FG plans joint cable protection, disruption lingers in six countries

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The Federal Government has issued a call for a unified effort among West African nations to protect shared telecommunications infrastructure, following a recent internet outage that affected the region.

The Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC Aminu Maida, made this call during the 21st West Africa Telecommunications Regulatory Assembly Annual General Meeting held in Freetown, Sierra Leone, weekend.

This was disclosed in a statement on Sunday evening by the Director, Public Affairs, Reuben Muoka.

A major internet disruption on March 14th impacted West and Central Africa, leading to failures in multiple subsea cables and causing widespread disruption to online services, including banking operations.

The EVC’s message was delivered at the WATRA AGM by the Deputy Director, Public Affairs of the Commission, Nnenna Ukoha.

He stated that the recent submarine cable cuts that resulted in nationwide outages on multiple networks in 12 African countries have raised the urgent need for the subregion to establish a mechanism to protect itself from damage to submarine infrastructure and its attendant impact on the subregion.

Maida referred to a report by Cloudflare, an IT service management firm, which indicates that about six countries, including four West African countries, were still suffering from the outages caused by the submarine cable cuts.

“Securing telecom infrastructure is paramount for fostering foreign direct investment and enhancing investor confidence in the West African sub-region. The reliability and resilience of telecommunications networks are crucial factors that investors consider when evaluating regional opportunities.

“By ensuring the security of these vital assets, we can attract more investment, spur economic growth, and enhance our competitiveness on the global stage.

“A secure telecoms infrastructure not only facilitates efficient communication and connectivity but also signals a commitment to safeguarding critical assets essential for business operations. This assurance can significantly boost investor confidence and create a conducive environment for sustainable economic development,” he said.

According to him, “the impact of events like cable cuts highlights the need for a coordinated, multilateral approach to protecting shared infrastructure across our member nations.”

Maida therefore proposed “the urgent need to set up a framework for joint monitoring, risk mitigation, and emergency response procedures for the submarine cables that pass through the sub-region.

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“Further to this, we recommend that the WATRA Working Group on Infrastructure expand its mandate to spearhead the development of a comprehensive strategy to safeguard the subregion’s telecommunications networks and associated infrastructure thereby proactively bolstering resilience through improved disaster response protocols to better insulate ourselves from future disruptions.”

He advised that the goals of the working group would be to strengthen sub-regional infrastructure resilience, promote the diversification of the sub-region connectivity, conduct regular capacity assessments, as well as facilitate the designation of telecommunications infrastructure as critical national infrastructure in member countries.

The West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly was established in 2002 as a common platform for national telecommunication regulatory authorities in 16 member states to promote the adoption of regulations that stimulate investment in telecommunication infrastructure to deliver more affordable, accessible, faster, and secure communication services to citizens.

At the 21st WATRA Annual General Meeting, issues about accessible and affordable telecommunication services in the sub-region were discussed, including improved consumer protection, quality of service, roaming, and conflict resolution for consumers.

A major highlight of the AGM was the reelection of Nigeria’s Engr. Yusuf Aboki, as Executive Secretary, for a second term in a unanimous vote by the member countries.

The EVC of NCC commended Engr. Aboki for his firm, inclusive, and visionary leadership, which saw the successful delivery of WATRA’s 2022 — 2025 Strategic Plan, noting that Nigeria and indeed the sub-region was proud of the milestones he has achieved during his first tenure.

He further advised the WATRA Executive Secretary to build on the achievements of his first tenure, through stronger partnerships and deeper collaboration while advancing the interests of the sub-regional body.

Last week, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Bosun Tijani, announced plans to spearhead a global collaboration aimed at enhancing the protection of undersea cables.

Tijani said there was a need to review international laws and foster partnerships with regional and global bodies to accelerate efforts to safeguard the vital infrastructure.

According to him, the initiative marks a significant step towards ensuring the resilience and reliability of undersea cables, crucial lifelines in today’s interconnected world.

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