Nigeria's military voice security fears over newspapers, newsprint

Nigeria's military on Friday said they had begun searching vehicles carrying newspapers and newsprint because of security concerns, denying the move was an effort to muzzle media critics.

Defence spokesman Chris Olukolade said the search "followed intelligence report(s) indicating movement of materials with grave security implications across the country using the channel of newsprint-related consignments".

The country's military has been under sustained pressure -- including increasing media criticism -- over its response to the Boko Haram insurgency in the country's northeast, which has claimed thousands of lives since it began five years ago.

Attacks by the Islamist militant group have increased in recent months, with the military apparently incapable of preventing the almost daily bloodshed exacerbated by the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in April.

Olukolade rejected reports the army was trying to muzzle the media and stifle free speech.

"The military appreciates and indeed respects the role of the media as an indispensable partner in the ongoing counter-insurgency operation and the overall advancement of our country's democratic credentials," he said.

"As such, the military will not deliberately and without cause, infringe on the freedom of the press".

The search was a "routine security action and should not be misconstrued for any other motive", he added.

Nigeria's response to the abduction of the schoolgirls has been criticised as slow and lacklustre while a social media campaign has prompted greater international media scrutiny of the government's fight against the insurgents.

Last month, defence chiefs issued a strongly worded statement criticising a May 23 New York Times report that suggested that lack of training and endemic corruption in the Nigerian military was hampering the search for the girls.

It accused the article's author of "abysmal mediocrity, arrogance and racist sentiments".

Reporters Without Borders ranked Nigeria 112th out of 180 countries worldwide in its 2014 Press Freedom Index.

Censorship and crackdowns have typically targeted reporters working in older media, like newspapers or television.

But the government has increasingly responded to sensitive reports published exclusively online.