By Lucas Ajanaku 

Telecom operators yesterday raised the alarm over the imminence of telecom service blackout in Abuja, Kogi and other nine states over the shutdown of telecoms facilities.

The operators, acting under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), expressed concern about the shutting down of telecoms facilities in Kogi as a result of disputes arising from unusual taxes and levies demanded by the state government through its Kogi State Internal Revenue Service (KIRS).

ALTON warned that the action of KIRS would jeopardise communication services provided by its members to security agencies such as the Nigeria Police, the Armed Forces and to other emergency and social services in Kogi and other neighbouring states. This, it said, will include affecting communication links to bank automatic teller machines (ATMs) across those states.

A statement signed by Chairman of the association, Gbenga Adebayo and Chairman, Head, Operations, Gbolahan Awonuga, warned that the issue was likely to lead to a total communications blackout in the entire Kogi State, parts of Abuja and possible impact on service availability in some parts of Nassarawa, Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara, and Niger states. These are states sharing borders with Kogi State.

“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.

“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.

“As 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 70 sites, including hub sites across parts of 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,” the statement explained.

The operators listed the charges 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 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 harmful waste without KSEPB approval.

“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,” the operators said.

Adebayo said the operators have also made several overtures to KIRS in the past months to resolve the disputed issues but that 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 shutdown in a bid to coerce our members into accepting the illegal taxes and levies.

“As an industry, this situation is very worrisome and of great concern and we hereby call on President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Vice President, who is driving the Presidential Enable Business Council on Ease of doing business in Nigeria to prevail on the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello (a Presidential aspirant) to reign in on the matter to prevent a total blackout in communication services in Kogi, FCT and other nine states of the federation which are now under threat due to what is happening to our network in Kogi State,” the statement said.

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