Telecom blackout: Killings, abductions continue in Zamfara, two-week shutdown extended

The shutdown of all telecommunications sites in the state, as directed by the Nigerian Communications Commission, seems to have been extended. This is because efforts to reach many residents of the state failed as calls to the mobile lines of many residents failed to connect, despite the fact that the shutdown was to last for two weeks “in the first instance”.

As of Saturday evening, September 25, several calls by our correspondents to different people in the state failed to connect, which signalled that the shutdown has not been lifted in Zamfara State. Shuaibu also said in his interview that they had been travelling to Sokoto State to make phone calls as they had been unable to do so in their own state.

Saturday PUNCH had exclusively reported on September 4 that a leaked memo signed by the Executive Vice-Chairman of the NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta, which was addressed to one of the telecom operators on Friday, stated that the immediate shutdown of all telecommunications services had become necessary due to the insecurity in the state.

In the letter titled, ‘Re: Shutdown of all telecom sites in Zamfara State’, the NCC boss stated that the shutdown, which was to last from September 3 to September 17 in the first instance, was to enable relevant security agencies to carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenge in the state.

The memo partly read, “In line with the requirement, you are hereby directed to shut down all sites in Zamfara State and any site(s) in neighbouring states that could provide telecommunications service in Zamfara State. The site shutdown is for two weeks (September 3 – 17, 2021) in the first instance. Your urgent action in this regard is required.”

Sunday PUNCH had on September 5 reported that the action taken by the NCC was its response to a request letter from the Office of the Governor of Zamfara State to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.

Sunday PUNCH had subsequently reported that over 240 base stations were shut down in Zamfara State.

Prior to the network shutdown, Zamfara State and some other states in the North-West, including Kaduna, Katsina and Sokoto as well as Niger State in the North Central had come under heavy attacks from the bandits. Apart from invading schools to kidnap schoolchildren coupled with the abduction of women and men for ransoms, the bandits had also killed several residents and security agents.

The bandits have also become more brazen as they shot down a fighter jet belonging to the Nigerian Air Force on July 18. Even though the pilot of the aircraft, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo, was able to escape, the bandits continued their attacks on him until he was able to escape.

NAF spokesperson, Edward Gabkwet, said in a statement, “On 18 July 2021, at about 12.45 pm, a Nigerian Air Force Alpha Jet aircraft, returning from a successful air interdiction mission between the boundaries of Zamfara and Kaduna State, came under intense enemy fire which led to its crash in Zamfara State.

“Luckily, the gallant pilot of the aircraft, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo, successfully ejected from the aircraft. Using his survival instincts, the pilot, who came under intense ground fire from the bandits, was able to evade them and sought refuge in nearby settlements awaiting sunset.

“Using the cover of darkness and his phone set for navigation, Flight Lieutenant Dairo was able to elude several bandits’ strongholds and manoeuvred his way to a Nigerian Army Unit, where he was finally rescued.”

The activities of the bandits reached their crescendo on August 24 when the armed criminals in the early hours of the day assaulted the country’s military college, Nigerian Defence Academy, in Kaduna and killed two officers while they kidnapped one senior officer, Major Christopher Datong.

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