The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria ALTON has said there might be a total communications blackout in the entire Kogi state, parts of Abuja the Federal Capital Territory and possible impact on service availability in some parts of the following States: Nassarawa, Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara and Niger States.
This was according to a statement issued by the Chairman ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo and head of operations, Gbolahan Awonuga.
It expressed its concern over the shutting down of telecommunications facilities in Kogi state as a result of disputes arising from unusual taxes and levies demanded by the Kogi state government through Its Kogi State Internal Revenue Service (KIRS).
ALTON called on President Muhammadu Buhari and the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who are driving the Presidential Enable Business Council on ease of doing business in Nigeria to prevail on the Kogi state governor, Yahaya Bello to reign in on the matter to prevent a total blackout in communications 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.
“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. Now, with likely impact on Nine States surrounding Kogi (namely:- Nasarawa, Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara, Niger States. These are States sharing borders with Kogi State), and Abuja the FCT inclusive,” the statement read.
The Association also stressed 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,” it said.
According to ALTON, some of the charges described are: Annual Right of Way (ROW) renewal, Social Services contribution, Employee Economic Development Levy, Mast site premises renewal and Fire service yearly renewal.
Others are from the Kogi State Environmental Protection Board which insists on; 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 hazardous substances or harmful waste without KSEPB approval.
“ALTON is worried that the action by KIRS will jeopardize communication services provided by us to security agencies such as the Nigeria Police Force, the Armed Forces in addition and other emergency and social services in Kogi and other neighboring states. This will include affecting communication links to Bank automatic teller machines (ATM) across those states.
“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, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and other critical agencies of government in the aforementioned locations,” the statement continued.
The Association noted 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.
ALTON explained that “our members have also made several overtures to Kogi State Internal Revenue Service KIRS in the past months in a bid to resolve the disputed issues amicably but 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 shut down in a bid to coerce our members into accepting the illegal taxes and levies,” the statement added.