12 September 2012

Nigeria: Attacks On Telecoms Facilities


A potentially dangerous dimension seems to have been added to the already serious security challenges in parts of the North, with last week's series of attacks on telecommunications facilities in Kano, Borno, Bauchi, and Gombe states.

In what appeared to be coordinated attacks, offices and installations of major telecommunications service providers MTN, Airtel and Etisalat in Maiduguri, Kano, Damaturu, Potiskum, Yola and Bauchi were destroyed or damaged. Some fatalities from the attacks were reported in a couple of them. Reports said that the Boko Haram sect claimed responsibility for the attacks; the group had in the past threatened to attack telecom companies for their alleged role in aiding security agencies track calls made by the sect's members.

If that suggestion proves to be true, the motive for this new threat may have been inspired by tactless boasts of the security officials who seem to revel in disclosing operational strategies. They sometimes say publicly that the use of tracking device provided by the telecom service companies enabled them to identify and capture some Boko Haram suspects.

There is urgent need to end the security menace in the region, whichever group is behind it. The earlier this national task is accomplished with less noise-making, the better for the country.

For a security void that has done much to create an atmosphere of fear, and which has done even much more to cripple economic activities especially in the North, this new dimension is very dangerous indeed because it will do nothing else but take the region farther back. Communication is the livewire of modern social and economic intercourse. If telecoms masts and other installations become targets for sabotage, economic and social activities in the region will be severely affected, which could in turn have negative impact on the entire country. This is why a way must be found very fast to halt this ruinous campaign. Communities where these facilities are located, the telecommunications service providers, the police and other security forces should be mobilised to protect these and other vital socio-economic infrastructure.

What these attacks highlight is the fact that in spite of the successes which the security services often claim that they have scored by arresting several of the people they believe are behind these murderous campaigns, the problem appears to mutate to more virulent types. The latest attacks happened almost simultaneously, the work of careful planning and execution. If the security agencies were to be 'on top of the situation' as they and other government officials often say, the command and control nerve of the group should have been broken by now, and its ability to communicate and plan more havocs disrupted.

What this means is that the security agencies should devote a great deal of their time and resources to intelligence gathering and diligently following every lead, if the hope of penetrating the sect in order to more easily defeat it is to be achieved. Several reports have emerged in the past months, most of them denied, that the Federal Government is engaging in some form of dialogue and negotiation with members of the sect. While the current wave of attacks blamed on the sect may understandably shake the faith of some Nigerians in the wisdom of that gesture, it is nevertheless a pragmatic step, unpalatable though it might be, because every conflict is ultimately resolved at the conference table. Still, the recent attacks indicate that while negotiations are going on, the government is not obliged to show a weak hand. A combination of carrot and stick may be appropriate to ultimately help bring this slide to a halt; but the country cannot wait indefinitely for a solution to the menace.

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