One of the signs that a country is in a dictatorship is the manner in which law enforcement and security agencies operate with rascality and not in accordance with the rule of law. The raid on the online newspaper Premium Times yesterday evening by the Nigeria Police is an act that belongs only in a dictatorship.
It is abhorrent that the Nigeria Police believes that a complaint filed by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. TY Buratai is enough grounds to storm the premises of the newspaper and without search and arrest warrants, search the office and arrest its publisher and a journalist. A law enforcement agency cannot act outside the ambit of law, especially while claiming to uphold it.
It is also shameful that the Chief of Army Staff, who has had a running battle with the newspaper over stories published that he found “serially provocative and libelous” will turn to the police to extract justice in what is a civil matter, rather than suing the newspaper as the institution he runs had threatened to.
However, his decision to complain to the police on this matter begs the question: what right actions did he expect the police to take since the staff of the newspaper cannot be arrested for a civil offence.
Both the police and the army should know that such an attack on the press is an attack on the constitutional right to freedom of expression of thought, a right that is a cornerstone of liberal democracy.
Not only that, such an attack on the press will do both institutions no favor with the press when they should be partners in working to discharge their functions.
It will also be important for the Presidency to wade into this issue and exert pressure on the army and the police to back down on their illegal actions against Premium Times, or risk having this as a blemish on President Muhammadu Buhari’s record in dealing with the press. Already, there are comparisons already with the infamous Decree No. 4 of 1984 during the military regime of President Buhari which banned media houses against making “false accusations” against public officers.
This is not a time for being impartial – these actions must be condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians and should not be allowed to stand. If by any chance it does (stand), press freedom and by extension, freedom of expression of Nigerians will be eroded.
The Nigerian police and the Nigerian army must stand down.