The Nigerian Army seems to be struggling to douse the tension the recent arrest of Premium Times journalists has stirred. The Publisher of Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi and the paper’s judicial correspondent Evelyn Okakwu, were on Thursday January 19 arrested by the Nigerian Police at the instance of Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Buratai.
In a recent statement issued by its spokesperson, Sani Usman, the army on one hand accused Premium Times of “fraudulently obtaining and disclosure of military information,” and on the other hand claimed the media platform “falsely and unjustifiably accused the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, of false declaration of assets, owning mansions and estates in Dubai and further stated that he was being investigated by Code of Conduct Bureau for false declaration of assets in their publication of 12th December 2015.” The latter, the army insists, borders on libel for which the Buratai, will seek redress in court.
If, as Sani Usman initially alleged, Premium Times obtained military information and disclosed same, can it then be said the information the newspaper obtained and disclosed was about the false asset declaration, owning of mansions and estates in Dubai and being under investigation by the Code of Conducts Bureau which the army mentioned? If these are the information, should the media organisation then be accused of publishing libellous material since libel, essentially, is false publication?
The Army spokesperson was equally reported as having said the arrest of the two Premium Times journalists was not at the instance of the Army as an institution but that of Mr. Buratai, a lieutenant general, raising the question of why a man about to sue for libel will resort to seeking the arrest of people he could have simply sued. And again, that the spokesperson of the Army was the one issuing statements on the matter, instead of Mr Buratai’s personal aide or himself discussing it questions the assertion that Buratai, and not the army as an institution, is the one pursuing the case.