Nigeria cuts phone network in restive northern state

Gangs of criminals known locally as bandits snatched 73 children from a local school on Wednesday in the latest mass kidnapping in the country's northwest.

FILE: Nigerian Flag. Picture: AFP

ABUJA - Nigeria's telecoms regulator has for security reasons asked operators to shut down mobile phone lines in Zamfara State, days after other restrictions were announced in the region plagued by violence.

Gangs of criminals known locally as bandits snatched 73 children from a local school on Wednesday in the latest mass kidnapping in the country's northwest.

On Friday, the Nigerian Communications Commission said "the pervading security situation in Zamfara state, has necessitated an immediate shutdown of all telecommunications services... for two weeks."

"This is to enable relevant security agencies (to) carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenge in the state," the regulator wrote in a letter addressed to a telecom operator and seen by AFP.

An official who asked to remain anonymous said on Saturday that the document was authentic.

The NCC did not respond to a request for comment.

Another letter seen by AFP from the governor's office to Nigeria's ministry of communication dated Friday, stated that Zamfara requested a "temporary shutdown of mobile networks".

"One of the biggest hurdles to combating banditry is the issue of informers who use mobile networks to communicate with bandits about the movement of troops," it said.

"The bandits also take advantage of the availability of the networks to coordinate their attacks."

Four local officials could not be contacted on their mobile phones.

A non-profit organisation representing telecom operators declined to talk about the directive.

"Since it is a security-related intervention we cannot speak much about it," said Ike Nnamani, president of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria.

In Zamfara alone, nearly 125,000 people have fled their homes because of worsening violence, according to the United Nations.

A representative of an international NGO with a presence in the state said it could no longer communicate by phone or via internet with its team on the ground.

A series of other restrictive measures were announced in recent days in Zamfara but also in neighbouring Katsina, Kaduna and Sokoto states, all affected by attacks.

In several locations, weekly cattle markets have been suspended, petrol sales capped and transport of animals outside state borders banned.

No further details were given to explain the choice of measures but criminals in the region often use motorcycles and engage in cattle rustling.

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