National security, banking services, others threatened as Kogi shuts 150 BTS
By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria
The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has raised the alarm over the unilateral shut down of about 150 base transmission stations (BTS) by the Kogi State government. They said the development would inevitably disrupt telecoms and banking services in Abuja, the seat of government and nine other adjoining states, especially those that are contiguous or share border with the state.
The carriers said efforts to get the matter resolved amicably were turned down by the state government which agents took locks and keys to shut the BTS.
ALTON Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, who spoke in Lagos, said the action of the state government was in breach of the directive of the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) which said telecoms infrastructure is critical national infrastructure and should not be subjected to willful damage by any individual or group of persons.
The carriers also said national security would also be threatened as the various security agencies might not be able to communicate, especially during national emergencies.
He said: “We wish to express our concern about the shutting down of telecoms facilities in Kogi State as a result of disputes arising from unusual taxes and levies demanded by the Kogi State government through its Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, Kogi State Environmental Protection Board, championed by the Kogi State Internal Revenue Service (KIRS).
“This issue is likely to lead to a total communications blackout in the entire Kogi State, parts of Abuja the Federal Capital Territory and possible impact on service availability in some parts of Nassarawa, Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara, Niger states. These are states sharing borders with Kogi State.
“This situation arises as a number of critical telecoms sites belonging to our members have been closed and sealed up by Kogi State government in an attempt to increase its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) collection.
“This action followed an ex-parte court order obtained by the KIRS over unsubstantiated allegations that our members are in default of tax payments to the state government (which is not the truth) and access to these critical telecom sites has been denied.”
According to him, as a result of these actions by the state government, telcos are unable to refuel power generators in these sites, a situation which has led to outage of over 150 sites including hub sites.
While he said legal action has been taken to get the court order vacated, he said it has become imperative to bring the attention of the Federal Government, especially Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo who has been on the vanguard of ease of doing business and who has done so well in his quest to carry the private sector along in the development agenda of the government.
Adebayo said: “As an industry, this situation is very worrisome and of great concern and we hereby call on President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is driving the Presidential Enable Business Council on Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria to prevail on the Kogi State Governor Alhaji Yahaya Bello to reign in on the matter to prevent a total blackout in communications services in Kogi, FCT and the other nine states of the federation which are now under threat due to what is happening to our network in Kogi State.
“We are very concerned that this indiscriminate action has the potential of further leading to a total telecommunications outage in Kogi State with neighboring states and parts of the Federal Capital Territory adversely impacted.
To the best of our knowledge, our members have settled all statutory levies and taxes due to the Kogi State government and have taken necessary steps to comply with local laws that govern business activities within Kogi State.
Adebayo said the spurious charges include Annual Right of Way (ROW) renewal; Social Services Contribution; Employee Economic Development Levy; Mast Site Premises Renewal; and Fire Service Yearly Renewal.
Others are from the Kogi State Environmental Protection Board are Payment of Environmental Levy; Failure to Submit an Environmental Impact Assessment Report; Failure to Register Industry; Failure to submit environmental audit report every two years; Storage of petroleum products and radioactive materials without written permission from KSEPB; Failure to comply with setbacks to roads, power lines and rivers/streams; and dumping of toxic or hazardous substances or hazardous substances or harmful waste without KSEPB approval.
ALTON is worried that the action by KIRS will jeopardise communication services provided to security agencies such as the Nigeria Police Force, the Armed Forces in addition and to other emergency and social services in Kogi and other neighboring states. This will include affecting communication links to Bank Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) across those states.
He said: “The outage currently being experienced is already affecting the ability of our members to provide uninterrupted service delivery to Commercial Banks, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and other critical agencies of government in the aforementioned locations.
“It is pertinent to note that the office of the National Security Adviser to Mr. President has in the past communicated to the 36 state governments on the fact that telecommunications sites are Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). They are critical socio-economic and security infrastructure. The agency had strongly advised against sealing them as such actions would have negative implications on national security.
“State governments were encouraged to explore other means of resolving tax related disputes rather than sealing telecommunications sites. It is therefore worrisome that the KIRS continue to ignore such advice.”
He lamented that the telcos have also made several overtures to KIRS in the past months in a bid to resolve the disputed issues amicably but the agency has remained adamant. Rather than resort to the Tax Arbitration Tribunal for intervention as is expected of a government agency, KIRS has resorted to subtle intimidation by getting the sites shut in a bid to coerce our members into accepting the illegal taxes and levies, he added.