The rising spate of insecurity in Nigeria especially in the Northern part of the country has intensified the pressure on the security infrastructure to adopt innovative ways that would protect lives and properties and also promote the economy.

One of the most recent actions to step up these security efforts was made last Wednesday after bandits kidnapped 73 students from Government Day Secondary School, Kaya in Zamfara state.

The state government immediately ordered closure of schools in the state, thereafter service providers were instructed by the National Communication Commission (NCC) to shut down telecommunication services across Zamfara and other neighbouring states ‘to enable relevant security agencies to carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenges in the state’

This is coming two months after the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy announced that it is establishing an Emergency Communication Centre in Zamfara to aid the fight against insecurity in the state and other parts of North-West Nigeria.

Mixed reactions have trailed this action that is intended to last for two weeks with many of it tilting towards the submission that the communication blackout will affect the economy, increase fear amongst residents and also cut them off from life-saving information.

Understanding telecom operations and insecurity.

Telecom operations in Nigeria include radio, television, fixed and mobile telephones, and the Internet, these are essential mechanism that could be used by the armed forces and other security agencies to track down perpetrators of criminalities and nefarious activities in the country.

Even though service providers are mandated to keep private the communication data of citizens, the Cybercrime Act 2005 allows interception for the purpose of criminal investigations or proceedings, this interception allows security agencies to be able to extract information that will enable their operations.

However, this blackout intends to frustrate the communication efforts among the bandits and their informants thereby providing an opportunity for security agencies to crash on these bandits.

What's the value of this blackout?

To ascertain the effectiveness of this recent communication shutdown, one would have to recall that in 2013 after a similar shutdown was ordered in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa, the attacks intensified contrary to the initial motive of the decision.  

In a press statement, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) described the measure as ‘an unwarranted and unjustifiable interference with the rights to freedom of expression and access to information’.

According to MRA’s Communications Officer, Mr. Idowu Adewale, ‘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, common sense and available evidence indicate that the more likely result from such a measure is that the operations of security agencies and emergency services will be thwarted by the obstruction of vital public communications during periods of terrorist attacks when their services are most needed.’, he said.

The way forward

Speaking to benjamindada.com, Caesar Payi, a security technology analyst based in Northern Nigeria said that instead of shutting down communication, the government authorities can leverage drone technology, satellites, closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) to intensify surveillance across these regions to help the security operatives to monitor the movements of the bandits and strategize on the best ways to contain the situation.

Unfortunately, in May 2021, the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), the agency responsible for space operations in Nigeria revealed that the country does not have adequate satellites to monitor the activities of these bandits since the available ones are functioning at a less capacity despite the nation’s contribution of about 16 per cent in the continent’s satellite expenditure.

Caesar further stated that this measure may be counterproductive since it is short-lived but a robust identification database of legal residents in the country can also be an effective measure.  

The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is saddled with the responsibility  to establish, own, operate, maintain and manage the National Identity Database in Nigeria, register persons covered by the Act, assign a unique National Identification Number (NIN) and issue General Multi-Purpose Cards (GMPC) to citizens of Nigeria as well us those legally residing in the country.

In July, NIMC announced that 60 million NINs have been uploaded to the National Identity Database out of the inaccurate estimation of 180 million Nigerians.

We are watching keenly on how these technologically driven strategies will help the fight against insecurity.