The Nigerian Guild of Editors has strongly condemned the invasion of the SUN Publishing Limited premises by heavily armed EFCC operatives in the early hours of June 12, 2017.
According to a statement by the President of the Guild, Funke Egbèmode, “the unwarranted siege to the company subjected staff of the organisation to crude intimidation, psychological and emotional trauma”.
“The fierce looking operatives prevented staff of the organisation from either entering or leaving the premises of the company and disrupted the circulation processes,” Egbèmode added.
The EFCC had accused THE SUN of publishing pro-Biafra, Boko Haram and Niger-Delta militant stories.
“The latest action of the EFCC on a newspaper house is a sad reminder of the dark years of military dictatorship and a deliberate effort to muzzle the press”.
“As a statutory agency birthed by an Act of Parliament in a democracy, we had expected the EFCC to explore civil means of addressing perceived infraction by a critical stakeholder in the Nigerian democratic project”.
“Rather than see the Fourth Estate of the Realm as an opposition, the Commission should realise that the media is an indispensable partner in its fight against corruption”, she said.
The Guild also stated that the latest affront on THE SUN by operatives of the EFCC is one in a number of targeted attempts by a section of the nation’s security agencies to gag free press.
“We recall the recent expulsion of Mr. Olalekan Adetayo, the State House correspondent of Punch Newspapers from Aso Rock by Bashir Abubakar, the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to President Muhammadu Buhari.
The alleged forfeiture order the EFCC brandished to the Management of the SUN is 10 years old and a matter still before the Court of Appeal. The Guild wonders why the Commission felt it had to act ahead of a case before a court of competent jurisdiction.
It bears restating that such an attempt to intimidate the media does incalculable damage to the image of the EFCC and indeed, the Nigerian government. Besides, it does not only undermine the foundation of our young democracy, it is a major threat to its existence and sustenance”.
The Guild therefore condemned the EFCC action in its entirety and called on the Commission to purge itself of all anti-democratic tendencies in order to foster mutual co-operation with the media and other stakeholders in its crusade against graft.
The Guild also called on the EFCC to put an end to its current attempts to gag the Press and demands an unreserved apology from the Commission to the SUN Publishing Limited.
In a swift response, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, however said the visit which lasted less than an hour was “part of routine efforts to ascertain the state of the assets of the publishing company which is subject of subsisting interim forfeiture order”.
In a statement published on the commission’s Facebook page, the EFCC explained that “prior to the visit, the Commission had written to the management of the company to account for its management of the assets for the period of the subsisting court order”.
“The Commission still awaits the response of the Sun and will not be distracted by any attempt to whip up sentiments by alluding to an appeal which has been pending for ten years. The Commission’s action is without prejudice to any appeal and only meant to verify the integrity of the assets” the EFCC said.
The EFCC noted that no staff of the media outfit was molested or intimidated for the few minutes that operatives of the Commission spent in the premises of the company.
The claim that “EFCC operatives subjected our staff to crude intimidation, psychological and emotional trauma, even as some of the men accused our organization of publishing pro-Biafra, Boko Haram , and Niger Delta Militant stories ,” is strange and clearly the figment of the imagination of the Sun.
“There was no reason to molest anybody as the commission has always related professionally with the publishing outfit. The attempt also to link the visit to the acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu’s threat to sue the organization over a libelous publication is also diversionary. Magu is pursuing that option in his private capacity and his lawyer, Wahab Shittu, did write the Sun and his letter was widely published in the media on March 31, 2017”, the Commission said.