THISDAY gathered that there was crackdown in Port Harcourt yesterday.
It was gathered that copies of Leadership and Daily Trust Newspapers were confiscated by military men last Friday at various points.
A source at Leadership told THISDAY that copies of the newspaper being conveyed to Owerri were confiscated by soldiers in Imo State also on Friday.

Punch Newspapers also suffered similar fate on Friday as copies of the paper being moved from Port Harcourt to Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, were seized by soldiers at Elele-Alimini, in Rivers State.

The driver of the circulation van and the vehicle were also detained but released on Saturday.
Three drivers and vehicles of The Nation Newspapers were also detained at Elele-Alimini on Friday and released on Saturday.
However, yesterday, there were no reported cases of harassment or seizure of newspapers.

Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has condemned the siege on newspapers across the country by security agencies, describing it as unreasonable, and warned that the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, by tampering with press freedom, has taken on a battle it cannot win.

The party urged the president to immediately call a halt to the war on against media.  In a statement issued yesterday by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the president failed to learn the lessons of history that the Nigerian media can neither be intimidated nor suppressed by anyone, and that all those who tried to do so in the past lived to regret their actions.

It wondered why a government that is being asked to diligently prosecute the war on terror is, instead, vehemently waging war on the media and using the security agencies to interfere with the country’s democracy.

‘’Had the government pursued the insurgents who are killing and maiming Nigerians with the same vigour with which it had descended on the media, the war against terror would have been long over,’’ APC said.

The party wondered what kind of weapons that the small newspaper distribution vans could be used to ferry that cannot be conveyed by other, bigger vehicles that move around the country undisturbed. The party described as disingenuous and ridiculous the explanation that an intelligence alert was responsible for the shameful and unacceptable clampdown on the media, and the platitude that the Jonathan’s administration holds the media in high esteem.

Also, the Nigerian National Committee of the International Press Institute (IPI) expressed grave concern at the persistent media assault by the Nigerian government.  IPI condemned in particular the ongoing ambush of newspaper delivery vans, seizure and destruction of newspapers by the military under the dubious guise of protecting national security.

IPI called on the government to stop its ongoing media repression, adding that partners-in-progress, the media community was willing and ready to work with the government on the nation’s security challenges.

A statement signed by its executive committee, read: “The government is already notorious for its assault on the free press but this week’s mindless and coordinated assault on some selected newspapers across the country is a new low.
“The explanation by the military authorities that its action was necessitated by a desire to preempt usage of media outlets by insurgents for their nefarious activities is weak, infantile, and an insult on the intelligence of Nigerians.

“In the run-up to the general elections, the current assault could be a pointer to a greater danger to the free press in Nigeria. It is a frightening possibility that the media must resist.”

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