By Funmilola Gboteku
Ten states and parts of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) may soon face telecommunications services blackout following tax disputes between Kogi Government and mobile network operators.
Gbenga Adebayo, Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators (ALTON), made this known on Monday in Lagos while briefing newsmen on issues affecting the nation’s telecommmunications industry.
The ALTON chief said Kogi State Government had allegedly shut down 150 telecoms base transceiver stations belonging to mobile telecoms operators as a result of disputes arising from taxes and levies.
“The operators, comprising MTN, Globacom, Airtel, 9Mobile and Ntel, said that 150 base stations have been shut by the state’s revenue agency, warning that if nothing is done, the effect would lead to blackout in nine other neighbouring states to Kogi and parts of Abuja.
“The states to be affected include, Nassarawa, Benue, Enugu, Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara and Niger,” he said.
Adebayo said that the tax and levies being demanded by Kogi was ‘unusual’ as they had nothing to do with telecommunications services.
“As result of these actions by Kogi State Government, our members are unable to refuel power generators in these sites, a situation which has led to outage of over 150 sites including hub sites across parts of Kogi State.
“This will definitely affect 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.
“ALTON is worried that the action by Kogi will jeopardize communication services provided by us to security agencies such as the Nigeria Police Force, the Armed Forces in addition and to other emergency and social services in Kogi and other neighboring states.
“This will include affecting communication links to bank automated teller machines (ATM) across those states.
“The outage currently being experienced is already affecting the ability of our 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,” he said.
Adebayo said that telecommunications sites were Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) which should be safeguarded against any form of disruption.
He said that the action followed an ex-parte court order obtained by the Kogi State Internal Revenue Service (KIRS) over unsubstantiated allegations that the telecom operators were in default of tax payments to the state government.
According to him, ALTON members had 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.
He said that state governments were encouraged to explore other means of resolving tax related disputes rather than sealing telecommunications sites.
Adebayo noted that operators 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 had remained adamant.
He added that rather than resort to the Tax Arbitration Tribunal for intervention as is expected of a government agency, KIRS resorted to subtle intimidation by getting the sites shutdown in a bid to coerce the operators into accepting the “illegal” taxes and levies.