Telecommunication operators in the country have raised the alarm that about nine states and the federal capital territory (FCT), Abuja may be affected by imminent shutdown of telecommunication services unless the federal government intervene to stop the shutdown of their facilities in the country.
National chairman, Association of Licenced Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Engr. Gbenga Adebayo who led the national executives of the association to make the declaration in Lagos yesterday, said about 150 base transceiver stations have gone down as at yesterday afternoon due to lockdown of their masts in Kogi state over disputed charges and levies.
Adebayo disclosed that the lockdown of the telecom facilities was carried out by the Ministry of Environment and physical planning, Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, Kogi State Environmental Protection Board, championed by the Kogi State Internal Revenue Service (KIRS).
He said the issue could lead to a total communications shutdown in the entire Kogi State, parts of the Federal Capital Territory and possible impact on service availability in some parts of the following States: Nassarawa, Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara, Niger States. These are States sharing borders with Kogi State.
Adebayo also said the situation arose as a number of critical telecommunications sites belonging to ALTON members have been closed and sealed up by Kogi state government in an attempt to increase its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) collection.
“As result of these actions by the state government, our members are unable to refuel power generators in these sites, a situation which has led to outage of over 70 sites including hub sites across parts of Kogi State. Now, with likely impact on Nine States surrounding Kogi (namely: Nasarawa, Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara, Niger states. These are states sharing borders with Kogi state), and Abuja the FCT inclusive.
“We are very concerned that this action has the potential of leading to a total telecommunications outage in Kogi state with neighboring states and parts of the Federal Capital Territory adversely impacted. To the best of our knowledge, our members have settled all statutory levies and taxes due to the Kogi state government and have taken necessary steps to comply with local laws that govern business activities within Kogi state.
“This situation is very worrisome and of great concern and we hereby call on President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is driving the Presidential Enable Business Council on Ease of doing business in Nigeria to prevail on the Kogi State government to rescind its decision in order to prevent a total shut down in communications services in Kogi, FCT and other nine states of the federation which are now under threat due to what is happening to our network in Kogi state.” He also said the telecom operators have also made several overtures to KIRS in the past months in a bid to resolve the disputed issues amicably but the agency has remained adamant. “Rather than resort to the Tax Arbitration Tribunal for intervention as it is expected of a government agency, KIRS has resorted to subtle intimidation by getting the sites shutdown in a bid to coerce our members into accepting the illegal taxes and levies,” he said.
ALTON is worried that the action by KIRS will jeopardize communication services provided by us to security agencies such as the Nigeria Police Force, the Armed Forces in addition and to other emergency and social services in Kogi and other neighboring states. This will include affecting communication links to Banks’ Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) across those states.
ALTON said the outage currently being experienced is already affecting the ability of their members to provide uninterrupted service delivery to commercial banks, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other critical agencies of government in the aforementioned locations.
“It is pertinent to note that the office of the National Security Adviser to Mr. President has in the past communicated to the 36 state governments on the fact that telecommunications sites are Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). They are critical socio-economic and security infrastructure. The agency had strongly advised against sealing them as such actions would have negative implications on national security,” the association’s chairman said.
ALTON said some the charges levied on their members in Kogi include Annual Right of Way (ROW) renewal, Social Services contribution, Employee Economic Development Levy, Mast site premises renewal, Fire service yearly renewal, Payment of environmental levy, Failure to submit an environmental impact assessment report.
Others are: Failure to register industry; Failure to submit environmental audit report every two years; Storage of petroleum products and radioactive materials without written permission from KSEPB; Failure to comply with setbacks to roads, power lines and rivers/streams; and Dumping of toxic or hazardous substances or hazardous substances or harmful waste without KSEPB approval.