Wednesday , December 1 2021
Reactions as 2.1 Million Phone Subscribers Lose Access in Zamfara, Others Suffer Telecoms Service Disruption

Reactions as 2.1 Million Phone Subscribers Lose Access in Zamfara, Others Suffer Telecoms Service Disruption



Multiple reactions have trailed the shutting down of telecommunications services in Zamfara as directed by the regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission last week.

Recall, Business Remarks reported that the shutdown in Zamfara is expected to last for two weeks.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that Zamfara has 2,177,431 active subscribers from 2,337,893 connected lines, while Internet users are around 1.59 million.

Business Remarks learnt that Zamfara State has about 248 base stations, which have now been shut down.

The NCC in its ‘2020 Subscriber/Network Data Report’, pointed out that there were a total of 33,832 towers belonging to mobile and fixed operators as well as collocation and infrastructure companies in 2020, while the operators had a total of 36,998 base stations.

The report noted that Jigawa, Ebonyi, Gombe, Yobe and Zamfara were the states with the least number of base stations, with Zamfara having 248 base stations. It, however, listed the top five states with the highest number of towers as Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Rivers and the Federal Capital Territory.

According to the report, a base station is a fixed transceiver that functions as the main communication point for one or more wireless mobile devices, adding that it serves as a central connection point for wireless devices to communicate.

Further implications of the blackout, which saw the quartet of MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile shutting down their 248 base transceiver stations that service Zamfara communities, is that some parts of Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Niger and Kaduna will be impacted greatly by the shutdown.

Experts stressed that to achieve a total shutdown of service, the operators would also have to shut some of their sites in Zamfara neighbouring states as directed by the regulator, Business Remarks has earlier reported.

A letter dated August 31, written to the NCC from the office of Zamfara State Governor, asking for the shutdown of telecoms service in the state.

Part of the letter reads: “Following the escalation of insecurity in the state, the Zamfara State Security Council resolved that extra measures for public safety and strengthening the battle against banditry in the state should be taken. Accordingly, a task force was set up to ensure that the new measures are enforced.

“The Council noted that one of the greatest hurdles to combating banditry is the issue of informers, who use mobile networks to communicate with bandits about the movements of troops. The bandits also take advantage of the availability of the networks to coordinate their attacks.”

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Also speaking the Zamfara State Commissioner for Information in Zamfara State, Ibrahim Dosara, says the military onslaught against the bandits is yielding tremendous success especially since the shutdown of telecoms services in the state.

On the impact of the shutdown, a telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, said this is not about revenue loss. “We are not disputing the fact the operators are bound to lose money this period, but it is the security of lives that matter most. In this situation, the Federal Government can act because of national security.”

An official of one of the telecoms service providers said operators had since September 3 shut down services in Zamfara as directed by the FG.

The official said going by the spate of banditry activities in the region, “I see Federal Government extending the directive beyond the two weeks. If care is not taken, it may extend to another two months. As much as there would be losses to operators, FG has the edge when it comes to security matters.”

Speaking earlier on this, the source in ALTON said the telecom operators had no choice but to implement the directive of the NCC in Zamfara, being the regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry.

According to the source said, “It is the NCC that sent the letter and it is for all of the operators. When the government gives directives or when the regulator gives a directive what do you expect the telcos to do?

“Looking at what it means for the residents, we have to ask ourselves why the telecom infrastructure was shut down in the first place. That is the question the citizens should be asking. It is for their benefit. I cannot comment on how the shutting down order works, because as we are speaking, they are listening to us.”

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HOWEVER, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has asked governors to go beyond the imposition of economic and social lockdown on communities besieged by terrorists, and facilitate an aggressive and effective military assault on the bandits. The Forum also advised the governors against allowing the perception that communities were on their own, even in the face of allowing severe security threats, to take deeper roots.

NEF Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, made this known in a statement yesterday titled: ‘Security of Besieged Communities.’

The Forum said: “We are closely following the condition of many Northern communities that have become particularly vulnerable to attacks and abuse by bandits, kidnappers and related organised criminals.

“Measures being taken by some state governments such as suspension of weekly markets, restrictions on the sale of petrol, closure of schools and some roads, curfews, movement of cattle and plans to restrict communication will compound the desperate conditions of living of many communities in the North.

“These measures represent virtual economic and social lockdowns on people who had been at the mercy of criminals for a long time. Unless they are accompanied by an aggressive and effective assault on the banditry and kidnapping industry, they will merely add to the misery and hopelessness of our communities.

“Worse, they could further embolden the bandit and the kidnappers when it becomes clear that governments and security agencies cannot go beyond lockdowns on communities.

“Communities themselves will lose even more faith in the capacity of the Nigerian State to respond to their desperate circumstances. The perception that communities are on their own must never be allowed to take deeper roots, but it will, when people see only the bandit and the kidnapper winning.

“State governments imposing additional hardships on communities must know that the measures they are introducing must produce tangible results within a period that makes them meaningful and tolerable.”

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Also, a group, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) condemned NCC’s directive on this describing the measure as an unwarranted and unjustifiable interference with the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

In a statement issued in Lagos yesterday, the MRA Communications Officer, Mr. Idowu Adewale, alleged that the NCC, which is supposed to be a regulatory agency, has increasingly become a tool in the hands of the federal government to indiscriminately violate the rights of Nigerians.

The group alleged that “there is no evidence anywhere in the world that shutting down communication services, including access to the internet and telephone communication, helps improve security, prevent terrorist attacks, or stop them.”

Security Experts Reaction to Service Shutdown, Disruption

Some security experts have disagreed with the Federal Government over the suspension of telecommunications service in Zamfara State, while some others described it as a right step in the right direction.

A former Director of the Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, described the move as a welcome development, saying if there was no conducive environment, they couldn’t do their business.

He added, “The bandits must be stopped from moving and communicating with themselves and even victims. This action of the government will create a problem for them. We should go beyond rhetorics in tackling insecurity in this country. To me, this move is intelligence-driven.
“The bandits need to be demobilised. Apart from this decision, we should deploy drones to some areas in the state to monitor these bandits as well as deny them free movement. This move must also be sustained.”

Security management and intelligence specialist, Kabiru Adamu, said since he understood what the government was trying to achieve, it might not yield the desired result.

He stated, “We have seen other places where this was tried and it failed. One of the reasons is that some of these locations are border communities, thus it is easy to use lines that are from neighbouring countries. I doubt if the government has reached out to its counterparts in these countries to also ban the usage of their lines in the state and adjourning communities.

“Second, there are satellite phones; these bandits have money. They can resort to using one. Also, there are digital radios that can go as far as 100km and even more. There are options for them to deploy to enable them to still communicate. The efficacy of this policy is in doubt.”

Adamu also said this would have a great impact on businesses in Zamafara and other neighbouring area.

“Many businesses today run through telecommunications. We should not forget that it is not just voice communication; there are a lot of platforms. It would affect the business ecosystem of the state.”

Also, the Managing Director, Agent-X Security Limited, Timothy Avele, said the shutdown would further bring untold hardship to the people of Zamfara, adding that there were better ways to block information leakages with technology.

He added that the military could do a simple swap of the operations personnel and that a strict need-to-know policy must be implemented to the core. “The truth is that these operations are supposed to be purely intelligence-based,” he added. “Therefore, it is not everything even the President or the Chief of Army Staff should be aware of until after the operations.”

Speaking to one of our correspondents on the issue, Commodore Abimbola Ayuba (retd.) said more attention should be focused on information leakages, adding that the bandits had sophisticated equipment.

He added, “There is a lot of infiltration into the fabrics of our governance system to the extent that information leakage has become common. This needs more attention; we should tackle this first before shutting down telecoms services in Zamfara .”


About Bukola Olanrewaju

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