Daily Trust Newspaper, Media And Military Relations  By Prince Femi Kusa - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Daily Trust Newspaper, Media And Military Relations  By Prince Femi Kusa


The news yesterday that soldiers invaded offices of DAILY TRUST newspaper in Borno State, Abuja and Lagos State, closing them and arresting journalists, reminded me of some of my experiences with Nigerian soldiers when I was Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian from 1992.
The one I would like to mention is the attempt by soldiers to shut the newspaper within two weeks of its reopening after Gen Sani Abacha, military head of state, shut it for one year. The immediate reason for the one year shut down was the headline on the front page of the Sunday edition titled…INSIDE ASO ROCK.
The editor wrote the report after a visit to Abuja. It was all about agreements and disagreements in the cabinet which ended in agreement of sorts. Abacha may have thought his government was potraýed as incohesive, and a signal to whoever may wish to strike it, military or civilian, that the time was ripe. On the same page, there was a photograph of two cockerels squaring up for a fight, to peck each other.
Technically speaking, the presentation of this photograph was unprofessional. In a normal situation, it ought to have been boxed up as information that was unrelated to any other story on the page. But it was left loose by the editor beside the Abacha government story, to give the impression that that was going on in the cabinet.
In unusual times, such as during the regime of the tyrannical military, that sort of publication is suicidal. The editor fled, and I narrowly escaped arrest when the soldiers came. The Guardian was shut. I do not wish to bore you with proceedings which led to the reopening of
The Guardian . Abacha claimed the newspaper hated him and concluded that it was after his government with that publication. There was a lot of politics around that front page story, I must say.
Two weeks after the reopening of The Guardian , I was in my office reclining on my seat behind my desk after putting the paper to bed. I was tired and reclined in my seat; my shoes off and my legs well spread out on the floor beneath the desk. Suddenly, my door flung open. I was lucky that I did not lock it, otherwise, a barrage of submachine guns would probably have forced it open.
Before I could wonder about what was going on, four soldiers stormed in, pointed their guns at me and asked me to get up. I was unafraid of death. I was wise enough, though, not to attempt to pick my shoes. For they could imagine I was trying to push a button to raise an alarm or pick a weapon. With my hands on the desk, I asked if I could help them. They said they had instruction to shut down the newspaper.
I had learnt not to argue with the man who is pointing a gun. So, I said, okay. But I asked if I could wear my shoes. One of them peeped and saw there were only shoes there, and they agreed.
Meanwhile, all reporters had milled in the newsroom. Our newsroom then was a large rectangle space ringed by the offices of line editors. When we came out of my office, there was a thick crowd in the newsroom. I was afraid the soldiers could start to shoot if anyone tried to challenge them or they suspected funny behaviour or movement. So, I asked that we halt a while during which I told the gathering nothing was amiss and then dispersed the crowd of reporters and other workers.
I left a word for the Managing Director, Lade Bonuola, who was not in the office as we headed for their jeep. Bonuola rushed in before we boarded the jeep and insisted on going with us.
Cause of arrest: They had come because of a publication in the paper that day on the death of one of Abacha’s sons in a plane crash. In government, that is Abacha’s circles, the crash was seen as an act of sabotage. But among top military men, it was seen as a pure accident. There, again, goes the squaring in Abacha’s government.
The then National Security Adviser (NSA), Gwarzo, had presented a paper at a seminar in which he pushed the accident angle. Abacha was angry. He queried Gwarzo. Gwarzo must have told Abacha he was misquoted. Gwarzo called his men in Lagos to ask The Guardian to say he was misquoted and to apologise. I couldn’t destroy my reputation by agreeing to do so and, in the end, still end up in Abacha’s prison or in the grave.
Luckily, I had a file of daily newspapers of that day with me which I showed to my military captors. Every newspaper reported the story. So, why single out The Guardian for closure again? I asked. It was only then they realised that not only The Guardian published the so-called offensive report.
It was then I realised three jeeps of soldiers, not one, had come for me. One was in front loaded with armed soldiers, ours was in the middle, the third was right behind us, also loaded with armed soldiers. The leader of the soldiers in the jeep radioed to other jeeps to stop over at The Daily Champion newspaper, which was on our route, to pick up the editor as well.
At the end of the day, we agreed that Gwarzo’s paper be published in full to clear him before Abacha, and to let Gwarzo know they carried out his order. I was surprised they agreed to this proposal because the paper showed clearly Gwarzo said those things he said he didn’t say.
The matter ended there, and The Guardian reopened yet again.
The Daily Trust
The case of The Guardian is different from that of The Daily Trust. Newspaper cub reporters are taught many pitfalls to avoid in the course of reporting. Among these are: 1) Religion must not be denigrated or defiled 2) Race must not be disparaged 3) Gender must be respected 4) Identification of children under 18 in criminal activities is a taboo 5) Now, hate speech has joined the league 6) Military secrets must not be divulged. This includes troop movements etc. I believe Daily Trust goofed on this. Nigeria is at war on many fronts…in the Niger Delta, in the Southeast, and in the Northeast.
Add to that the El-Zakzaky threat in Abuja. There is insecurity everywhere. The army is overstretched and tense. It knows it has enemies within who leak information to the enemies. It knows also that there are civilian enemies outside who provide his military enemies information about it.
It was on this account that the army recently attempted to stop activities of UNICEF in the Northeast. It gave up only after international assurances that UNICEF went well. The military is believed to have been infiltrated by moles from Boko Haram, ISIS and ISWA. It is a testing time, indeed, for Nigeria’s military. If they are overrun, the country would go to the dogs. When they are bitten or beaten, the press laughs at them, exposes their weaknesses, thereby teaching the enemies what to do. Yet these men are fighting and dying so that all of us may live in peace and comfort.
The military itself has not done well in this regard. Why announce to the world that you have acquired or are going to acquire fighting helicopters? May this not encourage sponsors of Boko Haram, ISIS and ISWA to up their games? If the announcement was meant to assure Nigerians that the army will soon be on top of the game, it was very expensive.
This folly occurred during the tenure of Gen Ibrahim Babangida as military president of Nigeria. Editors were invited to Dodan Barracks in Lagos to be informed that the navy and the army would launch an attack on Charles Taylor’s forces in Liberia in two weeks time. The information was not classified or embargoed. So, the media published it the next day.
It was not clear if the government had been in touch with the navy, or if something went wrong. Before two weeks, Taylor stepped up his game, entered Liberia, routed Samuel Doe, the president, ransacked the Nigerian embassy where many Nigerians were taking refuge, killed as many of them as possible, including two journalists, Krees Imodibie of The Guardian and Tayo Awotusin of the Champion . We need not go into the details of the present military crackdown on a newspaper, or the politics which informed it in military and civilian circles. We should concern ourselves with professionalism, where it involves military war secrets, you would be accused of working for the enemy. That is it, anywhere in the world.
Americans lost the war in Vietnam because the American media pulled the carpet off the feet of the army back home. By the time of the Gulf War, the American army cat had known how to deal with the media mouse. Reports from the trenches and battle lines were faded out. In many cases, information filtering to the media was well monitored.
Finally, I like to close with a Yoruba adage: A gbodo koko le kolokolo lo ki a to ba omo di adie wi (We must first chase off the fox before we rebuke the chicks…for treading on unsafe grounds). As reporters with ears to the ground and sensitive nostrils, we hear everything and smell everything but it is not every food or drink which thrills the palate that is good for the stomach. Again, the Yoruba have a saying: Gbogbo ohun ti oju ba ri ko l’enu maa nso. (The mouth does not tell everything the eye sees).

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