This article is part of our #FirstWord series to provide context on trending news
The officers arrested the regional editor, Uthman Abubakar and one of its reporters, Ibrahim Sawab. According to the newspaper, the arrests were made over a lead story on the activities of the military in the Northeast. The story was published on the same day the arrests were made.
Daily Trust’s online editor, Biodun Alade also confirmed that the Nigerian army closed the Abuja office of the newspaper. He told Vanguard news that the soldiers had asked staff members in the Federal Capital Territory to pack their work tools and leave the premises.
“Armed military officials have invaded Daily Trust regional office in Maiduguri and arrested the regional editor, Uthman Abubakar and a reporter Ibrahim Sawab. It is not clear why they took action but, it may be connected with the lead story of the Daily Trust on Sunday on the military operation in the North East. The military also shut the gate of the Maiduguri regional office.” - Biodun Alade.
The story reported by Daily Trust was about the Nigerian military’s work towards retaking Baga and five other towns in the Northern part of Borno state from Boko Haram. In the report, the newspaper said it learnt that all the arms of the nation’s armed forces - the army, navy and air force - would be involved in the operation.
Media platforms like Guardian, Pulse Nigeria and Vanguard, picked up similar stories in the past week, although not the lead story and not as in-depth as that of Daily Trust's. Looks like for some reason, the army does not want it out.
What happened with Baga?
There are a lot of versions.
On December 27th, 2018, it was reported by some of Nigeria’s major news outlets that Boko Haram had taken over Baga, a town in Kukawa Local Government of Borno State. According to reports, the Islamic terrorist group attacked the military base, overpowered the soldiers and hoisted their victory flags all over the town.
The following day after the takeover, the army confirmed the attack but said it sent soldiers to repel the terrorists. According to Sani Usman, spokesperson of the military, a reinforcement team had been pushed to Baga, and they were in pursuit of the insurgents.
“The troops along with their Nigerian Navy counterparts put up a very determined fight to repel the attack throughout the night, while Sector 3 Operation LAFIYA DOLE sent in reinforcement who are in hot pursuit of the terrorists. Similarly, a Search and Rescue team has been constituted. The Nigerian Air Force component has also been mobilised and is engaging the fleeing terrorists. Unfortunately, a naval personnel was killed in action. So far, no further details of casualties yet as efforts are ongoing to clear the terrorists hiding in Baga and environs,” - Sani Usman
But the reports from military sources did not correlate with that of the spokesperson. The sources maintained that Boko Haram was in full control and many reinforcements suffered casualties and had to return back to base.
What are the possible angles?
No one is sure what exactly happened with the military, Baga and Daily Trust, but history tells us that the Nigerian army is not particularly trustworthy.
One of the most recent examples of their untrustworthiness is in the clash between soldiers and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (i.e. Shia). The military had initially claimed they shot at protesting Shia members in October 2018 in self-defence. However, an investigation carried out by the New York Times found that the Nigerian army deliberately shot at and killed dozens of Shia protesters - unprovoked.
There have been insinuations that the military lied about the true extent of the insurgent attacks in Baga, hence the need to cover up the Daily Trust lead story on resources put in to reclaim the town. Others suggest that the revelation of the involvement of the three arms of the armed forces involved in the reclaiming Baga (if correct) is a matter of national security and needs not to be published by any media organisation.
According to a statement released by the Nigerian army through their verified Facebook page this morning, the arrests were made because classified military information was divulged by Daily Trust.
"The newspaper made disclosed details of planned military operations against the Boko Haram terrorists. The disclosure of classified security information amounts to a breach of national security and run contrary to Sections 1 and 2 of the Official Secrets Act. It afforded the Boko Haram terrorists prior notice of our plans and giving them an early warning to prepare against the Nigerian military, thus sabotaging the planned operations and putting the lives of troops in imminent and clear danger.
We would like to state that the invitation of those responsible for divulging military plans was done with the best of intention to make them realise the import of such acts to our national security. We, therefore, advice all, particularly journalists, not to worry but engage in their responsive reportage and to be professional as the Nigerian Army has no intention of muzzling the press or jeopardising press freedom."
There are so many unanswered questions as members of the public are curious about how 'classified' information got into the hands of pressmen? What does all of this say about a military force with leaks in its communication system on matters of national security?
There's also the question on the role of Journalists when it comes to reporting stories around security.