from Africa in Transition

Communications Further Cut in Northeastern Nigeria

June 25, 2013

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When President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states in response to a radical Islamist insurgency, the Nigerian government banned the use of cell phones. Earlier, the Islamists had destroyed many or most of the cell phone towers. A result has been little telephone communication between the northeast and the rest of the world. This is in addition to existing restrictions on the operations of the press in the affected region. A consequence is that the outside world knows little about what is actually going on in northeast Nigeria independent of government sources.

Now, in the aftermath of the June 16 and June 18 attacks on schools, the Nigerian military is banning the use of Thuraya satellite phones in Borno state. According to a military spokesman, the Islamists used such equipment to plan their attacks. The spokesman threatened jail to anybody caught with the equipment. “Thuraya” is a satellite services provider based in the United Arab Emirates. Because it is the largest such company operating in northern Nigeria, satellite phones of any brand are often called “Thuraya.”

So, yet another link between the northeast and the rest of the world has been shut down. Increasingly the outside world will be dependent on interviews with Nigerian refugees who have crossed over into Niger or Cameroon for accounts of what is happening. The lack of transparency surrounding the state of emergency can only reduce the credibility of the Nigerian government.