The Nigerian Army has continued to detain the regional editor of Daily Trust, Uthman Abubakar.
Mr Abubakar was arrested on Sunday in Maiduguri, Borno State, alongside one of the newspaper’s reporters, Ibrahim Sawab, over unfavourable reporting of the counterinsurgency operation in the north-east.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the army on Sunday raided the Maiduguri regional office of the newspaper and arrested the two journalists.
The military also sealed the Maiduguri, Abuja and Lagos offices of Daily Trust across the country, after forcefully asking staffers to vacate.
Following a nationwide condemnation, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, issued an order, asking the soldiers to vacate the premises of the newspaper.
On Sunday night, at about 10 p.m., the military released Mr Sawab who later confirmed that his editor, Mr Abubakar, was still being detained.
According to him, the army handed the regional editor to the State Security Service (SSS, also called DSS) for further interrogation.
The SSS, according to the reporter’s account, has since Monday held Mr Abubakar, 55, who is managing some health challenges which require him to be on constant medication.
“Having been interrogated by the Nigerian Army Intelligence Officers from afternoon throughout the evening of that Sunday, Abubakar, was eventually handed over to the DSS for further interrogation,” said Mr Sawab.
Members of staff at the Daily Trust office said Mr Abubakar, was on two occasions, escorted by armed personnel to the Daily Trust office on Monday where he came to pick some items and was taken back to military custody.
“He was first brought here at 11:00 am to pick up his proscribed drugs that he needed to use and could not do so since Sunday evening; and an hour later, he was also escorted to the office to pick up a copy of the newspaper published on the day of the arrest,” the witness said.
The spokesperson of the Nigeria Army, Sani Usman, had in a statement, said the arrest of the journalists and subsequent sealing of the newspaper’s office had to do with matters that concern national security.
Mr Usman, a brigadier general who is the Director Army Public Relations, said a lead story on Sunday Trust publication, in which the arrested journalist had his by-line “divulged classified military information, thus undermining national security.”
He said the newspaper “disclosed details of planned military operations against the Boko Haram terrorists.
“The disclosure of classified security information amounts to a breach of national security and run contrary to Sections 1 and 2 of the Official Secrets Act. It afforded the Boko Haram terrorists prior notice of our plans and giving them early warning to prepare against the Nigerian military, thus sabotaging the planned operations and putting the lives of troops in imminent and clear danger.
“We would like to state that the invitation of those responsible for divulging military plans was done with the best of intention in order to make them realise the import of such acts to our national security.”
The raid on Daily Trust offices and arrest of the journalists have been condemned by local and international groups such as Amnesty International and the International Press Centre.
In its Monday reaction to the raid and arrest of the journalist, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also condemned the move.
“Nigerian security services should immediately and unconditionally release Daily Trust editor Uthman Abubakar and return all Daily Trust equipment and materials,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal. “Nigeria’s military operations are a matter of public interest. This deliberate attack signals a dearth of respect for press freedom nearly a month before the national election, when the public must be permitted to make informed decisions.”