The telecommunication blackout in Katsina, Zamfara, and Sokoto to stop bandits has led to a rise in food prices, crippled economic activities, and estranged families, residents say.
A resident in Katsina town said a measure of local rice rose from N700 to N1,300 representing 130 percent and may increase further. A loaf of bread has moved from N300 to N800, an increase of 700 percent.
“When we heard about the directive, we were hopeful and willing to do anything, but the hardship so far is unbearable,” Godwin Emmanuel, resident in Katsina town told BusinessDay in a telephone interview. “The supply of goods and services has been crippled completely. Economic activities have been brought to a standstill.”
Activities that rely heavily on telecommunication such as point of sales (POS) agent banking kiosks have been the worst hit. This has further worsened the economy of the states which was struggling.
Residents in these states who spoke with BusinessDay said business activities and governance have been crippled.
They also said that the cut in communication has affected the movement of goods and services across the states, which has forced the prices of even the most basic commodities to rise and out of reach for many.
Normally, villagers supply food items to the cities, but this supply chain suffers because there is no means of communication. Shops have been closed and the available commodities have become scarce and extremely expensive.
On September 3rd, the Zamfara State government announced a shutdown of telecommunication services which were expected to last for two weeks, Katsina and Sokoto States followed suit in a bid to rid the states of bandits and restore peace.
The Kaduna State government on 29th September consequently directed the shutdown of telecommunications services to check the influx of bandits from Zamfara and Katsina States.
BusinessDay’s findings reveal that markets, towns, banks, hotels, and several other places of economic activity have since been deserted or closed down completely.
“The businessmen and women who manage to endure the rigorous supply process hike the prices of goods. Some residents travel for hours to the capital here to talk to their loved ones or do business transactions, even journalists travel kilometres to send their report,” Emmanuel said.
Another resident, Zainab Sabo who lives in Jibia, however, commended the approach. She said as citizens suffer, the bandits are also suffering as they no longer have access to supplies.
Sabo however said living has been unbearable as she literally travels hours nearly every day to access communication in the town.
“This measure has subjected the masses to unwanted difficulties. Banks have shut down, if you go to ATM you will see long queues, but people are not seeing the impact security-wise” Aminu Lawal, a lecturer at the Federal University Gusua, Zamfara state, said in an audio podcast on Nigeria Daily monitored by BusinessDay.
According to him, if the situation does not improve, citizens may revolt. He, therefore, urged the government to take the matter very seriously.
“People are ready to sacrifice but we want the government to meet us halfway, they should be sincere to us and honest and committed to this enterprise. You cannot shut down communication, enterprise and refuse to do anything about it,” he said.
Rita James, a hotel receptionist in Gusau said, the measure affected hotel business. She said before now, the hotel she works for let out all the rooms before the end of the day, but now, even a single customer we won’t get for a whole day.”
She however noted that there has been a considerable decrease in the activities of bandits but said it was not enough.
Paul Alajeh, an economy, and financial analyst said telecommunication operators will have to carry huge lose which will run into billions of naira.
According to him, telecommunication companies rake in up to N15 million per day, but that flow of income has been slowed down.
He noted that the measure can only be appreciated if it achieves its aim. He, therefore, charged the government to ensure that they are honest and sincere to the citizens while noting that security remains vital and needed for economic activities to survive in the first place.
But, while citizens continue to groan, bandits have continued to launch attacks on these communities.
Recently bandits attacked a military base in Sokoto state killing up to 20 officers of the army, police, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), despite the cut in communication.
They have also continued to launch attacks in other northern states which have claimed the lives of tens of citizens.
Security experts have expressed concerns that the approach by the government is not sustainable and may not achieve the desired result.
Senator Iroegbu, a security analyst and CEO of CANAG Communications, said though it may be too soon to assess the impact of the decision on insecurity, the approach, according to him is rather unsustainable.
He said these terrorists have all the time and would wait out the cut in communication, or worse move to other states.
He recalled that that government had applied such measures in the past with no meaningful result.
“In 2014, there was a similar measure in Borno State, a disconnection of telecommunication. But that did not stop terrorists from carrying out their dastardly act, it ended up frustrating citizens and disrupting economic activities and communication channels”, Iroegbu said.
He added, “If you ban communication, how long will it last because if you impose it for two months, these criminals have all the time, they can wait it out, after you lift the embargo, what happens, they go back to their activities.
“So disrupting communication could have short-term benefits, and not a long term measure, except there is a long term plan and more sustainable approach to back up this. This should just be a stop-gap measure.
“These bandits have even moved to other states, as we have noticed them move from Zamfara to Sokoto and if you ban communication there, they will move again and will keep moving, so are you going to ban communication in the entire country, what then happens to economic activities?” he queried.
The analyst warned that the terrorists already have a way of beating the barriers. For example, He said they can use satellite communication gadgets, radio waves, and communication networks of border countries.
Meanwhile, Aminu Almustapha Gobir, a member representing Sabon Birni North Constituency in the Sokoto House of Assembly has already alleged that bandits are now using the network service of the Niger Republic to coordinate attacks.
Iroegbu further decried that in addition to economic loss, the cut in communication would have an unimaginable psychological and emotional impact on the citizens as communication has become a necessity for life.
Mike Ejiofor, former director of the department of state services (DSS) equally agreed that the approach was not sustainable.
He urged the government to use this opportunity to employ more security agents to take charge of these bandits’ strongholds.
Musa Auwal, executive secretary, civil legislative on his part condemned the measure. He said citizens should not be made to suffer due to the failure of the government to tackle insecurity.
He described the approach as analogue and unnecessary. According to him, the government should use the trillions of Naira that have gone into the fight to procure modern facilities that will deal with this security threat in a more sustainable manner.
“We can’t spend a huge amount on security, yet we don’t have more modern means to fish out perpetrators”, he said.