A recent report by SB Morgen Intelligence has revealed that the incomes of residents of Zamfara and Katsina have been affected drastically by the ban on mobile phone services in the states, particularly Zamfara residents.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had directed telecommunications operators to shut down services in Zamfara, Katsina, and Sokoto states as part of fresh measures to contain banditry in the states.
While the shutdown was total in Zamfara, phone services were shut down in at least 13 local government areas of Katsina State in a bid to curb banditry.
According to the report, a survey carried out in the affected states shows that many residents have lost their means of income since mobile phone services were shut down.
Also, the report stated that the incomes of some of the respondents have reduced drastically since the ban started.
It stated that the majority of the residents who no longer have access to telecommunications services are within the low to middle-income segment, earning between ₦5,000 and ₦50,000 per week.
It said, “40% of them earn ₦10,000 to ₦50,000 per week while 43% of the respondents earn ₦5,000 to ₦10,000 per week.
“In Zamfara state, 43% of respondents earn between ₦5,000 and ₦10,000 per week while 38% of respondents earn ₦10,000 to ₦50,000 per week.
“In Katsina, the vast majority of the affected population earn between ₦5,000 and ₦50,000 per week. (58% of the respondent sample).
“When asked how their earnings had been affected since the shutdown, we found that 6% of the respondent pool no longer earn a living.
“Whilst the majority of the respondents still earn between ₦5,000 and ₦50,000 per week, analysis of the feedback showed that 13% of respondents now earn between ₦1,000 and ₦5,000 per week, a 4% increase indicating that weekly earnings have started being constrained by the communications shutdown.
“Tellingly, fewer than 1% of respondents now earn more than ₦50,000 per week compared to 9% of the respondents who earned this amount prior to the shutdown.”
In terms of the impact of the ban on work and businesses, the combined responses indicated that the impact had been severe, but it was evident that it is being felt more by people in Zamfara than in the other two states, it said.
As regards the military operations, some of the respondents of the survey stated that it was not yielding the desired effect on the security situation.
However, in Zamfara state, 43% of the respondents think that the security situation has since improved, compared to Katsina where only 14% of respondents believe that the security situation in their respective states has improved since the shutdown directives commenced.
Also, while some residents of the states surveyed said the military has carried out operations in their areas, however, some of the respondents said they have yet to see any military activity in their location even though they were affected by the shutdown.
“For those who have experienced military operations, the majority of these operations take place at night,” the report said.
It added: “The military has gone on record to say that its operations in the North-West are turning the tide against the bandits. However, this claim is disputed by residents in all three states, where only a minority think that the situation is improving.
“With the drastic step taken to cut mobile telephone services and the precedent this is likely to set for future security operations, this is a worrisome scenario.
“Businesses in Zamfara are also bearing much of the brunt of the shutdown, probably because its economy is more agrarian than Katsina’s and is thus less resilient.
“The loss in earnings has also been significant. 6% can no longer earn a living, the number of top earners has fallen by 8%, and those who earn between ₦1,000 and ₦5,000 have increased by 4%.
“It means that in total, at least 18% of wage earners have seen their earnings either reduce or be wiped out altogether.
“In a region already struggling with poverty and a high dependency ratio which puts pressure on incomes, the residents of these states are paying a high price for the ongoing military operations.
“This high economic cost leads us to recommend cessation of the telephone shutdown, in order for residents to resume business and for security officials to take a dispassionate look at the efficacy of operations so far.
“One of the major underlying drivers of the security situation in the North-West is poverty.
“Any action or actions that are taken which indicate an increase in economic hardship must be short-term and closely linked to results, so as not to pour fuel on the fire.
“Another issue with the shutdown of telephone services is the potential lack of accountability for military actions on the battlefield.
“News coverage out of the North-West is already sparse, and the directives equate to a media blackout which means there is only one version of events.
“The impact on the fundamental rights of residents in the affected states cannot go unmentioned as well as the general public’s right to know what actions are being taken in the name of security.
“Finally, the legal basis for the network shutdown is unclear. It was not made pursuant to an enabling law, regulation, or court order. Government stakeholders, particularly the NCC and the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, have justified the shutdowns on the twin grounds that it was requested by the security agencies and done to enhance national security.
“Under international law and international humanitarian law, military and quasi-military actions undertaken by nation-states should meet the tripartite principles of distinction (which demands that the civilian population and combatants should be clearly distinguished), necessity (that requires only a grave and imminent peril to a country’s essential interest would legally justify a breach of an international obligation) and proportionality (where measures carried out by a nation-state are required to be ‘proportional’ to the armed attack and necessary to respond to it.).
“The suspension does not meet any of these criteria. It appears to be overreach by the military into an arena with an outsize effect on how the affected civilian population conducts their affairs.
“In effect, it has the look and feel of collective punishment on residents of the affected states.
“Furthermore, in a democracy, actions that will curtail the civic and fundamental rights of citizens and voters must be subject to a clearly defined administrative process.
It is unclear that this happened with the shutdown.
“The current administration has been known to circumvent administrative and judicial processes in order to achieve its predetermined objective.
“Ultimately, the undoing of the network shutdowns is that Abuja did not do its homework and invest the policy buy-in, spend the political capital, and secure the populist commitment to what not only represents an escalation of the military effort to counter rogue elements in the Northwest but also a deeply uncomfortable intrusion on the civic rights not only of the region’s residents, but all Nigerians.”