The Nigerian Army’s current crackdown on the country’s news media is ‘child’s play’ compared to past incursions on press freedoms
By Eyobong Ita
Nigerian soldiers are doing great.
No pun intended.
Well, maybe a little.
Forget that the Nigerian Army is yet to bomb the living daylight out of Boko Haram terrorists. That is just a matter of time, I guess. Forget also that more than 250 abducted Chibok girls are yet to be rescued, or that the soldiers made no effort to confront the terrorists allegedly when they were heading to the Chibok school to abduct those students. And forget that 20 suspected Boko Haram gunmen raided a village in Borno state, killing 15, just this week.
None of that should suggest that the Nigerian Army cannot dismantle Boko Haram when they are ready. I mean, just look at how well the Nigerian Army is manhandling the Nigerian press; acknowledge for once that the soldiers are great at seizing copies of Nigerian newspapers and making sure delivery vans cannot get to their destinations. Remember how recently they made sure The Nation, Leadership and Daily Trust newspapers neither got delivered by air nor by land.
The skill they apply in seizing and destroying those publications is simply off the hook.
I think every Nigerian knows why they targeted those publications. Just look at their names: The Nation. Which nation? Only Nigeria is a nation, so why call a newspaper The Nation? The other is called Leadership. Who are they leading? PDP, APC or any of the other political parties in Nigeria? Or are they leading The Nation, This Day, Punch, Vanguard or even The Drum newspapers? Well, I’ll let you grapple over that. The other one calls itself Daily Trust. Come on, the Nigerian Army cannot be trusted to cover its own behind when Boko Haram runs over them. So why wouldn’t the Army get mad at the newspaper over its “fake name?”
So far, the Nigerian press is not a match for the powerful Nigerian Army. They beat up the Nigerian press as badly as the Netherlands dismantled Spain at the ongoing World Cup Soccer games. Whoever said the pen is mightier than the gun apparently didn’t see the great Nigerian Army in action against the seemingly defenseless Nigerian Press.
There are a couple of problems with this narrative, though.
In their rush to flex their muscles (or guns) against the Nigerian press, the Nigerian Army may have overlooked a couple of very sensitive points.
One. When they successfully seized and destroyed copies of the affected Nigerian newspapers, did the Nigerian Army also shut down the internet to make sure none of those “anti-national security” stories were online for the entire world to read?
OMG! They forgot to shut down the web? That means those stories still got read. Ouch!
Two. Seizure of Nigerian newspapers and harassment of the Nigerian media is an act pulled from an old, familiar playbook. Military dictators Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon called it Decree No. 2. In the 1980s, the dictators used the presidential edict to send journalists Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor to jail, but that didn’t silence the Nigerian press. Rather, Buhari and Idiagbon were silenced by another dictator named Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, aka IBB. IBB, who ousted Buhari in a coup and his successor, Sani Abacha, obviously did not need any decree to go after the Nigerian press and journalists who were not in their camps. Abacha, for sure, unleashed an unprecedented reign of terror on independent-minded media in Nigeria.
To be fair to IBB, he has never been charged with any crime and is living comfortably in Nigeria. That might be true, except for one major incident that happened on IBB’s watch in 1986: Dele Giwa, the charismatic founding editor of Newswatch magazine, was murdered with a letter bomb. Nobody was arrested for that historic tragedy. However, “Who Killed Dele Giwa?” is a question that will likely follow IBB to his grave.
IBB was such a charming and crafty “politician” that as an army general he tricked Nigerians into addressing him as president, even when he was not democratically elected. Nigerians even called him Maradona – after the legendary world-renowned Argentine footballer – because of his skill to dribble Nigerians around. Eventually though, pressure from the Nigerian press and other sectors forced IBB to dribble himself out of power.
Abacha, who later seized power in a military coup, was more ruthless with the Nigerian press. Unlike IBB, he was not charming, and probably didn’t care. What’s charm got to do with it, anyway? Abacha gave Nigerian journalists grief. During his tenure, newspapers were confiscated with impunity, some media houses were banned, many journalists were jailed without trial, some disappeared with no trail while others were murdered in cold blood.
Defiant, Nigerian journalists went underground and kept publishing.
Guerrilla journalism was born.
Many of the haunted journalists no longer had access to their newsrooms, yet they kept publishing from undisclosed locations. Delivery vans could no longer function, yet their publications remained in circulation. Eventually, Abacha died and went to hell, or wherever such dictators go.
What the Nigerian Army is doing now is child’s play. If the Nigerian press could fight dictators in army uniform to a standstill in the 1980s and 1990s when the internet was not in play, how long do you think the Nigerian Army can successfully seize media publications today? What if the targeted media decide to go underground and continue publishing, guerrilla style? What can they really do about the web sites and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Whatapp, Viber, Glide and a host of others?
Still think the Nigerian Army can run over the Nigerian press?
Rather than go after the press, how about hunting down those really trying to make the powerful Nigerian Army look weak?
Imagine a survivor of Boko Haram’s attack on the town of Bama in Northern Nigeria saying that Nigerian soldiers fled when they sighted Boko Haram? How about Nigerian soldiers shooting their own commander after they were ordered into a Boko Haram hideout that killed a dozen of their comrades? And a Nigerian soldier who opened his big mouth to say that the soldiers designated to fight Boko Haram are not well-equipped for that task. As if those embarrassments aren’t enough, the United States and other diplomats are claiming the Nigerian Army is afraid of Boko Haram.
Look, as much as I admire the Nigerian Army’s skill (or enthusiasm) in confiscating copies of newspapers that rub them the wrong way, it is misplaced aggression. Period.
The Army’s harassment of the Nigerian press begs this simple question: Why not pick on someone your size? I mean, how about Boko Haram, for crying out loud!