Nigerian Army Impedes Newspapers Citing Islamist Threat

The Nigerian army halted the distribution of major national newspapers in what it said was a security operation against Islamist insurgents, described by their publishers as an attack on press freedom.

The army embarked on a “thorough search” of newspaper distribution vans from June 6 after “intelligence report indicating movement of materials with grave security implications using the channel of newsprint consignments,” according to Defence Headquarters spokesman Chris Olukolade. Publishers of newspapers including Leadership, Daily Trust, the Nation and the Punch said their distribution vans were either stopped from moving or seized in several cities across the country in the past week, with drivers detained in some cases.

The Nigerian military is struggling to contain an insurgency by Boko Haram Islamists, who have killed thousands of people since 2009 in their violent campaign to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, in Africa’s biggest economy and most populous country of 170 million people. The group, whose name means “western education is a sin” in the local Hausa language, drew global outrage by abducting more than 200 schoolgirls in April and threatening to sell or marry them off.

Newspaper owners are “deeply troubled that a siege has been laid on the media” for a reason that hasn’t been made clear, the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria said in e-mailed statement yesterday. It is “an assault on freedom of expression,” it said.

The government received assurances from the military that it wouldn’t deny media practitioners of their personal liberties unlawfully, Doyin Okupe, a spokesman for President Goodluck Jonathan, said an e-mailed statement. “As soon as there is significant reduction in the level of the security alert, the ongoing exercise will be relaxed,” Okupe said.