by Nicholas Ibekwe,
Four days after the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, caused the raiding of PREMIUM TIMES offices and the arrest of the medium’s journalists, the army has indicated its intention to file charges against the news organisation for “fraudulently obtaining and disclosure of military information.”
In a statement by its spokesperson, Sani Usman, the army accused PREMIUM TIMES of revealing military information that led to “deaths and loss of equipment.”
He did not indicate what documents were fraudulently obtained.
Mr. Usman, a brigadier general, accused the publication of “jeopardising military operations, fraudulent obtaining and disclosure of military information that led to deaths and loss of equipment.”
PREMIUM TIMES has rejected the new allegations, describing them as “wild, spurious and a desperate attempt to call a dog a bad name in other to hang it.”
“We wait for Mr. Usman to substantiate his claims so we know how to respond,” Publisher Dapo Olorunyomi said. “We wish them luck as they kept manufacturing allegations day after day. We remain focused on our work which is rooted in the best tradition of ethical and socially responsible journalism. We will not be intimidated or distracted from the important duty of enhancing our readers’ right to know.”
In his latest statement, the army spokesperson also said the arrest of the two PREMIUM TIMES journalists, Dapo Olorunyomi and Evelyn Okakwu, was not at the instance of the Army as an institution but that of Mr. Buratai, a lieutenant general.
“The attention of the Nigerian Army has been drawn to erroneous impressions and insinuations on a libel case against the PREMIUM TIMES to whip up sentiments,” he said.
“Therefore, we wish to clarify that the issue at hand is purely allegation of libel in which PREMIUM TIMES falsely and unjustifiably accused the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, of false declaration of assets, owning mansions and estates in Dubai and further stated that he was being investigated by Code of Conduct Bureau for false declaration of assets in their publication of 12th December 2015.
“Consequently, concerted efforts were made to make Premium Times retract the story and apologize, to no avail. As a law-abiding citizen, he took appropriate legal steps of seeking redress through the courts,” the spokesperson said.
Mr. Usman did not explain why the Army chief resorted to using the police to harass the journalists instead of simply suing for libel.
The attempt to distance the Army from Mr. Buratai’s actions appears an afterthought since he has been using resources belonging to the army to prosecute his battle with this medium.
It also contradicts the Army’s letter of December 22, 2016, which accused PREMIUM TIMES of defaming the army chief.
That letter was written on the letterhead of Army Headquarters and delivered using resources belonging to the army. The army chief was also represented by serving soldiers at a meeting called by the FCT Commissioner of Abuja over his defamation complaints that led to the arrest of PREMIUM TIMES journalists.
In the letter, the Army demanded the retraction of the said stories and publication of apologies in national dailies.
PREMIUM TIMES, however, stood by its stories and asked the army and Mr. Buratai to apologise for threatening the publication and its employees.
While the Army’s suit was being expected, the police, last Thursday, acted on a complaint by Mr. Buratai, raiding the paper’s head office in Abuja, and arresting Mr. Olorunyomi and Evelyn Okakwu.
They were later released without charges.