The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has lashed out at the association of newspaper owners in Nigeria, upbreding them for allegedly deploying their “platform to pursue personal interests.”
In a statement signed by its spokesperson and issued on Monday, Wilson Uwujaren, the anti-graft agency said the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, wrongly accused it of attempting to stifle free press in raiding the head office of The Sun Newspapers last week.
The anti-graft agency was responding to an advert which NPAN placed in THISDAY and Leadership Newspapers Monday, condemning the June 12 presence of anti-graft operatives at The Sun office, which is located in Apapa, Lagos.
“The manner of the invasion tends to suggest that the EFCC was out on a self-help mission, a voyage to intimidate journalists, criminalise journalism and cower free speech,” Mr. Uwujaren quoted the advertorial as stating.
The ‘invasion’ was also condemned by the Nigerian Union of Journalists and the Nigerian Guild of Editors who asked the anti-graft agency to apologise for its action.
Nduka Obaigbena, Chairman of Leaders & Company Limited, which runs THISDAY Newspaper titles and Arise TV Network
The EFCC, however, denied the charge of media clampdown, saying NPAN was out to whip up undue sentiments for its own aggrandisement.
Mr. Uwujaren took specific aim at the NPAN boss, Nduka Obaigbena, stating that the newspaper proprietor was trying to seize the situation as a way of getting back at the agency’s acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu.
The EFCC briefly detained Mr. Obaigbena in 2016 over allegations that the journalist benefited from the $2.1 billion arms purchase scandal that rocked the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Mr. Obaigbena admitted he received up to N670 million from Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser at the heart of the alleged arms procurement fraud, but said a large chunk of it was meant as compensation for the 2012 Boko Haram attack at THISDAY bureau in Abuja.
Mr. Uwujaren, in his latest statement, said Mr. Obaigbena was still reeling from the action the anti-graft agency took against him last year, but said Mr. Magu will not be deterred in his quest to contain sharp practices across all sectors.
“If the EFCC has committed any sin against Obaigbena and some members of NPAN, it was in carrying out its statutory mandate of fighting corruption and ensuring that impunity was checked,” Mr. Uwujaren said. “It is no secret that some NPAN members are yet to forgive the Commission for the money recovered from them in the course of the ONSA investigation.”
“Nigeria is bigger than any individual and NPAN must be mindful not to allow members to hijack its platform to pursue personal interests,” he added.