Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has condemned the September 3 directive of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to telecommunications companies to shut down all telecommunications services in Zamfara State immediately.
A move the NCC attribute to the “pervading security situation” in the State, describing the measure as an unwarranted and unjustifiable interference with the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.
In a statement issued in Lagos, MRA’s Communications Officer, Mr Idowu Adewale, noted that the NCC, which is supposed to be a regulatory agency, has increasingly become a tool in the hands of the Federal Government for the indiscriminate violation of the rights of Nigerians.
Mr Adewale argued that “Such purported exercise of power without safeguards to deny communications services not only to the residents of Zamfara State but also to other people everywhere who have family members, friends, loved one as well as other social or business relations in the State of the right to communicate with them, without judicial or any other form of independent oversight, cannot be justified under any circumstance.”
The Communications Officer further reiterated that “There is no evidence anywhere in the world that shutting down communication services, including access to the internet and telephone communication, helps improve security, prevent terrorist attacks, or to stop them.
“Indeed, commonsense and available evidence indicates that the more likely result from such a measure is that the obstruction of vital public communications will thwart the operations of security agencies and emergency services during periods of terrorist attacks when their services are most needed.”
Mr Adewale observed that there was already ample support for this proposition from the Nigerian experience when in 2013, the Government also shut down telecommunications services in three states in the north-east, namely Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, also ostensibly to disrupt Boko Haram’s communication capacity and its ability to use telecommunications to plan, coordinate and launch terrorist attacks.
He recalled that “the experience from that period was that not only did terrorist attacks by Boko Haram insurgents continue throughout the period when telecommunication services were cut off, but in many instances, the attacks actually appeared to have intensified.”
Mr Adewale cited a study conducted on that incident entitled “Silencing Boko Haram: Mobile Phone Blackout and Counterinsurgency in Nigeria’s Northeast region”, which was published in an international security journal known as “Stability: International Journal of Security & Development”, Volume 4(1).
According to him, the study clearly showed that the disruption of telecommunication services was counterproductive as it caused a lot of frustration and anxiety among people in the area and heightened their sense of insecurity because they were unable to determine what is going on around them, could not access important news and information, could not reach emergency services and could not check in on their loved ones.
Citing a view expressed by a focus group participant quoted in the study, who felt that the three states in the north-east region of the country where telecommunications services were shutdown were no longer part of Nigeria as “we were cut off from life and everyone and everything else in Nigeria,”.
Mr Adewale said expert opinions indicate that shutting down telecommunications and Internet services will likely cause more harm than good. Such sentiments have been known to drive ordinary citizens to become terrorist sympathisers as the propaganda of militants and insurgents begin to resonate with them in the face of such realities.
Mr Adewale, therefore, called on the NCC to immediately rescind its directive to the telecommunications companies and urged security agencies to find more innovative and effective ways to address the security situation that are nonetheless consistent with the Government’s human rights obligations as the indiscriminate and widespread violation of the rights of people as a condition for protecting them is not only abhorrent but itself a violation of human rights norms and principles.