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Nigeria’s telecommunications under threat as unrest continues

Nigeria’s telecommunications industry is among the most susceptible to threats from ongoing protests against police brutality – or the End SARS campaign, should the situation worsen and remain unresolved.

This is according to risk management executive Alaba Olusemore who believes the protests are taking new and dangerous dimensions in some states and telecommunications installations (including masts) are likely targets.

“If the protests continue, miscreants can seize the opportunity to destroy co-located masts, which will in turn affect the service delivery of several of the telecommunications companies,” he says.

According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) telecommunications attracted about US$942.8-million (N358.26-billion) in Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) in 2019.

The capital inflow is based on figures from the 2019 Subscriber/Network Data which show that the industry experienced a 0.2% drop in the year under review for the total operating cost of MNO and other service providers, with a decline from N1.759 trillion in 2018 to N1.756 trillion in 2019.

Of this amount, major GSM operators - MTN, Airtel, Globacom, and 9Mobile - had their operating cost of N1.461 trillion in 2018 fall to N1.392 trillion in 2019.

The NCC notes that a total of 58,755 base transceiver stations and co-location towers were on installation in 2019 - 34,033 or 58% of which are owned by MNOs - to show that mobile operators added 3,396 new base stations in 2019.

Although there are no reports to date of damage to major telecommunication assets, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce put the total loss and impact on local economy attributed to protests so far at approximately N700-billion (about US$1.8-billion) in 12 days.

Social media’s role

The internet and social media networks have played an instrumental role in drawing attention to the protests.

From raising funds online to drawing crowds, and even encouraging outpouring support for the protests from all over the world, several aspects of the industry have had different forms of interaction with the two-week long protests.

Worldwide, several high profile politicians and individuals – including the most senior bishop in the Church of England, Justin Welby and former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have used social media to express their concern over developments in Nigeria, and engage directly with the country’s President Muhammadu Buhari.

Aside from lending his voice in support of the protests and a special EndSARS emoji of a clenched fist in the Nigerian green and white colours, released by his social media giant, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey also used his handle to seek Bitcoin donation for the protests.

“What Anon did is minor,” wrote Hotel.ng’s Mark Essien on Twitter. “99% of Nigerian Govt websites are very vulnerable. That’s what you get when you collect N30m contract and pay the coder N400k to complete the site. If this matter escalates, I doubt any of those websites will survive it.”

Additionally over 200,000 people have used an online platform to sign a petition asking the UK to impose sanctions against Nigeria's leaders and the police.

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