The telephone services of two major telecommunication services in Nigeria have recently been damaged by gunmen. Reports from the mobile phone carrier, MTN, was that the gunmen attacked the telecom towers and cut the FiOS (News - Alert) (fiber-optic) lines that run through Nigeria's northeastern side.
MTN Group is a South African-based multinational telecom group that offers voice and data communications products and services to individuals and businesses. It is Nigeria's major mobile phone company and also operates in many African and Middle Eastern countries. Incorporated in 1994, MTN Group (News - Alert) has GSM licenses in over 20 countries and Internet service provider businesses in over 15 countries, spanning three continents.
Reuters reported that several gunmen in northeastern Nigeria attacked and damaged several mobile phone towers some of which that belonged to MTN and Airtel (News - Alert). A report from MTN indicated that the attack on its lines had disrupted "the lives of millions" in the region, however, the company offered no estimate on the extent of damage nor the cost of repairs.
It is said that since the first week of September, gunmen have been attacking over 30 mobile phone towers, disrupting the service completely as it is a nation that relies entirely on cellphones for its telecom needs. Reports claim that the attacks were the work of the Islamic fundamentalist group known as Boko Haram who had later claimed responsibility. Their reason was that the government had been helped by mobile companies in imprisoning some of its members.
It was the cities of Maiduguri and Kano that were mainly hit by the attacks, as it is in these cities where the fundamentalists are waging an ongoing insurgency against the government. A Reuters (News - Alert) reporter said that he had seen over ten masts that had been burnt, which led to the disruption is mobile services. However, in Kano city, attackers on bikes burnt MTN and Airtel masts in the early hours of the morning, a policeman told Reuters, asking not to be named. He added that the group Boko Haram was their prime suspect.
It is still not clear whether Boko Haram, the group which has killed over hundreds this year in the predominantly Muslim north was responsible for this incident. The reason being that the group mainly targets the government, security or sectarian targets. However, sources close to the sect said Boko Haram members were concerned that they could be traced via their mobile phones.
Spokeswoman Funmilayo Omogbenigun said that they confirmed that like all the other major Telco’s, some of MTN’s installations in northern Nigeria have been damaged by unknown persons. She added that all the relevant government security agencies have been informed and they were receiving their full co-operation.
A police spokesman in Kano and Maiduguri declined to comment, saying investigations were ongoing. Airtel was not immediately available for comment.
Boko Haram’s insurgency is aimed at carving out an Islamic state in Nigeria, a country of around 160 million people split roughly equally between Christian and Muslims.
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Edited by Rachel Ramsey