MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Mobile telephone networks were shut down in the northwestern Nigerian state of Zamfara, residents said on Monday, amid reports that authorities had ordered a blackout while they tackled armed gangs of kidnappers terrorising the area.
Two residents of Zamfara, reached by phone after they travelled to neighbouring Sokoto State, said their mobile networks had stopped functioning over the weekend.
A document that appeared to be a letter from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to network provider Globacom instructing it to shut down services in Zamfara from Sept. 3 was circulating on social media.
Reuters could not verify the letter’s authenticity. Officials from the NCC did not respond to repeated requests for comment, and Reuters could not immediately reach a spokesperson for Globacom.
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The letter said the telecoms blackout was being ordered “to enable relevant security agencies (to) carry out required activities towards addressing the security challenge in the state”.
Calls to the police spokesman for Zamfara and to state government officials were not going through.
A source at the Nigerian air force, asked to comment on media reports that military operations against criminal gangs were underway, said: “We are clearing these elements fiercely and decisively. It’s a total operation.”
Zamfara has been one of the worst-hit states in a wave of mass abductions of pupils from schools across northwestern Nigeria. Armed gangs operating from camps in remote areas of scrubland have been taking people for ransom.
In the latest reported incident, more than 70 pupils were kidnapped from a secondary school in the village of Kaya last week.
One of the Zamfara residents contacted by Reuters, lecturer Abubakar Abdullahi Alhasan, said he had heard that a military crackdown had been going on since the mobile networks had stopped working.
“The Nigerian air force and army were succeeding in dislodging some of the bandits’ camps. They killed many and recovered arms and ammunition while many others were arrested,” he said.
Military spokespersons in the capital Abuja were not responding to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Maiduguri Newsroom, Ardo Hazzad and Camillus Eboh; writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Andrew Heavens)