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Banditry: How Kaduna residents struggled to survive during network shutdown

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RESIDENTS of Kaduna State in North-Western Nigeria struggled so hard to survive the economic hardship and insecurity worsened by the shutdown of telecommunication services by the state government and demanded a reversal of the ban.

The Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs Samuel Aruwan, on September 29 announced several restrictions aimed at addressing the deteriorating security to include the shutdown of telecom services in parts of the state.

Also, a complete ban on the use of motorcycles (popularly known as Okada), for commercial or personal purposes, for three months in the first instance, and a ban on possession of or wielding of dangerous weapons.


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A cessation of weekly markets was also ordered “in the front line local government areas of Birnin Gwari, Giwa, Chikun, Igabi, Kajuru and Kawo” and tricycles are only allowed to operate without curtains from 6 am to 7 pm, while all vehicles used for commercial transport or hiring service must be painted in yellow and black within a period of 30days from the announcement.

Following the decisions of the state government, business activities in several areas have been hampered.

Alexander Odoh, a cloud-based Point of Sale (POS) operator in Chikun local government area who requires internet for her transactions, told The ICIR how the shutdown of telecom services has affected her business negatively.

She said: “In two weeks, I used to make like 30,000 naira but since the network problem started, to even get 6,000 naira is a problem”.

Chidozie whose betting business also requires internet connection to operate told The ICIR “I cannot communicate with my workers, my business deals with cash out, if you can get two or three gains from anywhere, you can contact the owner of that particular shop so they’ll help you cut the game. The other day we had a problem at our shop but there was no way to call the police. The network shutdown is really affecting my business.”

When Nicolas Akhasomhe was transferred by his organization from Lagos state to Kaduna, he did not envisage how difficult it will be to communicate with his wife and the rest of his family in Lagos from his new base in Sabon Tasha, Chikun local government area of Kaduna state. He is agonized by the network shutdown.

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“The government is compounding the problem. If I supposedly get attacked now, I cannot reach the security agencies. People are still getting kidnapped. The network blackout is not helping,” Akhasomhe added.

A 21-year old student and kidnap survivor Salama Adamu (not real name), told The ICIR that she now spends long hours standing at ‘network spots’ in order to connect to the internet to see messages being shared on her school’s group chat and wants the government to reverse the ban.

“I don’t think the network shutdown is helping the clampdown on kidnappers and bandits. We are not hearing any progress. All we’re hearing is they’re still kidnapping people up to date,” she said.

SOURCE: NIGERIA SECURITY TRACKER

Data from Nigeria Security Tracker shows an increase in Kidnapping in Kaduna state within October, the first month of the network shutdown (compared to the previous months of August and September). There was also a significant  increase in the number of bandits killed within the month of October 2021.

In spite of the network shutdown, reports show that the nefarious activities of bandits and kidnappers in the state continue unabated and even demand higher ransoms. While residents bear the inconvenience and economic hardship brought about by the restrictions.

Exasperated travelers departing Kaduna via the Rigasa train station in Igabi local government area also expressed their displeasure after queuing up for over an hour to purchase train tickets to Abuja, having been unable to buy tickets online due to network issues; ticketing officers at the train station were also unable to process ticket, resulting in some anxiety and tension.

The ICIR observed that some commercial motorcycle riders in the affected local government areas who had been rendered jobless, violate the imposed ban on their operation at the risk of getting arrested, in order to meet their financial responsibilities.

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A lawyer and solicitor practicing in Kaduna State, Ibrahim Garba Turaki Esq. describes the network shutdown as political and an unfortunate situation crippling businesses.

“I cannot communicate with clients even when clients are in trouble, clients cannot keep appointments because of the bad network, when we have security challenges, we cannot communicate with security agencies. In fact, the network shutdown is uncalled for, and as lawyers, we will do something about it; we cannot allow someone because he holds power of government to exercise it to the detriment of the people,” Turaki told The ICIR.

Before the shutdown of telecom services in Kaduna state, the shutdown had been enforced in neighbouring states of Katsina, Zamfara, and Sokoto.

One month after the network shutdown in Zamfara state, the former senator representing Zamfara central said the shutdown of telecommunications services in parts of Zamfara had done more harm than good.

On October 1, Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle, directed telecommunication companies to restore network services in Gusau, the state capital.

In Katsina, the Secretary to the Katsina State Government. SSG, Dr. Mustapha Inuwa revealed on Thursday November 18 that bandits now use walkie talkies to bypass the state government’s containment order implemented two months ago.

The ICIR observed that customers at the MTN office in Barnawa, Kaduna South Local Government area were being referred to visit other branches as a result of the network issues in the area.

Other residents lament their ordeal

A teacher in Kajuru local government area of Kaduna State, Gladys Kura told The ICIR how difficult it has been communicating with her husband who lives in Abuja. “I am unable to call and receive information from my colleagues, the fact that I cannot browse is really affecting me” she added.

Grace Nathan, a housewife spoke about the gross inconvenience caused by the network shutdown. “I cannot reset my cable TV subscription because there is no way to call the customer care line from my home”.

Kujama residents making mobile calls and POS Transactions on the rocks

Residents in the affected areas have now identified certain ‘network spots’ where they visit, spend several hours just to make phone calls, and perform online transactions. Most times they spend this time standing, or sitting on rocks and gutter pavements as they anxiously wait for the fluctuating signals.

Theresa Martins speaking to The ICIR

Every morning and evening Theresa Martins leaves her home to visit a network spot. She told The ICIR that her relatives outside the state are worried for her safety whenever they’re unable to reach her because of the network shutdown.“ My data subscription keeps expiring without being used. I am appealing to the government to sort the issue out.” She pleads.

Editi Effiong, founder and CEO of one Nigeria’s leading digital tech companies took to social media describing the network shutdown in Kaduna as ‘crazy’.

“It’s really hard to imagine till you experience it. It’s like teleporting back to 1995. I feel so bad for people who have to live through that,” he tweeted.

Kaduna State government’s position

Kaduna State’s Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan insists that the advantages of the telecommunications shutdown outweigh the disadvantages.

“I don’t want to go into details but what I want people to know that the advantages of the shutdown surpasses the disadvantages and we are making progress”. He said this on Thursday November 18, at a two day workshop on Public-Private Dialogue on Education and Insecurity: Government and Community Efforts Towards Sustainable Education in Kaduna State.

A security expert, Timothy Avele told The ICIR that the positive effect from the telecom shutdown is very little because it was done as a reactive measure instead of being a proactive one.

“The bandits do not rely on Telecom infrastructure to carry out their evil deeds. In fact, the shutdown affects the security agencies negatively more especially in the area of time Intelligence information reporting from the locals. On the other hand, the shutdown gives the bandits, kidnappers and terrorists the free hands to operate for hours or even days without being challenged.”

Avele suggests using advanced technology to cut off terrorist communication while allowing locals to communicate freely. “Better still allow communication, then let Intelligence agencies monitor bandits communication which is far better than shutting everyone from Telecom services. The Telecom shutdown is reactive, not sustainable and not good for law-enforcement Intelligence or tactical operations”. He added.

On November 10 The ICIR visited the MTN Office located in Barnawa to speak to the officials as regard the impact of the government policy on its business but one of the officials directed the reporter to the MTN head office in the state.

From the head office, The ICIR was further referred to the firm’s Spokesperson Funsho Aina but efforts to reach him failed as he did not respond to several calls to his line

On Monday, November 15 he was sent a text message but Aina did not reply

Precisely on Wednesday, November 17, he was contacted but the MTN line was busied after it rang severally.

The ICIR attempted to get a reaction from the Association of Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) but its Chairman, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo failed to respond to his calls.

This report is produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD). 

UPDATE:

Kaduna State Government suspended the shutdown of telecom operation on Friday, November 26, 2021.

Pamela Ephraim is a multimedia journalist and fact-checker at The International Center for Investigative Reporting. You can email her via [email protected] or connect on twitter @Pamephraim.

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