Nigeria’s telcos have hailed the Wednesday arrest of 11 suspected members of outlawed Islamic militia group Boko Haram, with attacks by the group reported to have cost the operators close to N20 billion (US$ 127m).
Thisday Live reported at the weekend that mobile phone operators had made sizeable losses after their facilities had been the targets of attacks by suspected be members of Boko Haram.
The group claims it is fighting to revive what it says an “ancient Islamic state” in the northern parts of Nigeria. The insurgency has claimed the lives of hundreds of people since 2009.
Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) chairman, which represents MTN, GLO, Airtel and Etisalat, said early this week that the telcos would cut off the north as the terrorist group continues destroying base stations and other public facilities.
According to reports, Boko Haram blames the telcos for helping the state’s forces track movements of their members.
“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,” said Adebayo. “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,” he said.
According to last week’s reports, communications were disrupted in several northern states after the terrorist group bombed several base stations in Borno, Yobe, and Bauchi and Gombe states and an IHS Nigeria base station in Kano, bringing the number of base stations attacked to 25.
Adebayo on Friday confirmed the attacks to Thisday Live, adding that a single base station cost around N500 million (US$ 3.2 million) and N1 billion (US$ 6.3 million) without the processes involved. The 25 base stations are likely to have cost more, he said, pleading with the security agencies and the Nigerian Communications Council to intervene.
Apart from losses incurred directly by the telcos, he also added that lack of telephone services to the population in the affected parts could not be quantified.
“It is an attack on subscribers; these are the people that are at the receiving end of the services. These are Nigerians, whose lives depend on telecoms services,” he said.
The Federal Government has not been silent about Boko Haram, and has led attacks against them even as it tries to have talks with its leaders. There have been claims that the group is funded by a UK based charity.
According to the BBC, Boko Haram was founded in Maiduguri in 2002. In July 2009 it began a violent uprising after Maiduguri police captured and killed the sect leader Mohammed Yusuf.
In December 2010 Boko Haram bombed Jos, killing 80 people, and claimed responsibility for the New Year’s eve attack on Abuja barracks. Between June and August last year, the group bombed Abuja police headquarters and the United Nations premises.