In a statement Tuesday, the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, described the raid by plain-clothed police officers and subsequent arrests as, “purely a private affair involving a citizen and a privately-owned newspaper”.
He said the government was committed to ensuring a free press, including freedom of the social media.
“The Federal Government will not do anything to stifle press freedom, because it is keenly aware that a free press is vital to the success of any democracy. The federal government has nothing to do with the recent arrest of Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher of the online newspaper Premium Times, and a reporter working for the paper, Ms. Evelyn Okakwu,” the statement said.
“The whole issue of the journalists’ arrest is purely a private affair involving a citizen and a privately-owned newspaper.”
The statement came a day after the Nigerian Army attempted to distance itself from the arrests which were orchestrated by the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai.
The move by the army seemed an afterthought since Mr. Buratai had been using resources belonging to the army to prosecute his battle with this medium.
The army had on December 22, 2016 accused PREMIUM TIMES of defaming the army chief.
It threatened on Monday to file charges against the news organisation for “fraudulently obtaining and disclosure of military information”, but failed to provide any evidence.
PREMIUM TIMES has rejected the new allegations, describing them as “wild and spurious”.
The apparent attempt by the army to harass the newspaper has drawn widespread condemnations, with many accusing the Buhari administration of trying to gag the press.
The statement on Tuesday signed by Mr. Mohammed’s special adviser, Segun Adeyemi, criticised Nigerians for blaming the government for the arrests.
“We have said it before and we want to re-state it: The Federal Government has no immediate or long-term plan to stifle press freedom. Even the Social Media, with its warts and all, will neither be regulated nor have its operations tampered with,” the statement said.