There are palpable fears that 10 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, may experience total outage of telecoms services in the next few days, following the shutdown of several base stations by the Kogi State Internal Revenue Service.
The affected states, which are sharing borders with Kogi State, are Nasarawa, Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara and Niger States.
The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), which raised the alarm yesterday in Lagos during a press conference, said as at Friday last week, the number of telecoms sites (base stations) affected was 70, but that as at yesterday, the number of affected sites had risen to 150, and more sites are likely to be affected in the next few days that will lead to total outage of telecoms services in the nine states.
Chairman of ALTON, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, said the total outage would not only affect telecoms services, but would also affect banking services like Automated Teller Machines (ATM) and Point of Sales (PoS) that are used for financial transactions, since such financial services are delivered on the platform of telecoms infrastructure.
He said the imminent outage would also affect national security issues in the nine states and Abuja, should there be any delay in addressing the issue.
Adebayo, therefore, called on the presidency, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to call Kogi State government to order before its action would cripple telecommunications service offerings in the country.
According to Adebayo, he was surprised at the action of Kogi State Internal Revenue Service because letters had been written from the ONSA instructing all states to desist from shutting down telecoms base stations, but should rather resort to dialogue since telecoms infrastructure is rated as critical national infrastructure that should not be tampered with at the slightest provocation.
Adebayo said, “ALTON wishes to express its concern about the shutting down of telecommunications 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 situation arises as a number of critical telecommunications 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.”
Explaining what led to the shut down, Adebayo said the state action followed an ex-parte court order obtained by the Kogi State Internal Revenue Service over unsubstantiated allegations that telecoms operators were in default of tax payments to the state government, which is not the truth, and access to these critical telecoms sites has been denied.
He explained, “As a result of these actions by the state government, our members are unable to refuel power generators in these sites, a situation, which has led to outage of over 150 sites, including hub sites across parts of Kogi State, with likely impact on nine states surrounding Kogi.
“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.”
He added, “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.”
He listed some of the levies and taxes, which the state is demanding to include, Annual Right of Way (ROW) renewal; Social Services contribution; Employee Economic Development Levy; Mast site premises renewal and Fire Service yearly renewal.
Others from the Kogi State Environmental Protection Board include, payment of environmental levy; failure to submit an environmental impact assessment report fine; failure to register industry fine; failure to submit environmental audit report every two years fine; storage of petroleum products and radioactive materials without written permission fine; failure to comply with setbacks to roads, power lines and rivers/streams fine and dumping of toxic or hazardous substances or harmful waste without approval.
Adebayo said the action of Kogi State government would jeopardise communication services provided by telecoms operators 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 neighbouring states.