Nigerian soldiers raided the offices of the Daily Trust newspaper and arrested two journalists following an article about the military’s fight against Islamist militants in the north-east, the newspaper said.
The Daily Trust published photographs on its website of armed soldiers raiding its head office in Abuja. The newspaper said the military shut down its office in Maiduguri after arresting a regional editor and a reporter.
An uptick in attacks by Islamist militants in recent months made security a key campaign issue ahead of the February 16 presidential election in which Muhammadu Buhari will seek a second term.
The Nigerian army said in an emailed statement the paper, in an article published on Sunday, “divulged classified military information undermining national security”.
It said the journalists were arrested for them to realise the importance of national security and the military did not intend to silence the press.
The statement was issued hours after the presidency commented on the raids.
“The Federal Government directed the military to vacate the premises of @daily_trust and the order has been complied with,” the president’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, said on Twitter.
“Issues between the military and the newspaper as they affect coverage of the war in the north-east will be resolved through dialogue,” he added.
Also on Twitter, the main opposition party’s candidate, Atiku Abubakar, said press freedom was the bedrock of Nigeria’s democracy and “nothing should be done to compromise it”.
The Islamist militant group Boko Haram killed about 30,000 people since 2009 in an insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in north-east Nigeria.
It was pushed out of most of the Belgium-sized swathe of territory it controlled in early 2015. A faction broke away in 2016 – Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) – and claimed responsibility in the past few months for a series of attacks on military bases and strategically located towns.
The group attacked Baga – bordering Niger, Chad and Cameroon – in December, forcing hundreds to seek safety in Maiduguri, 200 km south.
Opponents of Buhari – a military ruler in the 1980s voted into office in 2015 – criticised his security record, pointing to incidents and an attack on an army base in Metele, Borno state, in which about 100 soldiers were killed.