The Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), the umbrella body of all licensed telecom operators in Nigeria, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, has called on the President as well as the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to prevail on the Kogi State Governor His Excellency, Yahaya Bello, 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 the shutdown of telecommunications sites in Kogi State.
Briefing Media Executives in Lagos on Monday, Engr. Adebayo expressed concern about the shutting down of telecommunications facilities in Kogi State as a result of disputes arising from unusual taxes and levies demanded by the State Government, saying that the shutdown may lead to a total communications blackout in the entire Kogi State, parts of Abuja the Federal Capital Territory and may possibly impact on service availability in some parts of nine (9) others states namely: Nassarawa, Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara, Niger States. These are States sharing borders with Kogi State.
“As a 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 the outage of over 70 sites including hub sites across parts of Kogi State. Now, with likely impact on the 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,” he pointed out.
The ALTON Chief expressed worries that the action by Kogi State Internal Revenue Service (KIRS) may jeopardize communication services provided by its members to security agencies such as the Nigeria Police Force, the Armed Forces and to other emergency and social services in Kogi and other neighboring states as well as communication links to Bank automatic teller machines (ATM) across those states, adding that the outage is already affecting the ability of its 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.
This situation, according to Engr. Adebayo, “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.
“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 would be recalled 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. It is therefore worrisome that the KIRS continue to ignore such advice.
Engr. Adebayo observed that members of ALTON had 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 ALTON ’s members into accepting the illegal taxes and levies.
Some of the charges according to Engr. Adebayo include Annual Right of Way (ROW) renewal, Social Services contribution, Employee Economic Development Levy, Mast site premises renewal, and Fire service yearly renewal,
Others are Payment of environmental levy, Failure to submit an environmental impact assessment report; Failure to register industry; Failure to submit an environmental audit report every 2 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.
Noting that telecommunications sites were critical national infrastructure (CNI) which should not be tampered with, Engr. Adebayo emphasized that “as an industry, this situation is very worrisome and of great concern.”
He therefore called for the urgent intervention of the President as well as the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who is driving the Presidential Enable Business Council on Ease of doing business in Nigeria, to prevail on the Kogi State Governor His Excellency, Yahaya Bello, in order to forestall further occurrences of such.