Some reporters assigned to cover the Department of State Service (DSS) were on Thursday shocked when they were denied access into the agency’s headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. As a result, the journalists could not cover a press briefing scheduled for 4 p.m. where the agency presented detained Ekiti State lawmaker, Afolabi Akanni, who was rumored to have died while in DSS detention.
Several of the reporters barred from covering the briefing accused the DSS of attempting to silence and gag the media.
According to the disaffected reporters, DSS operatives at the main entrance had a list of certain media groups, adding that only reporters from those media on the list were allowed to enter for the press briefing while other reporters were sent away.
“When some of us who were denied access asked the reason behind our exclusion, the [DSS] operatives at the main gate informed us that they were carrying out the instruction given to them from above,” said one of the reporters. Another affected journalist told our correspondent that there was no official reason given for excluding them from doing their professional job.
“I have been covering the SSS for almost ten years now for my [news] organization, only to be screened out today and nobody could tell us anything,” said yet another excluded reporter. He added: “I wonder what criteria they used to choose those who were allowed to go in. We are going to resist this draconian action, targeted at suppressing the media. There are no fake journalists among all of us covering this beat, so I can't just understand what is going on.”
The reporters stated that they were also frustrated that the DSS had not been able to put together a formidable and effective media team to provide information to the media and public on the agency’s activities. One of them decried a new culture of extreme secrecy within the DSS, accusing the agency of disregarding the citizens’ right to know.
Some of the reporters told our correspondent that the agency’s latest action against some news media could be perceived as evidence of high handedness by the DSS. Journalists from print and electronic media were among those blocked from covering the DSS briefing.
One of the reporters asserted that the DSS action contravened the obligation of the mass media to perform its statutory role of upholding, including upholding the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.
Since coming on board as the Director of the DSS, Lawal Daura has refused to appoint an official spokesperson for the agency.