Agents of the federal government continued their assault on the print media for the second day running
yesterday, detaining delivery vans and confiscating newspaper copies across the country.
The soldiers’ action appeared to be aimed at stopping the newspapers from reaching readers as the search for bomb or “material with grave security implication” which the military cited for the assault has yielded no positive result for them.
As was the case on Friday, armed soldiers yesterday invaded the vendors’ distribution centre in Abuja and stopped circulation of all newspapers in the Federal Capital Territory.
They frisked some of the vendors and searched circulation vans at the centre.
Twenty soldiers were driven to the centre in seven Hilux vans at about 5.30am.
An eye witness said: “Immediately they came, they took strategic positions and the team leader addressed us on why the newspapers could not be circulated.
“He said they were acting on sensitive security reports that some subversive elements had perfected plans to hijack the newspapers’ distribution chain to ferry explosives to wreak havoc.
“They were civil but they gave us stern instructions not to attempt to distribute our copies.”
Another source said: “It was raining when the armed soldiers came. They asked the first set of vendors to arrive to sit on the ground.
“They then proceeded to screen us one by one; they searched our vehicles, collected our phones and asked us to converge on a corner.
“At about 8.30am, they asked us to vacate the distribution centre. We were not allowed to pick our copies.”
At about 9.40am, the leader of the team summoned all the agents and vendors to “go and do proper identification on or before Monday to ascertain those who are in the business. They said only accredited agents and vendors will henceforth be allowed in and out of the centre.”
The vendors’ association has put a process of accreditation in place but not a single copy of the seized newspapers had been released by the soldiers at press time.
A military source said: “Soldiers acted on security reports of the hijack of the newspapers distribution chain to perpetrate insurgency.
“There is no way we can take things for granted in any manner whatsoever. We are trying to sort things out, we will get back to you.”
No fewer than seven newspaper delivery van drivers and their vehicles were seized by soldiers in the South-south yesterday alone.
The Assistant General Manager (Operations), Vintage Press Newspapers, Mr. Olatunde Olasogba, said: “Two of our drivers were arrested at Elele Alimini on their way to Owerri. Godswill and Barnabas, our head driver, were arrested on Friday and Saturday respectively. They were released on Saturday.
“Uche Uka-George was arrested in Delta State on Friday morning. He was released after 12 hours. His colleague, Godknows, was arrested on his way to Edo and Delta states on Saturday. He is still being detained as I am talking to you now (2pm).”
Efforts to reach Godknows were abortive, as soldiers confiscated his mobile phone and also seized the car keys.
In Ibadan, military policemen seized all the copies of The Nation newspaper meant for distribution in the Oyo State capital and other parts of the state.
A surveillance team of plain-clothed military policemen was at the Oke-Padre newspaper distribution centre before the arrival of The Nation circulation van at about 6:00 am.
The surveillance team then alerted the office about the arrival of the van and within minutes, two military vehicles turned up at the centre, bearing soldiers.
The soldiers led the delivery van to Adamasingba, some 1500 metres away where driver and vehicle were detained for six hours. They were released at 12.15pm.
Other newspapers were spared the ordeal.
The Nation’s delivery vans heading to Ilorin and Ado Ekiti were intercepted at Ogere on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway at 3.30am and detained there until 12noon when the soldiers decided to take them to Ibadan.
At the old toll gate in Ibadan, the soldiers asked for the documents of the vehicles and then released the two vans and the drivers when it was late to do any business.
The Nation and other dailies were also not allowed to be distributed in Kano as soldiers carted away newspaper copies.
The presence of soldiers who were driven to the Galadima Road newspapers distribution centre in five vans caused panic in the area following a rumour that the soldiers were on the trail of terrorists.
The Nation, Leadership and Daily Trust appeared to be the targets of security men in Osun State as they were off the newsstands while other newspapers were allowed to be distributed.
Soldiers took positions at the Osogbo newspapers distribution centre ready to impound copies of the three newspapers if they found their way into the town.
In Ondo State, the driver of The Nation van who was arrested in Okitipupa was released yesterday afternoon and warned not to make a return trip to deliver the next day’s newspapers. He was warned that if he did he would be arrested and the van seized.
Newspaper distributors and vendors in Enugu waited in vain for several hours for the arrival of The Nation.
They dispersed only after it dawned on them that it was not coming.
In Minna, soldiers arrested vendors found with copies of The Nation after the circulation manager had managed to distribute the newspaper.
In Warri, Ughelli and Sapele in Delta State, soldiers intensified search for staff of The Nation to prevent copies of the paper from reaching readers.
Soldiers in three vans were stationed close to the newspapers distribution centre on Effurun-Sapele road, Effurun, from where they monitored activities at the depot.
They intermittently sent out their plain cloth colleagues to look through the parcels of newspapers at the centre, apparently to ensure that The Nation was not among the papers being circulated.
Vendors told our reporter that plain cloth security operatives accosted them at the Airport and Jakpa junction area and went through their piles to confirm that they were not in possession of The Nation.
The newspaper also did not circulate in Asaba, the state capital and environs after men of the Nigeria Army seized copies meant for sale in the city.
The delivery van was impounded around the Port Harcourt International Airport, Rivers State.
Five armed soldiers patrolled the vicinity of the Asaba newspaper distribution depot at Umuagu quarters.
Although the soldiers did not molest anyone, they questioned newspaper agents whether the newspaper had arrived.
In Benin City, plain clothes security operatives continued their siege to the premises of the Nigeria Union of Journalists which serves as newspapers distribution centre in Benin City.
The security operatives searched vendors looking for copies of the paper though their colleagues on the road ensured that papers did not reach the ancient city.
Attempt by the company’s staff to distribute the Friday’s edition of the paper on Saturday was frustrated by security operatives.
Soldiers in Bayelsa State also intercepted vans conveying newspapers to Yenagoa, the state capital.
The soldiers impounded the vans, arrested their drivers and took them to their base at Elele, Rivers State.
They seized The Nation, Saturday Punch and The Sun after manhandling their drivers.
Our correspondent gathered that the drivers of the vans were kept incommunicado as their telephones were seized by the fully armed security operatives.
Gun-wielding soldiers from the Sobi Cantonment in Ilorin stopped the distribution of The Nation at the Oniyangi newspapers distribution centre, on Emir Road in Ilorin.
The soldiers who were conveyed to the centre in a patrol van with the inscription “Operation Harmony” as early as 5am, stationed their vehicles in front of The Nation office opposite the distribution centre in the state capital.
Motorists driving through the road were stopped and searched just in case they had copies of the paper.