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Nigeria's mobile phone blackout

Mobile phones across northeast Nigeria have been cut off for seven days.
Last modified: 22 May 2013 18:15
The mobile phone block is having a negative impact on ordinary Nigerians in the region [Reuters]

Mobile phones across northeast Nigeria have been cut off for seven days.

This is because of the state of emergency here in Borno state, and Yobe and Adamawa state. The military, state security service, police, the government, and president’s office have not spoken officially about why this decision was taken, and how long the network will be shut down for.

My sources in the military, speaking unofficially, have explained this is part of the strategy to stop Boko Haram. The military says Boko Haram fighters are using mobile phones to communicate, re-group and reinforce. Cutting off the mobile phone network is a way of making sure that does not happen.

The military's offensive against the group in the region has now been going for eight days.

Soldiers are communicating via radio or Thuraya satellite phones. For millions of ordinary Nigerians living in the region, however, the decision to block mobile phone communications has turned their lives upside down.

Impacting on businesses

People are unable to communicate with the world outside. To let loved ones know everything is okay, or to sound the alarm if they are under attack by the Boko Haram. And concerned family members and friends in the rest of the nation are worried about what might be happening to their relatives back home, living under the state of emergency.

The mobile phone block is also having a tremendous negative impact on business in the region, which is already one of the poorest regions in Nigeria.

Any trade that involves making phone calls - which is virtually every thinkable trade or line of business, be it to arrange orders or organise meetings, has come to a complete standstill.

Some people feel the mobile phone blackout is only going to entrench the problem of Boko Haram. They say that businesses are collapsing as a result, creating more poverty, disaffection, and the sense of marginalisation many in the region feel. But many Nigerians support the authorities' decision to block mobile phones. Some Nigerians feel that those living in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa state must accept the disruption and inconvenience that is being caused by the blackout until Boko Haram are completely destroyed.

Yet given the fact that Boko Haram is based on an ultraconservative religious ideology, there's a feeling that cutting Boko Haram’s ability to communicate with each other is only a temporary measure. Eventually the group will find a way of re-grouping, many argue, if they’re not completely destroyed in the military offensive.