About 9.2 million Zamfara State residents looking forward to the expiration of the two weeks telecoms service shutdown will have to endure a tortuous, indefinite wait, as the pangs of ‘no network’ continue to bite harder across all segments of the economy.
The total shutdown of telecommunications services was announced on September 3 and was supposed to last two weeks. Now on its 25th day, feelers from government circles have revealed that the shutdown may be indefinite for now, as the Federal Government wants to consolidate on grounds covered so far, and ensure a total crackdown on bandits in the state and neighbouring communities.
While Nigerian security forces have intensified their onslaught against bandits, residents are, however, decrying the disruption the shutdown is causing them.
According to residents, the situation has grounded the economy, with prices of food items now far above 100 per cent for the few ones that are available, while some are already out of reach.
A four-litre gallon of petrol that early this month sold for N8,000 in parts of Zamfara, now sells for between N12,000 and N15,000, which ordinarily should have sold for N660 at N165 per litre. A pack of spaghetti, which prior to the shutdown sold for N250, has moved to N700 within three weeks.
A resident, Gumi Aliu, who just returned from the state, told The Guardian that though the security situation is slightly better, the drastic measure has grounded the state’s economy.
Aliu said only the rich appear not to be affected for now. “The middle class and poor masses are suffering because practically nothing is working. The price of fuel has gone up astronomically. If you don’t have about N4,000, you cannot by a litre of petrol. Worst still, prices of foodstuff are hitting the roof.
“Prior to the shutdown, the economy wasn’t doing well, but that has been aggravated in the last three weeks, and if the shutdown continues, which appears inevitable, there may be nothing to salvage from the state. The people are stuck between insecurity and hunger.”
Aliu also said people are not getting access to bank’s Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) because they are cash strapped.
“The ATMs are not dispensing money. The banks are closed because of the telecoms shutdown. We are in a state of confusion. Yet, the bandits are still operating,” he added.
A National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member, who simply gave his name as Kingsley, appealed to the state government to allow banks to work at full capacity, because people in the state can’t get access to their monies.
“We cannot get money from the ATMs because they are not functional. People cannot eat, pay their bills, even visit hospitals. Government should do something very urgent.”
Kingsley claimed that since the shutdown, he has had no access to family members outside the region, “and that has caused serious apprehension both here in the state and where they are.”
Zamfara State Commissioner for Information, Ibrahim Dosara, has, however, appealed to citizens to bear with the government. Dosara said the government is aware of the hardship citizens are facing, “but we can only appeal for their understanding. What government is doing now is to be able to guarantee the security of life and property.”
A RECENT report by SB Morgen Intelligence has stated that the incomes of residents of Zamfara and Katsina States have been drastically affected by the ban on mobile phone services, particularly Zamfara residents.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had directed telecommunications operators to shut down services in Zamfara, Katsina, and Sokoto states as part of fresh measures to contain banditry in the states. While the shutdown was total in Zamfara, phone services were shut down in at least 13 local government areas of Katsina and 14 local councils in Sokoto.
According to the report, a survey carried out in the affected states shows that many residents have lost their means of income since mobile phone services were shut down. Also, the report stated that the incomes of some of the respondents have reduced drastically since the ban started.x
It stated that the majority of residents who no longer have access to telecommunications services are within the low to middle-income segment, earning between N5,000 and N50,000 per week.
“In Zamfara, 43 per cent of respondents earn between N5,000 and N10,000 per week while 38 per cent of respondents earn N10,000 to N50,000 per week. In Katsina, the vast majority of the affected population earn between N5,000 and N50,000 per week (58 per cent of the respondent sample).
“When asked how their earnings had been affected since the shutdown, we found that six per cent of the respondent pool no longer earn a living,” the report stated.
Continuing, it said: “As regards the military operations, some of the respondents of the survey stated it was not yielding the desired effect on the security situation. In Zamfara, 43 per cent of the respondents think the security situation has since improved, compared to Katsina where only 14 per cent of respondents believe that the security situation in their respective states has improved since the shutdown directives commenced.
“The military has gone on record to say that its operations in the Northwest are turning the tide against the bandits. However, this claim is disputed by residents in all three states, where only a minority think that the situation is improving.
“One of the major underlying drivers of the security situation in the Northwest is poverty. Any action or actions that are taken which indicate an increase in economic hardship must be short-term and closely linked to results, so as not to pour fuel on the fire.
“Another issue with the shutdown of telephone services is the potential lack of accountability for military actions on the battlefield. News coverage out of the Northwest is already sparse, and the directives equate to a media blackout, which means there is only one version of events.”
Speaking on the issue, the President of, National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMs), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, said it appears the shutdown is not effective. “Even with the shutdown, the bandits are still attacking.”
Ogunbanjo urged the state government to alternate the shutdown, “at least two weeks in and two weeks out. So that businesses will not suffer completely. Shutting down completely appears too grave for the state. It has become counterproductive. Subscribers are groaning.”
While the shutdown persists, a member representing Sabon Birni North Constituency in Sokoto State House of Assembly, Aminu Almustapha Gobir, said bandits are now using the mobile phone services of Niger Republic, which shares a border with Nigeria through Sokoto, to coordinate attacks in Nigeria and circumvent the security measure.
The lawmaker, according to a media report, said he received a threat from one of the bandits, who was using the Nigerien network service. “The bandit was threatening to lead his gang to attack me and my community,” he said.
Gobir also confirmed an attack on a military base in the Sabo Birni Local Council of the state.
MEANWHILE, activities of bandits in neighbouring Kaduna State are not abating despite ongoing military operations in the Northwestern region. And on a day 19 Northern governors converged on Kaduna for a meeting, 34 persons were confirmed killed and many houses razed by gunmen in a fresh attack on Madamai village in Kaura council of the state.
In a statement by the state’s Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, two suspects have been arrested in connection with the attack and are being questioned.
Aruwan said troops mobilised to the location also came under fire, before forcing the assailants to withdraw after an intense exchange. He added that some houses were set ablaze by the attackers at one end of the village, while the troops put out the fire at three of the burning houses, and rescued six locals from the inferno.x
According to Aruwan, “as at the time of this update, 34 residents have been confirmed dead following the attack. Seven others sustained injuries and were rushed to a hospital in Plateau State.
“Governor Nasir El-Rufai has stated that the Kaduna State government will bear the full cost of injured victims’ treatment. The governor ordered an urgent assessment of the area by the Kaduna State Emergency Management Agency, towards the provision of succour to affected households.”
In another security update, Aruwan said eight persons were killed in a reprisal attack on Kaura community, Zangon Kataf.
He said: “This attack was in reprisal to earlier attacks in Jankasa village, Zangon Kataf LGA, where one Mr. Yakubu Danjuma was killed, and also in Madamai, Kaura LGA where 34 persons were killed. The attacks in these two locations led to the reprisal by unidentified assailants on Kacecere community, which has left eight persons dead, six persons injured and several houses razed.”x