The Nigerian Army, in a letter to online news medium, Premium Times, has threatened to charge the news portal to court over “unwarranted serial provocative, unauthorised, libelous and defamatory publications” against the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, and the army’s counter-insurgency operation in the north-east of the country.
The letter which was signed by one Maj.-Gen. I.M Alkali on behalf of Buratai, accused the medium of having “deep hatred for the leadership of the Nigerian Army.”
It said that the news portal did not consult it before publishing its stories.
The letter said that the Army was displeased with three stories – the planned invitation of Buratai by the Code of Conduct Bureau for asset verification; the disappearance of a high number of soldiers after a Boko Haram attack; and an investigation detailing how soldiers allegedly killed a kidnapped pastor and labeled him a kidnapper – the medium published between October and December 2016.
The army said the stories were “false,” “unsubstantiated,” and “unprofessional.”
“Despite the fact that your unprofessional publications are injurious to the personality of the leadership of the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Army as a whole, it may interest you to know that your attempts have failed woefully to malign and impugn the hard-earned character of the Chief of Army Staff and the Nigerian Army,” the letter said.
The letter said that Premium Times should retract the publications and apologise to the COAS and the Nigerian Army.
“Your retraction should be done in at least 3 national dailies and in online newspapers for 3 days consecutively from 29-31 December 2016. You are to also publish an apology to the Chief of Army Staff and the Nigerian Army in 3 Nigeria newspaper and online publications. Failure to retract and withdraw the said publications by Premium Times Services Limited on or before 31 December, 2016, the Nigerian Army team of lawyers will be instructed to proceed against you in court,” it said.
PREMIUM TIMES’ officials said the letter arrived its head office in Abuja a day after the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Maj.-Gen. Lucky Irabor, labelled the medium a Boko Haram supporter on live television.
See the letter below:
Premium Times, on Tuesday, through its lawyers, responded to the Nigerian Army, saying that it should withdraw its allegations and threats against it (Premium Times) or face legal action.
Jiti Ogunye, the newspaper’s principal counsel, who signed the response, took the army to task on the “grave implications” of its letter, and describing the army’s letter as a threat to the well-being and life of PREMIUM TIMES’ staff.
“By your letter you have threatened the lives of our clients, and our clients are thus obliged to put the public on notice that should any harm come to them, you, the Chief of Army Staff and the Nigerian Army should be held accountable,” he wrote.
Ogunye said the “chilling threats” contained in the army’s letter was an affront on the constitutional guarantee of civilian control of the army and the freedom of the press.
“It is our view that all working journalists and news outlets are entitled to some protection from public officers, especially of the military and security agencies who are charged with the duty to secure and protect Nigeria and Nigerians, their lives and property, and maintain law and order, but who often, because of the uniqueness of that duty and for reason of the exclusive bearing of arms and control of our commonly owned ordinance, assume very erroneously that they are above the law,” he said.
He rebuked the army for describing Premium Times’ stories as “unprofessional” saying military and other public officials were not in a position to question the paper’s professionalism.
“The penchant of public officers to flippantly, arrogantly and ignorantly label media reports and stories and journalists ‘unprofessional’ once they are affected by media reports and stories must be deprecated with decorous pungency. Sir, you are not in any position at all to teach our Clients media professionalism, ethics and standards,” the paper said.
“It really can be exasperating and disconcerting to see public officers condescendingly castigate journalists, many of whom are not only internationally acclaimed and celebrated but who also have up to forty years of practice as journalists under their belt,” the letter stated.
Ogunye also criticised the army’s penchant for claiming exclusivity of patriotism and national sacrifice.
“We must also rebuke the false assumption that our military men, exclusively, are an epitome of patriotism and national sacrifice, and that they love Nigeria more than civilians do.
“Sir, the Nigerian Army of which you spoke so glowingly is an heir to a military that un-patriotically subverted, many times, constitutional governance in Nigeria, plunged Nigeria into a three-year internecine civil war, committed unspeakable rights violations against the Nigerian people and thwarted the efforts of Nigerians to restore democratic governance to Nigeria.
“The Nigerian Media, if you must be reminded, played a frontline role and suffered gross human rights violation, perpetrated by the military, in the struggle to rid Nigeria of military dictatorship. Our clients, therefore, totally reject your claim that they hate Nigeria, their country.
“The Nigerian Army does not love Nigeria more than Nigerians love themselves. An armed force of less than three hundred thousand officers and men cannot claim to love Nigeria, a country of over one hundred and eighty million people, more than the Nigerian civil population.
“Even under the current civil government, the officers and men of the Nigerian Army continue to carry out acts that threaten the survival of democratic governance. The roles played by officers and men of the Nigerian Army in the Ekiti State Governorship Election in 2014; the insertion of the Nigerian Army in the partisan allegation that the WASC School Certificate of our President, Muhammadu Buhari, then a candidate, could not be found in the Nigerian Army’s records during the 2015 electioneering campaigns; the seizure and confiscation of newspapers nationwide during the Presidency of Goodluck Jonathan by men and officers of the Nigerian Army under the guise of looking for terrorist elements; and the recent killings that attended the insistence on right of way by the Nigerian Army against the adherents of the Shiite Islamic Sect in Zaria, in which hundreds of civilians lost their lives, are cases in point.
“A Nigerian Army that carries out such acts that not only violate the human rights of the citizens, but also subvert democracy and the rule of law cannot lay a claim to patriotism superior to the patriotism of the Nigerian media,” he wrote.
He added that the role of the media, as that of the military, is entrenched in the constitution and one is not superior to the other. Mr. Ogunye said by the threats contained in the army’s letter, and by tagging it an enabler of terrorism, Premium Times’ constitutionally-given right to practice journalism had been breached or was about to be breached.
“You should know that your wild allegations against our clients implicate the invocation, against our clients, of Section 4 of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, No. 10,2011, which prescribes a maximum prison term of 20 years for any person convicted of knowingly, in any manner, solicits or renders support for an act of terrorism or a proscribed terrorist organization, and the death penalty where death results from such solicitation or rendering of support. And you should also have realized that your allegations imputed, on the part of our clients, the commission of treasonable offences and aiding the enemy under our criminal law.”
Premium Times asked the army to write a letter, addressed to its Publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi, withdrawing the threats and allegations within seven days. The paper warned of legal action to enforce its fundamental rights.
“In the circumstances, we hereby demand that you write a letter of withdrawal of these threats and allegations, to our clients, wherein you are to assure them of their safety and protection by the security and law enforcement agencies in Nigeria, in particular, the Nigerian Army. The letter, to be addressed to Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, Managing Director of Premium Services Ltd/ Editor in Chief of Premium Times must be received within seven (7) working days of delivery of this letter to you.
“That should you fail, refuse or neglect to write and deliver the above letter as demanded, our clients will not hesitate to institute a legal action against you, your principals, the Nigerian Army and the Federal Government of Nigeria, to enforce their fundamental rights under the Constitution,” the letter stated.
See the full letter HERE.