The Presidency has described as untrue media reports that it ordered a clampdown on some media houses two days ago.
Senior special assistant on public affairs to the President, Doyin Okupe, told a news conference that the media as the fourth estate of the realm, was held in very high regards by the administration.
This, he said, has been practically demonstrated in various ways by the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration in the last three years.
He recalled that it was President Jonathan who signed the very contentious Freedom of Information Bill into law on assumption of office and has consistently espoused the principles of openness, accountability and liberalism in his relationship with the media at all times.
“The reported incidences of checks being carried out by the military on major Nigerian roads and cities is not targeted at newspaper vans because of the contents of the publications as insinuated. Rather, the military had explained that those routine checks were being carried out following intelligence reports,” he said.
He stressed that there had been reports that of some elements within the society planned to use such vehicles to convey materials with grave security implications across the country.
“While we sympathise with media houses which might have suffered one discomfort or the other as a result of these security checks we assert, for the avoidance of doubt that the President has not and will never give any order capable of hampering the smooth running of any media organisation,” Okupe maintained.
But Okupe’s denial came despite continuing seizure of newspapers of at least four titles for the third day running. The management of The Nation, Daily Trust, Laeadership and Punch newspapers have all said that editions of their publications have been seized by the authorities.
Chairman, Board of Trustees of Newspaper Distributors in Abuja, Oladipupo Moses, said the soldiers impounded the distribution vans of several media houses at the Garki Area one distribution point for the newspapers.
He said the distribution vans in custody of the soldiers included those of The Guardian, Leadership, Thisday, Daily Trust, Sun, Pilot, Newswatch and The Mirror.
Oladipupo said the soldiers, led by an officer in a green tracksuit, said henceforth, all the distributors and the vendors must operate with identity cards.
He said the army officer alleged that some vendors had been caught with arms in Jos, Plateau State, while other dangerous weapons were found in market stalls where fruits were sold at Nyanya, Abuja.
Oladipupo said the soldiers assembled all the vendors and searched all of them before releasing them, while confiscating the vans and their content.
“They impounded all our distribution vans. The ones that arrived early and were seized are Leadership, ThisDay, Daily Trust, Sun, Pilot, Newswatch and The Mirror newspapers. The team leader told the leaders of the union that everybody should be coming there for identification. The man said that everybody should be coming here with an identity card,” he said.
Reacting to the clampdown, management of Media Trust Ltd., publishers of Daily Trust, said its newspapers were seized but that the military authority had not advanced any reason for its action.
The newspaper said that it suspects that the clampdown has something to do with a story published in its Wednesday publication concerning the sharing of plots of land in an Abuja barrack to Army generals and their spouses for personal use.
In the report titled “Nigeria: Army Shares Out Barracks Land To Generals, Others”, the paper said that the Army had shared out to top military brass part of a land that was meant for barracks in the Asokoro District of Abuja.
It said among the 439 beneficiaries in the land sharing are spouses, relations, friends, associates and companies of senior Army officials.
“There are also many retired officers as well as civilians on the list of those given allocations from the land. The Annex B Layout Army Barrack, Cadastral Zone A04, land was originally set out for building of barracks for the Air Force, Army and Navy,” Daily Trust reported.
The paper believes that it is for this reason that its papers are being confiscated, portending a case of castigation.