Afeez Hanafi with Agency report
Locals in Sokoto and Niger communities affected by telecommunication network shutdown imposed by the governments to fight rampaging bandits say they have been hit by the flip side of the security measure.
Residents of some of the vulnerable villages lamented that the attacks had worsened since the blockade of the mobile network, saying that they could no longer make distress calls or receive warning calls to escape impending attacks, The Associated Press reports.
The telecommunications blockade was imposed on September 3 in Zamfara State for an initial period of two weeks which was later extended. Although mobile phone service had been restored to Gusau, Zamfara state capital, rural areas remain cut off.
Katsina, Sokoto, Niger and Kaduna states have also restricted mobile networks in areas where killings and abductions continue.
While the shutdown and military offensive have diminished bandits operations, some residents of the states have reported deadly attacks worsened by the blackout.
More than 100 people have been killed across northwest and central Nigeria in the last two weeks, according to the Council on Foreign Relations while many other deaths have gone unreported.
“We are trapped,” a lawmaker at the Sokoto House of Assembly, Amina Al-Mustapha, from Sabon Birni, one of the hotspots, told AP.
“Every day, they attack our people and we have no way to talk to our people,” she said. “(There is) no single village that has not been attacked. We are suffering now.”
At least 32 people were killed in the Munya area of Niger State earlier this month when gunmen stormed villages and ransacked them for hours unrestrained as there was no help in sight for the locals.
The villagers could not send out alerts about the attacks because of the telecommunications blockade, Munya chairman, Garba Mohammed, said, adding that police and other security agencies only learnt of the attacks hours after the killings had occurred.
In addition to blocking telecommunications access, the northern states have also shut down markets, imposed night curfews, reduced vehicular traffic, closed major roads and banned motorcycles to restore order.
With major marketplaces closed, farmers are able to sell their produce. Banking by mobile phones has also been halted and bank ATMs are no longer operating, according to residents of the affected areas.
Senior Adviser, International Crisis Group in Nigeria, Nnamdi Obasi, advised that the phone blackouts should be “brought to an end as quickly as possible as part of the government’s efforts to improve the security presence and resources in the region … and address the humanitarian crisis.”
However, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, has maintained that the telecoms blackout would be sustained in large parts of the Northwest, saying it is effective in the armed forces crackdown on bandits.
Irabor said the armed forces had killed 250 bandits in the northwest since the blackouts began.