Telecom Shutdown: Zamfara, Sokoto Residents Relive Difficulties, Hopes

Almost a month since telecommunication operations were shut down in Zamfara State to tackle banditry and kidnapping bedeviling the state and the neighbouring Katsina and Sokoto, life has not been easy for citizens in those places.

In addition to the telecommunications network shutdown in Zamfara, a number of local governments in Sokoto and Katsina have also been under the network blackout, to deny the bandits hibernating in the neighbouring communities.

Residents relive tales of hardship from the people.

Letters replace mobile phones

Life has taken a new dimension in Gusau, the Zamfara State capital, as letter writing has once again become a medium of communication. A lot of people have also gone back to the tradition of reading hard copies of newspapers and listening to transistor radio sets to get latest information.

Speaking to Akelicious on the situation, Kabiru Muhammad, 35, a resident of Gusau said, “Since I started using smart phones I stopped listening to news on a transistor radio and flipping through the pages of newspapers. I read news on my phone. But because of the present situation in this state I now buy newspapers in the morning and read.”

Alhaji Aminu Abubakar Gumi also said, “We envisaged that the decision of government to shut down telecom operations in our state would bring succour to the masses because bandits and their informants use mobile phones to communicate and invade communities.

“As expected, the shutdown would have a significant effect on the common man as we got used to mobile phones for interaction. With the mobile phone, it is easy to look for somebody, but with the shutdown of telecommunication, it is now very difficult to relate with people who are not close to you.  I spent almost the whole day looking for my customer yesterday. No matter how hard you press to see some people, your efforts will be futile unless Allah destines otherwise.

“We are, however, optimistic that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.”

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He also said the situation had affected the cost of communication. For example, with your phone you could deliver a message with less than N10, “but now, you would spend between N100 and N500, depending on your destination. Zamfara people now understand the importance of telecommunication.”

‘We go to Sokoto, Zaria to make phone calls, check SMS’

“Before the shutdown, you could sit in the comfort of your room or shop and place orders if you ran out of stock, but now, people from Gumi go to Sokoto to either make calls or buy goods, while residents of Gusau go to Zaria.

“It is from Zaria that you will be able to call somebody in Lagos to supply you goods. And sometimes, when you come back home you would realise that you forgot one thing or another. And since you cannot call the person from home or shop, you can only write him a letter and dispatch it through the motor park. And that takes a lot of times,” Gumi lamented.

He bemoaned huge losses being incurred but said that they have accepted the shutdown in good faith as a necessary measure to end the banditry and other security challenges.

Nura Muhammad Gusau said the situation had virtually brought their activities to a halt, adding, “We are only consoled because we know why this hard decision was taken. We have not forgotten how we lived our lives before the advent of mobile phones.

“Even Point of Sale (POS) operators and mobile credit retailers said they were not worried since the decision was taken to tackle the spate of insecurity in the state. They are hopeful that normalcy would soon be restored.

“As I am talking to you, I am on my way to Sokoto because some people gave me their phones to assist them check text messages. Once the messages enter, I will take back their phones to them. It is not easy.”

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He said it was unfortunate that letter writing had replaced phone calls in the affected areas, adding that it is very frustrating. “There’s a man who wanted his letter delivered to his wife, so he had to give an incentive to a driver at the motor park to be able to do that.

“Anyone who wants to send a message to another person is forced to give the description of the intended area, as well as pay transportation fare. You can imagine the implication of that.

“I pray it will come to an end soon so that everybody would go back to their normal life,” he said.

The chairman of the Zamfara State Hospitals Board, Dr Bashir Maru, told Akelicious that the decision to shut down telecommunication operations in the state became imperative as government felt mandated to look for a solution to the rising insecurity.

“Checks showed that the biggest challenge was the fact that spies fed criminals with information through mobile phones. They are at the centre of the problem. People are comfortable with this decision.

“We had to take this hard decision for a good reason. In our towns and cities, almost everything is faring well, apart from weekly markets and telecommunication operations that have been shut down until security operatives finish their offensive against the criminals.

“Whoever says this decision shouldn’t have been taken is definitely not an indigene of Zamfara State. I can say that every Zamfara man is comfortable with any action taken towards taming these criminal activities. Our situation has far gone beyond shutting down telecommunication. Women were being taken hostage for rape and all sorts of things.

“People have resorted to letter writing for communication; and we are getting used to it.

“I am okay with the extension of the shutdown because we had spent 10 years in this quagmire. Many lives have been lost in Zamfara. There’s nothing wrong with extension for another two weeks if that would bring an end to this crisis,” he said.

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Early this week, the Sokoto State Government also announced that telecommunication operations had been shut down in 14 local government areas.

Announcing the decision of the state government, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal regretted that bandits had intensified attacks in the state, especially in the 14 local government areas. He said the security measure was successful in Zamfara, as a result of which the bandits were fleeing to Sokoto.

“Due to the ongoing military successes in Zamfara State, the bandits are fleeing to Sokoto,” the governor said.

Nasiru Suleiman Goronyo told our correspondent that as a result of this security measure, more than 30 youths had been nabbed as spies for criminals.

“Some have been killed. As a result of the shutdown, we are recording successes. So we are happy with the decision of government,” Goronyo said.

Both the Zamfara and Sokoto state governments said the telecommunications shutdown was paying off. Sokoto governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal said the state government would request for further blackout of the network in other frontline local governments.

In a recent interview with this newspaper, Katsina State governor, Aminu Bello Masari, said early signs showed that the network shutdown was paying off.

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