The Defense Headquarters and the State Security Service on Friday morning seized and destroyed major Nigerian newspapers in an action reminiscent of military dictatorship in the country.
It was learnt that there were random forceful seizures of newspapers including The PUNCH, at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, while newspaper distribution vans were stopped and searched in different parts of the country.
Distributors told our correspondent that wrappers of The PUNCH were torn, damaging the cover of some copies while several copies of The Nation, Leadership and Daily Trust were confiscated.
On the website of Leadership, the paper said, “Soldiers on Friday intercepted and destroyed newspaper copies meant for the North-West region at the Kaduna tollgate. The copies booked for South-South and South-East regions were also seized by the soldiers.”
According to the newspaper, the soldiers and SSS operatives were said to be acting on ‘orders from above.’
Similarly, The Nation stated that its distribution vans were stopped by soldiers who “waylaid the vans around the Area 1 Road, commanding the drivers to unload.”
“The same scenario occurred in Benin/Warri Road, Port Harcourt, Kaduna/Kano Road and Nasarawa/Jos Road,” it said.
Also reportedly seized were copies of the paper meant for the Warri and Benin axis. The copies were said to be confiscated by soldiers of the 3 Battalion of the Nigerian Army at Okwuokoko in Delta State.
When contacted, the Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen Chris Olukolade, said in an electronic mail that troops embarked on a search of vehicles conveying newspapers and newsprint because of an intelligence report which indicated that dangerous materials were being moved through such vans.
“Troops this morning embarked on thorough search of vehicles conveying newspapers and newsprints across board.
“This followed intelligence report indicating movement of materials with grave security implications across the country using the channel of newsprint related consignments,” he said.
Olukolade said the exercise had nothing to do with the content, operations and personnel of media organisations.
“The general public and the affected media organisations in particular are assured that the exercise was a routine security action and should not be misconstrued for any other motive,” he added.
The State Security Service could not be reached for comments. Calls and a text message sent to its spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar were not responded to.
Efforts to reach the Chairman of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, on the clampdown were unsuccessful as several calls put through to his mobile phone did not go through. A text message sent to his number was undelivered, with delivery status stating “pending.” Punch