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Regulator slammed for telecoms service shutdown in northern Nigeria

Nigeria , 07 Sep 2021

As authorities attempt to address a spate of kidnappings in the northern Nigerian Zamfara state, the country’s telecommunications regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has been heavily criticised for issuing a directive to telecommunications operators to shut down services until 17 September.

A leaked NCC memo signed by the regulator's Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta directed network operators to immediately shut down their services to Zamfara state on 3 September as a result of “a pervading security situation” as security officials look to address the kidnapping of students in the state.

According to the memo, the service disruption would end on 17 September.

Local media reports confirmed over 240 base stations in the state have been shut down, disrupting calls, messaging and internet services.

Justifying the action, officials said the disruption would enable operatives to cut-off communications among the kidnappers, and between kidnappers and victims’ families.

The decision has been met with criticism by civil rights organisations including Nigeria’s Media Rights Agenda (MRA).

In a statement the MRA accused the regulator of “increasingly becoming a tool in the hands of the government for indiscriminate violation of the rights of Nigerians.”

MRA’s Communications Officer, Idowu Adewale said: “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.”

Adewale added that there is no evidence to suggest that shutting down communication services, including access to the internet and telephone communication, helps improve security or prevent terrorist attacks.

“Indeed, common sense 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 terrorist attacks when their services are most needed.”

The organisation urged the regulator to immediately rescind its directive.

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