There were fears at the weekend that mobile phone operators whose facilities have been targets of attacks by people suspected to be members of the violent Islamic group, Boko Haram, may have lost close to N20 billion to the attacks.
The umbrella body of telecommunication operators, the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), has, however, threatened that its members - MTN, GLO, Airtel and Etisalat-would cut off telecoms services in the North in the face of the unrelenting attacks on public buildings and telecommunications facilities in some Northern states.
Gunmen on Thursday bombed a base station belonging to an indigenous telecoms infrastructure company, IHS Nigeria, in Kano, barely 24 hours after similar attacks on several base stations in Borno, Yobe, and Bauchi and Gombe states.
Communication in the state through the cell phones has been disrupted.
ALTON chairman Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, who confirmed the devastating impact of the terrorist attacks on telecoms facilities in the Northern part of the country, told THISDAY on Friday that his members had lost over 25 base stations to the attacks as at Thursday.
Although he said it was difficult to put a financial figure to the losses, he explained that a base station costs between N500 million and N1 billion depending on the configuration of such base station.
Adebayo, who disclosed that a former report had been made to the appropriate authorities including security agencies and the regulator in the telecoms sector, National Communications Commission (NCC), said the Federal Government should be decisive in its intervention in the onslaught against the telecoms firms.
He said it would be erroneous to see telecoms firms as the main losers in the attacks, saying millions of Nigerians who are being denied the opportunity of telephone services in the Northern part of the country are the real losers.
The ALTON chief explained that some of the sites that were attacked were hub sites, which means they are made up of multiple stations, adding, however, that government should be worried that a part of the country cannot be reached on phone as a result of the attacks on telecoms facilities in the area.
“It is an attack on subscribers; these are the people that are at the receiving end of the services. These are Nigerians, whose lives depend on telecoms services,” he said.
Earlier, he warned that unless the attacks on his members’ facilities were halted, telecoms firms would cut service to the Northern part of the country.
“If it becomes impossible to continue to do business in the face of rising attacks on telecoms sites, operators will naturally suspend operations in the area, adding; “this is because beyond base stations, these elements may begin to target telecoms operators‘offices and data centers among other key infrastructure. That is why it is important that the situation is curtailed before it gets to that point. “
Reports have it that one of the telecoms firms’ base stations was bombed in Borno on Wednesday while another one was bombed in Kano on Thursday morning.
Just like they did in Borno State, the terrorists set ablaze the service-base masts of Airtel, Glo and Etisalat in Potiskum and Damaturu on Thursday.
The JTF in Borno State said saturday that terrorists’ attacks on telecoms masts were designed to “disrupt” communication services and prevent residents from providing information on the activities of gunmen to the military and the police so that they can protect lives and property.
JTF spokesman Lt.-Col. Sagir Musa, in a press statement issued in Maiduguri, said the terrorists had turned to the destruction of Global System of Mobile Communication (GSM) masts and other communication facilities in some areas of Maiduguri to frustrate residents from giving the military vital information.
Meanwhile, contrary to the claims of ALTON leadership that it had made a formal complaint to the regulatory authorities, officials of NCC said on Friday that it was still awaiting a formal report from the affected telecoms firms.
NCC’s Director of Public Affairs Tony Ojobor was quoted as saying that the commission had not received a formal report on the number of base stations affected in the attack and their locations, adding that as a regulator, the commission expects service providers to get in touch with it whenever there are issues affecting quality of service in the country.
Also, an official of the commission, Reuben Mouka, said as at Thursday, no report had been made on the attacks on facilities of telecoms operators in the North.
Ojobor said NCC was calling for a quick passage of the Telecom Infrastructure bill, which seeks to make telecommunication infrastructure a critical national infrastructure.
Ojobor who made the appeal yesterday in Abuja, said the bill, if passed into law, would make it a criminal offence and economic sabotage for anyone to vandalise telecoms infrastructure in the country.