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Vandalism weakens infrastructure efficiency as telcos task lawmakers on legislation

By Adeyemi Adepetun
22 August 2019   |   4:22 am
Activities of vandals are currently taking a toll on telecommunications infrastructure in Nigeria.

Telecoms mast

•Industry records 33,000 cases of attacks in 13 months
Activities of vandals are currently taking a toll on telecommunications infrastructure in Nigeria.

While the operators are counting their losses, subscribers bear the brunt as services continued to get disrupted negatively. The impact of this challenge is felt in the quality of services rendered, which has remained at its lowest ebb in the last six months, with increasing drop calls, aborted and undelivered short message services (SMS), and countless failed calls, among others.

The Guardian gathered that the spate of attacks and theft on telecoms facilities is increasing. Some of the operators put the rate at over 35 per cent, almost on a yearly basis.

Information gathered from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), showed that the sector recorded over 33,000 cases of vandalism and stealing of facilities from June 2017 to August 2018.

While the attacks cut across the six geo-political zones of the country, an MTN official, who preferred anonymity, told The Guardian that such incidences are more frequent in the South East region.

The MTN official claimed issues of fibre cuts have been very high, especially from construction companies, adding that aside MTN having a technology that quickly detects cuts and others on fibre cables, “only Julius Berger usually notifies us whenever they damage our facilities, other construction companies just feign ignorance to such acts. They just walk away.”

The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), said some common components including generating sets, batteries, automatic voltage regulator, radios, among others are stolen on almost on a daily basis, while fibres are cut arbitrarily.

Furthermore, some of the batteries stolen from telecoms sites are sold to some inverter operators in the country.

To curb this challenge, ALTON called on the ninth National Assembly led by Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan, to pass into law, the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) Bill, which has been in the chamber for over a decade.

Already, the NCC hinted on Monday, in Lagos, that it was partnering with necessary stakeholders across all levels of government to collectively address industry challenges including vandalism, multiple taxes and regulation, high cost of Right of Way (RoW), and a host of others, which impede speedy infrastructure deployment across Nigeria.

NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said the Commission is currently engaging government at all levels on ways to stem the rising tide of vandalism fo telecoms infrastructure, saying this became necessary to protect investments in the sector, estimated at over $70 billion investments.

Furthermore, it was learnt that Globacom is the worse hit among the operators, resulting in over 40 per cent down time on telecoms services, which is responsible for the poor network services nationwide.

Danbatta disclosed that the situation has also affected network users negatively, with attendant huge losses to telecom operators and lower revenues for the government.

Corroborating these claims, the Chairman, ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, said aside theft and damages to infrastructure, there have been injuries to security personnel at sites, “and in some cases, maiming and even killing by hoodlums. While the focus has been on the impact of this menace on quality of service, there is need to find out how much operators are losing to this challenge.”

Adebayo, while calling for the passage of the CNI Bill, noted the law will go a long way to bringing sanity to the sector by ensuring that offenders are prosecuted, and ensure adequate protection of facilities identified as important national asset.

Like Adebayo, industry expert, Kehinde Aluko, who said telecom facilities have been targets of vandalism, theft and hostility in some host communities, said these have become recurring challenges that frustrate the attainment of applicable service standards in the industry.

According to Aluko, as much as the challenge is not peculiar to the Nigerian space alone, efforts must be aggregated to tackle the menace.

Indeed, last week, MTN South Africa shut down 53 base stations permanently after vandalism attacks, and through the help of SAPS, security personal and members of the public, was able to recover batteries worth almost ZAR 1 million in the past few weeks.

In the first half of the year, the cost to the industry reached an unsustainable tipping-point, with MTN SA, General Manager for network operations, Ernest Paul, saying the damage to towers and infrastructure far exceeds the cost of repairing and replacing batteries and equipment.
Some acts of vandalism are so severe that hundreds of towers around the country are at risk of being permanently shut down, putting a strain on the network and potentially diminishing the quality of the service.

The First Vice President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Ikechukwu Nnamani, urged continuous education of government agencies across various tiers on the cost implications of their actions in the event of the shutdown of telecom infrastructure.

Nnamani, who noted that continuous pressure from agencies and vandals, has negative impact on the provision of basic communication services in Nigeria, and requires sustained sensitisation and education of people on the implications.