Recent attack on telecommunications facilities in the north is bad for the economy. Better security could fix it
The recent attack on telecommunications facilities in some northern states represents a shift in the war declared by a terror group on the Nigerian state. This new dimension constitutes an attack not just on telecommunications operators in the country but by extension an attack on free speech and the spirit of enterprise.
According to media reports, some unknown persons had on the night of Monday, September 10, in a coordinated operation, launched attacks on telecommunications masts located in the cities of Kano, Maiduguri, Gombe, Bauchi and Potiskum. The assault continued over the next few days resulting in heavy damage to facilities belonging to MTN, Glo, Airtel, Etisalat, Multilinks, and other service providers.
In claiming responsibility for the dastardly attacks, Boko Haram said they were meant to register its anger against the networks which it accused of providing security agencies with detailed information on their members by disclosing their possible whereabouts through the companies call logs and tracking systems.
Although Boko Haram had earlier this year warned that it was going to wage a war on telecom service providers, no one expected the kind of mass attack in which 25 base transceiver stations (BTS) belonging to nearly all the major GSM operators in the country and other infrastructure service providers would be bombed within a space of four days.
Industry analysts have put the damage to the base stations at over a trillion naira, saying it would cost anything between $250,000 and $1m to build a new BTS depending on location and other factors. The tragedy of this development is the difficulty it will impose on the people of the entire northern region before the operators are able to rebuild their destroyed infrastructure.
There is no doubt that the destruction of the telecommunication facilities poses a serious threat to the progress already recorded in the industry over the past 11 years. The negative side of the development is that it would also ensure information black out from the affected areas. Transmission and reception of voice and data services would be a near impossible task. And for these companies which were already facing the challenges of improving on their poor services, the problem will become even more herculean now that they would have to deploy funds to the building of new masts.
In fact the ripple effects of the attacks do not stop at the destruction of these facilities. The positive impact of the growth of the information and communication technology on the nation’s economy in the wake of the GSM revolution can be seen in the areas of electronic banking such as ATM services, online financial transactions, international credit and debit card facilities, airline ticketing and reservations.
On the overall, the nation has witnessed tremendous growth, sophistication, security and quick transactions of business in the financial sector. Therefore the nation cannot fold hands and watch enemies of progress reverse these gains. There is also the social cost of the attack on GSM operators as employees in the affected states now face grim future unless the masts could be quickly rebuilt and normal services restored.
We therefore urge the security agencies to intensify surveillance around the telecommunications facilities and installations not just in the affected northern states but across the states of the federation. The lesson here is that henceforth any threat of possible attack by terrorist organisations should be taken seriously. Perhaps if Boko Haram’s warning in February that it was going to strike at the telecommunications companies was heeded and security measure put in place to secure the facilities, the damage could probably have been limited. All the same, it is never too late to take further precautionary measures in view of the recent incident.