Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (Reuters)
Nigerian President Goodluck JonathanReuters

The Nigerian Army, which is increasingly facing criticism from several quarters over its failure to trace the missing Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, has reportedly clamped down on several major newspapers in the country, following the negative publicity. 

The Army carried out a series of raids and confiscation of leading newspapers, such as Leadership, Daily Trust, The Nation and Punch, forcing all four newspapers to stop its distribution on 6 June. The clamp down has now been extended to all major newspapers in the country.

The Leadership, Punch, The Nation, Daily Trust and Vanguard stated that since Saturday the Army has not allowed any of the papers to be distributed.

An editorial in Punch, based on a distributor's claims, stated that he saw "a group of heavily armed soldiers" raiding the cargo area at the Murtala Muhammed international airport in Lagos and searching all editions which were to be sent out.

The commanding officer said they were acting on "orders from above", said the report, adding that the papers were prevented from entering Ekiti, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Edo states.

While the exact reason for the clamp down remains unclear, a statement released by the management of Daily Trust stated that the paper was targeted after it exposed the corruption in the Army.  

report in The Nation, quoting a distributor, stated the Army stopped the delivery vans, claiming it had information that the newspaper vans were being used for ferrying explosives into various cities. Witnesses said that the delivery drivers had their mobile phones confiscated and were not allowed to take the newspapers when they left.

The Nigerian government and President Goodluck Jonathan are under pressure for their ineffeciency to stop the insurgency by Boko Haram militants in the north. The group has attacked the Army, media and civilians, and staged kidnappings including that of the 200-plus girls from a school in Chibok back in April.

Coincidentally, the raids have come only days after Nigeria's information minister Labaran Maku warned the media not to give "free publicity", saying they must "define the lines between the urge to report and the need to protect the interest of our nation". 

Though the Nigerian Army has maintained that the operation was not intended to infringe the freedom of the press but to prevent the distribution of materials with serious security implications, the newspaper associations in the country feel otherwise.

The Nigerian Guild of Editors said the media "do not bear arms but rather bear information", and likened the operation to the censorship the media faced when the country was under military rule, reported The Guardian Nigeria.

The office of the Nigerian President Jonathan has, however, maintained that the checks were mere part of the security drills and none of it was indeed to curb the freedom of speech in the country.