Major providers of mobile telephony in the country have threatened to withdraw their services from the North.
They hinged their threat on the spate of attacks on base stations which has made them to lose a whopping N1.03bn.
The umbrella body of the telecoms operators, the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, on Thursday said its members were losing too much to the development and may close shop if it became too dangerous to operate in the region.
The major GSM providers – MTN, Glo, Airtel and Etisalat – are all members of ALTON.
Gunmen, also on Thursday reportedly bombed a base station belonging to an indigenous telecoms infrastructure company, IHS Nigeria, in Kano, barely 24 hours after the attack on several base stations in Borno, Yobe, Bauchi and Gombe states.
The Executive Director, Commercial and Business Development, IHS, Mr. Gbenga Onakomaiya, who confirmed the development to our correspondent on Thursday, said one of the company’s base stations was bombed in Borno on Wednesday while another one was bombed in Kano on Thursday morning.
Officials of ALTON put the number of base stations that had been attacked in the north at 26.
President of ALTON, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, who decried the situation, said “If it becomes impossible to continue to do business in the face of rising attacks on telecoms sites, operators will naturally suspend operations in the area.
“This is because beyond base stations, these elements may begin to target telecoms operators‘ offices and data centres among other key infrastructure. That is why it is important that the situation is curtailed before it gets to that point.
“During military coups, dissidents attack newspaper and television houses as well as telecommunications centres and infrastructure to destabilise the government. This is not different from what we are experiencing now as people’s phones can’t be reached in the affected areas.”
The ALTON president said an emergency meeting of the association’s executives had been called for today (Friday) to decide on what next to do.
A Chief Executive Officer of one of the GSM companies, who asked not to be named, said though the company was not contemplating suspending its operations as of now, it could be forced to do so if the situation persisted.
“We are not contemplating the withdrawal of services as of today but if the situation continues like this in the next four to five days, we may have to withdraw service. But we are not contemplating that now,” he said.
Telecoms infrastructure analysts in the country have put the average cost of a base station at $250,000, which amounts to N39.47m at an exchange rate of N157.91 to a dollar as at Thursday.
With 26 base stations already destroyed, an investment of N1.03bn might have gone down the drain.
Contrary to the belief that only MTN, Airtel and Glo were affected, the Executive Secretary, ALTON, Mr. Gbolahan Awonuga, said the attack affected all telecoms operators, including Multilinks and Helios Tower.
When contacted, an official of Helios Tower, said that about three of the company’s base stations were also affected.
He confirmed the report that services had been disrupted in the affected areas as engineers had been finding it difficult to give adequate reports of the situation because they couldn’t be reached.
Onokomaiya, who attested to the seriousness of the situation, said, “One of our base stations was bombed in Borno on Wednesday and another was bombed in Kano this morning (Thursday). The base station was completely burnt out. The generators, shelter and equipment are gone. The only things remaining now are the towers and we have to assess them to ascertain their integrity.”
A formal report sent by Multilinks to ALTON, which was made available to our correspondent, confimed that Multilinks base stations located at Mainok Village, Borno and another one at Abari Village in Damaturu, were damaged.
The report said, “Reports obtained from our personnel indicate that extremists numbering about 40 stormed the area at about 22:20 Hrs on 05/09/2012 and immediately launched an attack on the MTN cell site. After the attack on MTN cell site, the extremists proceeded to our site which is close to the MTN site to launch a similar attack.
“As at this (Thursday) morning, the extent of damage done to the site is yet to be ascertained as contact with the security men is yet to be established after the attack.
“ Also our Abari site in Damaturu which is not on air was reportedly attacked also. Details remain sketchy as those resident in the area were all indoors.”
Stakeholders urged the Federal Government to wade into the issue to ensure that the safety of lives of operators’ personnel and agents was assured.
Key stakeholders had called on the Federal Government to bestow on ICT infrastructure a Critical National Security Infrastructure pending the time appropriate laws would be enacted to strengthen it.
“The time has come for the passing into law of the National Security Bill pending in the National Assembly which must be made all-embracing by giving telecoms industry a critical mention in the bill,” a former Executive Vice- Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission, Mr. Ernest Ndukwe, said.