Two angry letters later, the relationship between the Nigerian Army and online newspaper, Premium Times has taken on some clarity. They have both threatened to take legal actions against each other but the Army’s letter, which came first is the one that gives one concerns. Some Nigerians would by now be ruing their earlier recriminations and taking sides without the benefit of information.
The first layer of concerns is about what the military’s letter accused the newspaper of. The second level of concerns derived from the inability of the letter written in response by Premium Times to sufficiently discharge it from the weighty accusations levelled against it by the army.
On a different facet is the dimension that the army has not made similar accusations against any other publication even though it is on record that several media organisations have reported, without jeopardising our collective security, the shortcomings that they discovered in the way the military conducts its affairs. This could only imply that the Army detected something sinister in the way Premium Times has been reporting its operation and has for some reason been mild in responding to this obvious threat.
The letter written by Major General I.M. Alkali on behalf of the Chief of Army Staff ((COAS), Lt General Tukur Buratai is an eye opener. In that communication more facts emerged as to why the Nigerian Army finally decided to pursue legal actions against the online newspaper. It exposed the newspaper’s interest in bringing down not just the army as an institution but also Buratai as an individual.
It also revealed the Army’s frustration with what amounted to that publication’s deliberate sabotage of the anti-terror war in manners that have led to troops’ deaths on several occasions. It appeared the decision to intimate Premium Times about a potential law suit was driven by a desire to see the newspaper embrace professionalism like its other contemporaries irrespective of its hidden agenda.
Several Nigerians have argued that openness with information is needed for counterinsurgency operations to succeed. It is however important to establish that some of those canvassing such openness merely parrot lines from international gatherings without full appreciation of the considerations involved. Few of those who demand disclosure of sensitive operational information are aware that those who marketed these standards to them do not themselves implement same in their own countries.
One is therefore compelled to ask if the army could have approached the issue in another way, like handing over every single byte of military secrets to appease Premium Times. It does not appear this would have achieved much with resoluteness one has seen on the part of its aggressor, who is running the propaganda that the army is high handed. But with the much one has seen of that organisation since Buratai took charge it pursues the most conciliatory approach possible, which in this case was mooting the prospect of dragging Premium Times before a court perchance it will trigger a rethink. In exploring the legal option, the army came off as not wanting to be seen as stifling freedom of the press even though the breaches committed by the online newspaper are grievous.
That the newspaper rather resorted to writing a reply that only played to the gallery is a testimony to its accuser’s claim that it not only hates the leadership of the Nigerian Army and the Army as a service but that it also hates Nigeria as a nation. This should set off alarm bells for all patriotic Nigerians. We can survive the dangers of daily onslaught on the existence of the country by foreign media networks but the nation’s future existence would be counted in months if an indignous media organisation staffed by Nigerians is on a hate campaign against the country.
It therefore appears Nigerians do not realise that Premium Times is hiding under the guise of exclusive reports to put the lives of soldiers on missions at risk on several occasions, with some even losing their lives. If this had continued it was a matter of time before the terrorists overran everywhere and kill off the rest of us. This will explain the reservation expressed by the military leadership in the past but which seemed to have only spurred the people in the newspaper to do more of such dangerous reporting.
The military is like a big family. The COAS must therefore tend to see the troops as his family so one can imagine how painful it is for him, which would be the case for other commanders, when people hide under media to share information that lead to the death of troops.
It must be recalled that in the days when Boko Haram was running all over the place, Premium Times was always the first to leak information about troops movement. Some of those reports led to troops being ambushed and each time that happened things ended badly. A cursory look at other media, even the libertarian media of western countries do not share information that could potentially endanger their militaries and definitely not reporting troop movement prior to operations and platform where terrorists have access to read.
Just like the army claimed, whatever grudge the online newspaper harbours goes beyond the situation in the Gambia in a way that could have endangered Nigerians living there. Premium Times’ story that the Nigerian Army was planning to attack outgoing Gambian President (Yahya) Jammeh was one that could have put the lives of Nigerians in Gambia at risk for the mere fact that they would transform from peaceful regional citizens to aggressors overnight. There was also the diplomatic aspect of how Nigeria now has to convince Gambians that it is not invading their country. What were they trying to gain by making it look like Nigerian Army was going to attack another country when it was an ECOWAS decision?
Those loyal to Jammeh could have risen against helpless Nigerian civilians living in the Gambia and they will lose their businesses and even their lives. Premium Times would have then be able to repeat the scenario where it hides under journalistic reporting to provide information for Boko Haram terrorists to kill troops when its report triggers the lynching of Nigerians in Gambia. Why it wants to earn this unpleasant record of killing the most Nigerians whether soldiers or civilians and whether here at home or in far away Gambia remains a mystery.
This is the kind of frustration that Premium Times wants those securing Nigeria to face on daily basis.
Raheem, a public affairs commentator writes from Kaduna, Kaduna State.