The Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the International Press Centre (IPC) Lagos-Nigeria have condemned the invasion of the premises of The Sun Publishing Limited by heavily armed operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the early hours of Monday.
The fierce-looking operatives prevented workers of the organisation from either entering or leaving its premises and, in the process, disrupted the circulation processes.
In separate statements, NPAN, NGE and IPC said they received the news of the invasion with grave concern.
NPAN President Nduka Obaigbena’s statement reads: “Facts before the NPAN indicate that the EFCC operatives swooped on the newspaper in the early morning of June 12, while Nigerians were commemorating the historic day of free expression, and ordered security men to take them on a guided tour of the premises of the newspaper.
“The EFCC operatives subsequently prevented journalists and staff from performing their constitutional duties, and abridging their rights to free speech by preventing those who were in the premises from leaving, and others reporting for duty from entering the premises.
“Although the EFCC said they were there to enforce a 10-year old Interim Order of Forfeiture on the shareholding of Sun Newspapers, the editors of the Sun Newspapers said the EFCC officials were there on a vengeance and intimidation mission to settle scores on several stories published by the newspaper, including the alleged ownership of certain properties by the wife of the EFCC Acting Chairman for which the Acting Chairman had threatened libel lawsuits.
“Instead of lawsuits, the EFCC operatives raided the newspaper offices to revive a 10-year old Interim Order of Forfeiture that is already before an appellate court.
“Given these developments, it is our considered view that the EFCC, being a state institution and a creation of the law, cannot be above the law: and the manner of the invasion tends to suggest that the EFCC was out on a self-help mission, a voyage to intimidate journalists, criminalise journalism and cower free speech.
“We should continue to remind ourselves that this crude tactics of invasion of media houses and harassment of journalists did not work in the past, is not going to work now, and will never work. It is unknown to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“We call on the Federal Government of Nigeria and all people of reason and goodwill to call the EFCC to order for the greater good of the Federal Republic Nigeria and the rule of law.”
NGE President Funke Egbèmode, in a statement, said the unwarranted siege to the company subjected workers to crude intimidation, psychological and emotional trauma.
The EFCC, she added, had accused The Sun of publishing pro-Biafra, Boko Haram and Niger Delta militant stories.
The statement reads: “The latest action of the EFCC on a newspaper house is a sad reminder of the dark years of military dictatorship and a deliberate effort to muzzle the press.
“As a statutory agency birthed by an Act of Parliament in a democracy, we had expected the EFCC to explore civil means of addressing perceived infraction by a critical stakeholder in the Nigerian
“Rather than see the Fourth Estate of the Realm as an opposition, the commission should realise that the media is an indispensable partner in its fight against corruption.
“The Guild notes that the latest affront on The Sun by operatives of the EFCC is one in a number of targeted attempts by a section of the nation’s security agency to gag free press. We recall the recent expulsion of Mr. Olalekan Adetayo, the State House correspondent of Punch Newspapers from Aso Rock by Bashir Abubakar, the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to President Muhammadu Buhari.”
It added: “The alleged forfeiture order the EFCC brandished is 10 years old and a matter still before the Court of Appeal. The Guild wonders why the commission felt it had to act ahead of a case before a court of competent jurisdiction. It bears restating that such an attempt to intimidate the media does incalculable damage to the image of the EFCC and indeed the Nigerian government. Besides, it does not only undermine the foundation of our young democracy, it is a major threat to its sustenance and existence.
“The Guild condemns the EFCC action in its entirety and calls on the commission to purge itself of all anti-democratic tendencies in order to foster mutual cooperation with the media and other stakeholders in its crusade against graft.”.
The IPC described the invasion as a violation of the individual rights of the journalists and media workers, besides constituting an assault on press freedom.
Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, in a statement, said the act was uncalled for.
According to him, it was a twist of irony that the invasion occurred on June 12, a day traditionally associated with the vanguard role that the media played in the struggle for democracy in Nigeria.
Arogundade said: “The EFCC owed the nation as a whole and the media and freedom of expression community in particular, an explanation for the unwelcome raid.”