by Samuel Ogundipe,
The Nigerian Army on Wednesday accused PREMIUM TIMES of allegedly displaying sympathies for Boko Haram in a shocking response to this newspaper’s dispassionate reporting highlighting the suffering of our troops who are locked in a long-drawn battle with the terror sect.
PREMIUM TIMES reporting on the anti-insurgency war in the north-east has exposed how army authorities from time to time left troops on the battlefront hungry and thirsty while also failing to adequately arm and equip them.
However, during a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Lucky Irabor, the Theatre Commander of ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’, claimed reporting by this medium were not a true reflection of the situation on the ground— and warned the paper of dire consequences.
“Every publication from PREMIUM TIMES either eulogises Boko Haram or mischievously emphasise, beyond proportion, the challenges of ‘Operation Lafiya Dole,” Mr. Irabor, a major general, said.
Mr. Irabor’s attack on this paper appears a frustrating response to this paper’s capacity to factually report events as they unfold on the battlefront despite the best efforts by authorities to conceal information from Nigerians.
Military insiders had told this paper weeks ago that the army had placed our paper under close watch as it launched extensive discreet investigation to determine who our numerous sources are.
In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Irabor made specific references to PREMIUM TIMES reportage of the war over the past two months.
He said he was miffed by the paper’s series on missing soldiers in October.
The articles provided details of how Nigerian soldiers manning a Forward Operation Base in Gashigar, Borno State, came under heavy firepower from Boko Haram on October 17.
After initial resistance, the troops, who told us they were poorly equipped and unpaid, soon abandoned their base and scampered for safety.
As they retreated from battle, some of the soldiers jumped into River Yobe, with the terrorists opening fire on them, killing some and leaving unknown number of them fatally wounded.
The attack also left scores of soldiers missing, including K. Yusuf, a lieutenant colonel and commander of the 145 Task Force Battalion.
For several weeks, PREMIUM TIMES stayed on the story with updates, including how the Army raised a panel to probe the incident as well as the notifications sent out to families of some of the missing personnel.
Efforts by the Army to deny or play down the unfortunate development were unsuccessful.
The Army was also irked by exclusive reports about a revolt that nearly resulted in an attack on the General Officer Commanding of the Nigerian Army 7 Division in Maiduguri.
The soldiers who revolted were attached to “Operation Rescue Finale” launched earlier this month to dislodge Boko Haram insurgents from Sambisa Forest — a massive reserve which has long been occupied by the terrorists— and rescue civilians trapped there.
The soldiers, mostly of the Nigerian Army 21 Brigade in Bama, rioted early Friday after they were left without food for more than 24 hours.
When the GOC, Victor Ezegwu, eventually arrived in a helicopter bearing foods and other supplies on Friday morning, the troops swooped on him and rushed the snacks, food and water he brought.
They removed all the supplies, including parts for operational vehicles and other equipment, before moving towards the GOC in an attempt to attack him, our sources said.
An abridged video of that incident has since appeared online.
This medium also reported that the tumult came eight months after a similar situation played out in Alagarno.
At the time, troops fighting to take control of the town attempted to attack their GOC after they were left for five days without water, this newspaper reported, based on information obtained from top-level military sources.
The reference to the April 2016 riot was confirmed in a newly released video posted on YouTube by some unknown persons.
Still, Mr. Irabor dismissed the reports as “hateful representation of the medium’s wishes for the troops.”
Mr. Irabor called on media bodies such as the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Nigerian Union of Journalists to denounce this newspaper and “defend their national security interest.”
The major general marked PREMIUM TIMES out as the only media outfit in Nigeria that had been reporting stories the Army finds uncomfortable and praised other media outlets for their cooperation.
“Premium Times is isolated,” he said. “The rest of the Media have (sic) shown patriotism, commitment and support for the operation. I wish to therefore commend these patriotic media houses and urge them to continue in that regard.”
PREMIUM TIMES has however asked its journalists to disregard the attempt by the army to intimidate or muzzle the medium.
“We must not be intimidated by the Army’s claim,” the paper’s Managing Editor, Idris Akinbajo, wrote in an email to reporters on Thursday morning. “We should continue with our courageous, fair and balanced reporting and ensure we continue to act as thorough professionals. That has remained and should continue to remain our watchword whether the Army and other security agencies like it or not.”
On Thursday evening, Mr. Akinbajo added, “The Army has a habit of labelling anyone who exposes its atrocities and failures of working against Nigeria’s interest.
“We are proud of our reporting and stand by our stories and will continue to act with utmost professionalism and patriotism in not only reporting on the army and Boko Haram, but in all our reports.
“The Nigerian Army and the establishment should by now know that our reporting are rooted in strong ethics and in huge consideration for national interest and the welfare of our people, including our troops.
“We will never be intimidated in this service to our country and its people.”