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Insecurity: Telecoms lock down Zamfara’s 2.1 million phone users, service disruptions in parts of Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Niger, Kaduna

• Telcos shut down Zamfara State’s 248 base transceiver stations
• Expert sees action going beyond two weeks

With mobile network operators (MNOs) having complied with Federal Government’s (FG) order to shut down services in Zamfara State, some 2.1 million subscribers in the state have been cut off from the networks.

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. By the FG’s directive, it means that for the next two weeks, these sets of subscribers won’t have access to any form of telephony services.

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 shut down.

Industry experts explained that a service signal from a cell tower could reach up to 45 miles away, depending on the technology of the cellphone network.

They claimed that every base station communicates with each other. By so doing, the impact on Zamfara will affect adjourning cities and communities in Northwestern Nigeria.

The experts stressed that to achieve a total shutdown of service, the operators would also have to shut some of their sites in the neighbouring states as directed by the regulator.

Recall that the FG had on September 3, citing rising cases of insecurity in Zamfara and adjourning cities, ordered the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to direct all telecommunications providers operating in the region to shut down services in the state.

This was seen as the last move that may totally shut down every economic activity in Zamfara as the Governor, Bello Matawalle, had earlier last week announced the closure of all weekly markets in the state as part of measures to address the worsening security situation.

According to a letter addressed to Chief Executive Officers of the telecoms companies, a copy of which was sighted by The Guardian, the decision is “to enable relevant security agencies to carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenges in the state.”

The letter titled “Re: Shutdown of All Telecom Sites in Zamfara State” was signed by the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta.

This was after 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.”

On the impact of 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. On 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 till another two months. As much as there would be losses to operators, FG has the edge when it comes to security matters.”

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 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.”

The Forum, therefore, called on the FG to assist states to relieve communities that were living under additional pressures.

This story originally appeared in The Guardian

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