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SERAP Tells Buhari to Reverse Communication Blackout in Zamfara, Katsina

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Bello Matawalle Zamfara State

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the suspension of internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara State, and 13 local government areas of Katsina State.

The body called on the president to direct the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Mr Isa Pantami, and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to immediately reverse the decision.

Business Post had recently reported that the NCC ordered telecom operators to suspend all telecommunications networks in Zamfara State.

The decision had also extended to at least 13 local government areas of Katsina State to check banditry and terrorism.

SERAP in an open letter dated September 11, 2021, and signed by its deputy director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, said the move was without any legal justification, adding that the suspension was a form of collective punishment of Nigerians resident in these states.

The group said the development was “egregious, and suggests a disturbing trend, especially given the growing restriction of civic space in Nigeria. Shutdowns should never become an entrenched practice in the country.”

“While the authorities have a legal responsibility to protect, ensure and secure the rights to life and property, any such responsibility ought to be discharged in conformity with constitutional and international human rights standards,” the association said.

“Large-scale shutdowns of communication networks are a form of collective punishment. Shutdowns exert significant chilling effects, with direct implications on participatory democracy, whose existence depends upon an active and informed citizenry capable of engaging with a range of ideas.

“Shutdowns generate a wide variety of harms to human rights, economic activity, public safety and emergency services that outweigh the purported benefits. The suspension has the potential to affect millions of internet and telecommunication users in these states, and those on the margins of society are most impacted by it.

“The suspension of internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara and Katsina states fails to meet the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality.

“The requirement of necessity also implies an assessment of the proportionality of restrictions such as the telecoms blackout in these states, with the aim of ensuring that restrictions target a specific objective and do not unduly intrude upon human rights,” a part of the statement read.

It added that, “While ‘checking the activities of bandits/terrorists in these states could conceivably be viewed as justification for exceptional measures necessary to protect public order or national security, the authorities have so far failed to show how shutting down internet and telecommunication networks in the entire Zamfara State, and 13 local government areas of Katsina State is necessary to achieve the stated purposes.

“The imposition of any restrictions should be guided by the objective of facilitating the right, rather than seeking unnecessary and disproportionate limitations on it. Restrictions must not be discriminatory, impair the essence of the right, or be aimed at causing a chilling effect. Internet and telecommunication shutdowns fail to meet all of these conditions.

“Internet and telecommunication shutdowns amount to an inherently disproportionate interference with the rights to freedom of expression and information. Necessity requires a showing that shutdowns would achieve their stated purpose, which in fact they often jeopardize.

“We would be grateful if the suspension of internet and telecommunication networks in Zamfara and Katsina states is reversed within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions in the public interest.

“In their 2011 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet, four special mandates on freedom of expression emphasised that ‘Cutting off access to the internet, or parts of the internet, for whole populations or segments of the public can never be justified, including on public order or national security grounds.’

“The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has affirmed the principle of non-interference with access to internet and telecommunication networks and stressed that states including Nigeria ‘shall not engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet and other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population.’

“There is no convincing justification that the stated objectives of checking the activities of bandits/terrorists could not be achieved through measures with a lesser impact on the rights to freedom of expression and information than the wholesale blocking of internet and telecommunication networks in these states.”

SERAP, “therefore, urges you to sponsor an executive bill to explicitly recognize the right to access and use the internet as a constitutional and legal right, and as an essential condition for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and information.

“The rights to freedom of expression and access to information are protected by Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 [as amended], Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“These rights must be protected online as they are protected offline. Access to the internet is a fundamental right. Access to the internet is also a necessary precondition for the exercise and enjoyment of human rights online and offline.

“Your government, therefore, has a legal obligation to enable access to the internet for all, as access to the internet is inextricably linked to the exercise of freedom of expression and information.

“Access to information, the ability to exercise the right to freedom of expression and the participation that the internet provides to all sectors of society is essential for a truly democratic society.

“The rights to freedom of expression and information may be restricted only in specific circumstances. Restrictions on these rights must be provided by law, proportionate, and necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others or for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health and morals.

“Further, any measures to address security challenges must make use of the least restrictive means to achieve that legitimate aim.”

Adedapo Adesanya is a journalist, polymath, and connoisseur of everything art. When he is not writing, he has his nose buried in one of the many books or articles he has bookmarked or simply listening to good music with a bottle of beer or wine. He supports the greatest club in the world, Manchester United F.C.

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Customs Receives Two Mobile Scanners for Greater Efficiency

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Nigeria Customs Service

By Adedapo Adesanya

  • To Deploy Drones at Seme Border Soon
  • Claims N719m Revenue, Processes 635,149.23 metric tons valued at N15.5 billion

The Nigeria Customs Service, Tincan Island Area Command, has taken delivery of two NUCTECH Mobile Scanners MT1213DE with accessories.

The equipment arrived on board Glovis Horizon Leader from the Port of Shanghai, China on Monday, according to a statement signed by the Public Relations Officer of the command, Mr Uche Ejesieme.

The Area Controller, Mr Abdullahi Musa, who received the consignment, said, “Integration of scanning into the clearance procedure for imports was in line with global best practices for trade facilitation.”

He said that the key objective of deploying scanners was to reduce the time needed for physical inspection of goods which generated extensive cost and created multiple burdens and inconveniences for both importers and customs.

He expressed delight at the development and thanked the Comptroller-General of Customs (CGC), Mr Hameed Ali, and the entire agency’s management team for the feat.

“Recall that the CGC on assumption had promised to reform, restructure and raise revenue; these scanners will constantly enhance trade facilitation and consequently lead to increased revenue,” he said.

He assured stakeholders that the deployment of the scanners would result in increased cargo handling and greater efficiency in the trade value chain.

In a related development, the NCS noted that it will soon deploy drones at Seme for effective patrol in checking smuggling activities in the border area.

This was revealed by the Zone A Coordinator and Assistant Comptroller General (ACG) of Customs, Mrs Modupe Aremu, during a working visit to Seme Border Area Command.

She said border management surveillance will be done electronically through the use of drones to ensure that there will be an area overview of what is happening.

She said, “Seme command visit is the end of my tour in Zone A and I must commend all the commands, they account for over 80 per cent of revenue collection by the NCS and so they should keep up the good work.

“With the tour of all commands, I have seen that all the officers are doing well but they can still do better. And I am telling them that they should be expecting impromptu visits from the Zonal Coordinator, so they should not relax on the job.

“Also, e-customs N300 billion contract that is end-to-end automation that is about to kick-off is about Information and Communication Technology connectivity; when it comes on board, we are going to have an electronic signature, drones patrolling the border.”

She noted that the service was trying to minimize person to person contact to reduce human interaction and make the work faster and more efficient.

Mrs Aremu expressed satisfaction with the joint border post buildings that was commissioned on October 23, 2018, noting that it ushered in an era of coordinated border management.

“This is one-stop-shop and from what the comptroller has shown me, it is what is practised abroad; this is really commendable that what we see when we travel, we have it here in Nigeria,” she said.

She urged Seme Customs to keep abreast of all the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocols in order to understand what was happening.

On enforcement activities, she urged the command to keep pushing as the nation at this point in time needed the service to properly secure its borders.

She expressed the hope that the scanner at the border would start functioning to help simplify processes as much as possible, urging the command to ensure proper compilation of case files and prosecution of arrested suspects to show the seriousness of the service in fighting smuggling.

On his part, the Seme Customs Comptroller, Mr Bello Jibo, noted that enforcement activities were not affected by the border closure as the command made a remarkable interception of 1,244 suspected smuggled goods with a duty paid value of over N856 million.

He noted that despite unfriendly economic policies imposed on goods transiting through the Benin Republic, the command was able to collect about N719 million as revenue and processed export volume of 635,149.23 metric tons with a free on board value of N15.5 billion.

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Infibranches Raises $2m for Energy Distribution Across Nigeria

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Infibranches

By Ashemiriogwa Emmanuel

A Nigerian-based fintech and energy startup, Infibranches Technologies Limited, has closed a total of $2 million in a seed round which will be deployed to bridge the gap of energy distribution and financial inclusion across underserved areas of the country.

The fresh funding saw the participation of investors, including an impact investment company, All On, backed by Shell Foundation to support Infibranches in diversifying its energy products to extend towards rural and peri-urban areas.

The two-year-old energy startup was founded by Mr Olusola Owoyemi with the sole aim of providing digital financial services for service providers in the energy sector, as well as its accessibility across Sub-Saharan Africa.

The firm established two products called OmniBranches and  Green Energy Plug to achieve its milestone purpose which now serves as its flagship products as large distribution networks, Solar Home System (SHS) distributors, and mini-grid developers, manage their operations.

The OmniBranches leverages an active network of agents with hierarchy management, real-time reporting and reconciliation, cashout, and downline commission management, while the Green Energy Plug focuses on improving energy access by financial inclusion via accessible Application Programming Interface (APIs).

Expressing his enthusiasm at the funding, Mr Owoyemi said that so far, OmniBranches has served over a million customers, adding that the investment will focus on tackling poverty while enhancing financial inclusion.

“Through this investment, Infibranches plans to speed up customer acquisition in its current markets. This will also improve existing products like Omnibranches, which has served over a million customers and introduce new products and services to address energy distribution issues,” he disclosed.

In his contribution, the CEO of Shell Foundation, Mr Sam Parker, noted that, “The initiative’s work with Infibranches has shown how important it is to continue addressing market barriers, enabling enterprises to more quickly expand their life-changing energy solutions to households and SMEs across Nigeria.”

Noting that the partnership will bring about a new renovation into the energy sector, the CEO at All On, Mr Wiebe Boer, said, “We are particularly thrilled about this deal because it’s an innovative business model that solves the payments and collections problems that Solar Home System distributors and mini-grid developers face across Nigeria.

“This partnership merges fintech and renewables in a way we haven’t seen in Nigeria before and will enable tens of thousands of new electricity connections.”

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Apprehension as Sokoto Shuts Down Telco Services

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Sokoto Investment Company Tambuwal

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Sokoto State Government has shut down telecommunications networks in 14 of the 23 local government areas of the state as part of the efforts to check banditry, making it the third Northwest States to do so within the last one month.

The telecommunication blackout was announced by Governor Aminu Tambuwal on Monday, September 20 in an interview with the Voice of America Hausa Service.

Mr Tambuwal said the state secured approval from the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Mr Isa Pantami, before enforcing the ban which kicked off on Monday.

He said the affected council areas are the most vulnerable to bandit attacks in the state and it has caused apprehension among residents of the councils.

The development in Sokoto followed that of the neighbouring Zamfara, where all parts of the state are affected; and Katsina State where 13 local government areas are affected.

Zamfara had announced its communication shut down on September 3 while Katsina followed six days after on September 9.

The governments of the two North-west states announced the suspension of telecommunications networks and banned weekly markets and sale of petrol in jerry cans, among other drastic measures to check the activities of bandits.

Mr Tambuwal said following the ban in Zamfara, bandits have intensified attacks in Sokoto. He said the measure has proved successful in Zamfara, as a result of which the bandits were fleeing from the state to Sokoto.

“Due to the ongoing military successes in Zamfara State, the bandits are fleeing to Sokoto,” the governor said.

Mr Tambuwal also explained the network ban is effective in Dange Shuni, Tambuwal, Sabon Birni, Raba, Tureta, Goronyo, Tangaza and Isa local government areas amongst others.

Isa local government area shares boundaries with Shinkafi LGA in Zamfara State, while Goronyo and Sabon Birni from west and north respectively have borders with the Republic of Niger in the east.

Mr Tambuwal said the measure was long overdue. He said the seven governors of the region had agreed on the network ban to flush out the bandits but this could not be done.

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