By Adeyemi Adepetun
EXCEPT for the speedy intervention of the Presidency, some 45 million Nigerians may suffer telecoms blackout in the country.
Telecommunications operators issued this warning on Monday and have called on President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo to intervene in the matter.
The operators under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) raised the alarm, following the shutting down of telecommunications facilities in Kogi State as a result of disputes arising from what it described as unusual taxes and levies demanded by the Kogi State Government through Its Internal Revenue Service (KIRS).
ALTON said the implication of this is that 10 states, including the Federal Capital Territory may witness service blackout. The telecoms body stressed that the issue is likely to lead to a total communications blackout in the entire Kogi State, parts of Abuja 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.
Checks by upfrontdigital.ng showed that the aforementioned states house some 45 million Nigerians. Specifically, Kogi has 4.2 million population; Abuja 3.6 million; Nassarawa 2.5 million; Benue 4.2 million; Enugu 4.4 million; Anambra 5.5 million; Edo, 4.2 million; Ondo 4.6 million; Ekiti 3.2 million; Kwara 3.1 million and Niger 5.5 million. Interestingly, 80 per cent of the land mass in these states has been covered by telecoms operators.
ALTON in a statement signed its Chairman and Head of Operations, Gbenga Adebayo and Gbolahan Awonuga respectively, explained that the situation arises as a number of critical telecommunications sites belonging to its members have been closed and sealed up by Kogi State Government in an attempt to increase its Internally Generated Revenue IGR Collection.
This action, according to the telecoms body, followed an ex-parte court order obtained by the KIRS over unsubstantiated allegations that our members are in default of tax payments to the state government (which is not the truth) and access to these critical telecoms sites has been denied.
“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 indiscriminate action has the potential of further leading to a total telecommunications outage in Kogi State with neighboring states and parts of the Federal Capital Territory adversely impacted,” ALTON stated.
The body informed that to the best of its knowledge, 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.
According to ALTON, these charges; yearly Right of Way (ROW) renewal; Social Services contribution; Employee Economic Development Levy; mast site premises renewal and Fire service yearly renewal.
Others, ALTON claimed are from the kogi State Environmental Protection Board. They include; payment of environmental levy; failure to submit an environmental impact assessment report; 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.
Describing the situation as worrisome, ALTON called on President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who is driving the Presidential Enable Business Council on Ease of doing business in Nigeria to prevail on the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello (a Presidential Aspirant) to reign in on the matter to prevent a total blackout 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.