Leadership (Abuja)

Nigeria: As Nitel Exchanges Rot Away

NITEL's telephone exchanges across the country are rotting away because of neglect, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) has found.

Investigations by NAN correspondents reveal that many of the exchanges have been out of use since 2002 when the Federal Government began the processes of privatising the company.

The first attempt to sell the company to Investors International London Limited (IILL) at the sum of 1.14 billion dollars in 2002 failed following the company's inability to honour the terms of the contract. In 2003, Pentascope, a Dutch firm, took over NITEL and the company generated N51.43 billion as revenue in one year from 555,055 connected lines.

However, after 23 months, the connected lines dropped to 440,000 and the firm incurred a debt of over N40 billion, which eventually led to the revocation of deal with Pentascope.

In 2005, Orascom, an Egyptian telecoms giant, also failed to buy the company because its 257 million dollars bid was below the reserved price. In 2006, the takeover of NITEL by Transcorp was celebrated with fanfare but the excitement was shortlived after the 500 million-dollar deal failed to turn around the fortunes of the company.

Also, the last attempt to sell the company to New Generation Telecommunication Consortium of China at the price of 2.5 billion dollars for 75 per cent stake in NITEL/MTEL was terminated due to failure of the Chinese consortium to pay the bid price. A visit by NAN correspondents to some of the NITEL facilities nationwide showed that while some of the exchanges have been vandalised, others have been taken over by weeds.

Mr. Awoala Atuboinoma, NITEL Territorial Manager in Port Harcourt, told NAN that more than N1 billion would be needed to rehabilitate the 10 moribund exchanges in the territory due to years of disuse.

Atuboinoma said the exchanges, with installed capacity of 24,000 telephone lines, could still be viable if adequately reactivated. He said the reactivation would entail the replacement of some damaged cables; purchase of 500KVA generator as well as replacement of the air conditioning system. Atuboinoma accused some road construction companies operating in the state of destroying the NITEL armoured cables worth over N1 billion.

He listed the NITEL exchanges on Aba Road and the one in Rumuibekwe community as among the vandalised exchanges.

He said the vandalised exchanges had installed capacity of 10,000 and 4,000 lines, respectively. The manager said the multi-billion naira government-owned facilities had not been properly secured.He said that he had requested the Rivers commissioner of police to post 12 policemen to protect the Port Harcourt exchange from vandals. NAN reports that the situation is not significantly different In Delta, where the 18 exchanges with installed capacity of 32, 500 telephone lines had remained comatose since 2006.

They include those in Asaba, Agbor, Ogwashi-Ukwu, Warri, Sapele and Ughelli. A visit by NAN to some of the exchanges in the state showed that few security personnel guarded the facilities.

A former manager in one of NITEL's exchanges in the state, who spoke on condition of anonymity, recalled that the facilities broke down shortly after the company was acquired by TRANSCORP.

According to him, the NITEL facilities in the state are still being managed by TRANSCORP since the Federal Government has yet to appoint a competent investor.

In Bayelsa, Mr Sokari Wameso, NITEL Territorial Manager in the state, said the exchange in Yanagoa, with an installed capacity of 1,000 lines, was shut in 2009.

"We are still managing to secure the exchange, the NITEL premises in the state capital with the little sum of N10,000 management is providing to us for the up-keep of the premises.," he said.In Benin, the exchange has been taken over by weeds and reptiles while the one in Akpakpava is being occupied by the Nigeria Postal Service (NIPOST).

In Nsukka, Enugu State, Mr Patrick Ugwuoke, the Chief Security Officer of NITEL, told NAN that the exchange was abandoned since 2006 when government retrenched many of the workers. Ugwuoke claimed that the security guards had not been paid in the last two years. "The facilities here would be completely vandalised if we leave," he said.

In Onitsha, Anambra, a security man on duty in one of the abandoned exchanges, prevented a NAN correspondent from taking photographs of the complex already overgrown by weeds.

In Awka, unserviceable NITEL vehicles littered the premises of the hitherto business busy complex. Mr Sunday Eyo, Area Head, NITEL Exchange in Uyo, said the company had engaged the services of a private firm to protect NITEL facilities in the state. "NITEL has about nine exchanges with installed capacity of 5,000 lines in Uyo," he said.

In Calabar, both the Digital Telephone Exchange in Calabar, the Aba-Calabar Optical Fibre Transmission Link inaugurated by a former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, have been abandoned. Some residents of the city, who spoke with NAN, appealed to the Federal Government to suspend the ongoing privatisation process and retake full control of NITEL.

They said reviving the company would provide alternative communication options for Nigerians against the background of frequent complaints of poor quality services by GSM operators.

In Kano, a disengaged employee of NITEL, Alhaji Ahmed Tijjani, appealed to the Federal Government to reactivate the 19 exchanges in the state. "There are 19 NITEL exchanges in Kano State, two in the municipal, while the remaining 17 are in the local government areas of the state," he said. Tijjani, who worked for over 11 years in NITEL, however, expressed regret that most of the facilities in the state had been vandalised.

It is the same story in Yobe as most of the cables and poles in the exchanges have been vandalised.

A security guard in one of the exchanges, who pleaded anonymity, told NAN that due to the security challenges in Damaturu, few of the workers who hitherto reported for duty had disappeared.

Katsina State has a similar story to tell as Alhaji Aliyu Ibrahim, the Katsina NITEL Exchange Area Manager, said that all the six NITEL exchanges in the state had been grounded. "The facilities were either vandalised or destroyed by wind or rain," he said.

However, some of the NITEL exchanges in the state are still functioning as confirmed by Alhaji Mohammed Sokoto, NITEL's North West Zonal Manager. "One of the exchanges in Kaduna is functional while the other nine exchanges were switched off due to power supply as PHCN has disconnected supply to the stations due to outstanding debts," he said.

In Yola, all the six exchanges have remained moribund with some already vandalised.

A similar scenario prevails in Benue as confirmed by NITEL's Territorial Manager in the state, Dr John Obeya. He, however, said that there were no recorded cases of vandalism in the territory and that some of the workers still reported for duty regularly.

In Bauchi State, the Assistant Manager, Department of Management and Information System, Malam Ibrahim Juwara, told NAN that the exchanges in the state had been switched off. "Bauchi Exchange has two machines of 5,000 capacity each that connect the various NITEL lines in the state before they were switched off. "The equipment are functional but people are vandalising them as even the ones installed within the metropolis are being tampered with because they are good but still not being utilised," Juwara said. The 12 NITEL exchanges in Jigawa have been abandoned with some of them overgrown with weeds, the survey showed. Although officials of NITEL were not on ground to comment on the development, an economist, Malam Ahmad Adamu, expressed dismay over the deplorable condition of the facilities.

In Kwara, the Territorial Manager of NITEL, Mr Ben Uwuilekhue, declined comments on the situation in the area. "I don't have the authority to tell you anything here, all what you are requesting for are in our headquarters in Abuja," he said. In Gombe State, Mr. Nitte Habu-Adamu, a technician with the NITEL exchange office in Gombe, told NAN that the cables supporting the operation of the exchanges in the state were damaged after many years of disuse.

He, however, said that the machines were well protected by security guards. He said the telephone exchanges in Gombe, Billiri, Kaltungo, Kumo,Ashaka,Bajoga, Nafada, were functional but not in use. In Nasarawa State, NAN learnt that one of the exchanges is fully operational but the environment has been overgrown by weeds.

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