FG Explains Shutdown of Telecomms Activities in Zamfara

FG Explains Shutdown of Telecomms Activities in Zamfara

…Says it Was Done at the Behest of Security Agencies The Federal Government of Nigeria has revealed that the shutdown of telecommunication activities to check banditry in Zamfara State, Northwest Nigeria was done at the behest of security agencies. The explanation came against the gale of condemnation by media rights groups which say the action

…Says it Was Done at the Behest of Security Agencies

The Federal Government of Nigeria has revealed that the shutdown of telecommunication activities to check banditry in Zamfara State, Northwest Nigeria was done at the behest of security agencies.

The explanation came against the gale of condemnation by media rights groups which say the action was an “unwarranted and unjustifiable interference with the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”

Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Mr Isa Pantami, who disclosed this to State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, FCT, stated that the measure did not originate from his ministry.

He further explained that when the security agencies proposed it as an effective way to curtail the bandits, the federal government did not object to it.

He appealed to Nigerians to show understanding of the measure and support the efforts of the security agencies.

Pantami said, “I want to clarify to all of us that the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999, Section 14, Subsection 2, under Article B, has expounded to us that the primary responsibility of government is the security and welfare of its citizens.

“Understanding the priority of security makes the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) always make sure that our priority number one is security because this is what the Constitution says and any action to be taken, as long as it will support security institutions to achieve and deliver their responsibilities, the government is willing to do that for them.

“Furthermore, security issues cannot be discussed in public like this. Most importantly, I am not in a better position to justify the shutting down of telecommunications because of security. I am aware of the shutting down, but the request is not from us. Rather, the request is from the security institutions, in which they asked for that as part of their strategy.

“Because of this, the government allowed them to go ahead and even that one, the reason for doing that I may be aware of some, but I’m sorry to say it’s not for public discussion. What I only plead with all of us, as laymen, we should try to give our security institutions the support they need to deliver on their mandate.

“Security issues today are not only for the security institutions alone, but there is a role that each and every citizen can play in order to make their work more successful. So, I plead with the media to support our security institutions and let us give them the benefit of doubt; when they come up with a strategy, let us not unnecessarily criticise it, except we allow them to begin and see.

“Particularly, they could have information at their disposal that you and I do not have and if you lack information, you will not be able to do justice in your deliberation. It is only when there is sufficient information at your disposal, then you can argue, but if you don’t have it, even if you partake in any debate, you will finally discover that you have made a very wrong decision.

So, it is because of this. This is originally a request from Zamfara State government, in which they have requested the federal government to support them and Mr. President, as we always know that his priority is security and he always listens to complaints and new strategies on how to handle so he is very much aware.

“It is a trial, let us support them and based on the information we have been reading and hearing through the media that tremendous successes have been recorded so far.

“So, we need to support them to make sure that our country is secured and this is going to be good for all of us, the Minister says.

The nation’s frontline media advocacy groups, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the International Press Centre, had stridently condemned the September 3 directive by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to telecommunications companies to immediately shutdown all telecommunications services in Zamfara State, ostensibly as a result of the “pervading security situation” in the State, 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, MRA’s Communications Officer, Mr. Idowu Adewale, noted that the NCC, which is supposed to be a regulatory agency, has increasingly become a tool in the hands of the Federal Government for the indiscriminate violation of the rights of Nigerians, arguing that “Such purported exercise of power without safeguards to deny communications services not only to the residents of Zamfara State, but also to other people everywhere who have family members, friends, loved one as well as other social or business relations in the State of the right to communicate with them, without judicial or any other form of independent oversight, cannot be justified under any circumstance.”

Besides, he said, “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 to stop them. Indeed, commonsense and available evidence indicate that the more likely result from such a measure is that the operations of security agencies and emergency services will be thwarted by the obstruction of vital public communications during periods of terrorists attacks when their services are most needed.”

Mr. Adewale observed that there was already ample support for this proposition from the Nigerian experience when in 2013, the Government also shut down telecommunications services in three states in the north-east, namely Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, also ostensibly to disrupt Boko Haram’s communication capacity and its ability to use telecommunications to plan, coordinate and launch terrorist attacks.

He recalled that “the experience from that period was that not only did terrorist attacks by Boko Haram insurgents continue throughout the period when telecommunication services were cut off, but in many instances the attacks actually appeared to have intensified.”

Mr. Adewale cited a study conducted on that incident entitled “Silencing Boko Haram: Mobile Phone Blackout and Counterinsurgency in Nigeria’s Northeast region”, which was published in an international security journal known as “Stability: International Journal of Security & Development”, Volume 4(1).

According to him, the study clearly showed that “the disruption of telecommunication services was counterproductive as it caused a lot of frustration and anxiety among people in the area and heightened their sense of insecurity because they were unable to determine what is going on around them, could not access important news and information, could not reach emergency services and could not check in on their loved ones.”

Citing a view expressed by a focus group participant quoted in the study, who felt that the three states in the north-east region of the country where telecommunications services were shutdown were no longer part of Nigeria as “we were cut off from life and from everyone and everything else in Nigeria,” he said expert opinions indicate that shutting down telecommunications and Internet services is likely to cause more harm than good because such sentiments have been known to drive ordinary citizens to become terrorist sympathisers as the propaganda of militant and insurgents begin to resonate with them in the face of such realities.

Mr. Adewale therefore called on the NCC to immediately rescind its directive to the telecommunications companies and urged security agencies to find more innovative and effective ways to address the security situation that are nonetheless consistent with the Government’s human rights obligations as the indiscriminate and widespread violation of the rights of people as a condition for protecting them is not only abhorrent but itself a violation of human rights norms and principles.

Also expressing concern on the NCC directive, Executive Director, International Press Centre, Mr Lanre Arogundade contends that “with advances in science and communication, it should be possible for the military to engage in the technological pursuit of criminal elements including bandits without shutting the whole state down.”

Wondering why the country’s authorities are sometimes enmeshed in knee jerk responses, the former chairperson, Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), noted that, “The shut down will obviously affect businesses and impinge on the right to free expression on the Internet.”

“The directive could also have negative implication for the operation of the media in the online environment, which also has a way of affecting freedom of the press,” Arogundade said.

According to the letter sent out by NCC to all telecoms operators, dated September 3, 2021, and signed by its Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, NCC said the prevailing security situation in Zamfara State, necessitated the immediate shutdown of all telecommunications services in the state from Friday night.

The shutdown order would last for two weeks in the first instance, beginning from September 3, 2021, after which the security situation in the state would be reviewed.

Some telecoms experts, who spoke to THISDAY newspapers concerning the directive, said the measure, though timely, would affect businesses and communications among telecoms subscribers.

They expressed worries over the losses that the directive would pose on businesses and called on the federal government to devise other means of tracking and arresting kidnappers across the country.

Following the rising cases of kidnapping in the country and the recent kidnapping of 73 students from a public school in Zamfara State, the state government last week, announced a dusk to dawn curfew across the state and also shut down all schools.

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