Most residents in Nigeria’s north western Zamfara State have welcomed a government directive ordering a shutdown of internet and phone communications now in its sixth day designed to combat a spate of banditry and ransom-seeking kidnappings plaguing the region.
Last Friday, mobile network providers were directed by Nigeria’s telecom regulator to shut down communications in Zamfara for two weeks “to enable relevant security agencies to carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenge in the state,” the Nigeria Communications Commission said in a letter to a telecom firm.
The directive came two days after at least 73 students were abducted from a state-run high school in Zamfara’s Maradun district. Military authorities are undertaking targeted raids on the hideouts of kidnappers and other criminal gangs in the state, who are known locally as ‘bandits.’
Zailani Bappa, a media adviser to the Zamfara State governor told CNN Wednesday from neighbouring Kaduna State that the suspension of phone services “gives security forces the upper hand against the bandits.”
Some Zamfara residents told CNN they endorsed the government’s decision to shut down communications in the state even though it came at a cost.
“I left Zamfara for Kaduna yesterday (Tuesday) because of the ban on mobile networks,” a resident, Hamdan Shinkafi, told CNN. “I sell phones online. Since there is no network, there is no way I can sell my gadgets, but I’m not bothered about that because it’s for the best,” he added.
Shinkafi said many locals were in support of the phone blackout which runs simultaneously with the ongoing military operations in Zamfara.
“I’m in full support of the ban. Many people in Zamfara also support it,” Shinkafi said. “Before I left, soldiers were combing through forests in search of bandits… Before now, everyone has been living in fear because of the bandits.”
Another resident, Ahmad Maishanu, told CNN many locals were “trooping into neighbouring states where they can make phone calls.”
“I’m in Abuja. I won’t return to Zamfara until the phone blackout is lifted,” he stated, adding “some residents were not initially happy with the network disruption, but they are now jubilating following the military operations going on in the state.”
Zamfara and other neighboring north western states have been hit with several mass kidnappings by ransom-seeking gangs this year.
Prominent among the string of kidnappings in Zamfara was the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in the town of Jangebe in February.
The students have since been freed, with authorities insisting no ransom was paid to secure their release.
The phone blackout is one of many measures enforced by authorities in Zamfara to curb banditry and recurring abductions in the state. Last week, Zamfara’s Information Commissioner, Ibrahim Dosara, told CNN schools in the state had been closed down to avoid further attacks by gunmen. Dosara added that vehicular movements had also been restricted across the state.
The Zamfara government had earlier suspended the transportation of livestock beyond the state’s borders while ordering the closure of weekly markets.