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Masts

01.06.2023 investigations Death in the Shadows: Abandoned Glo, IHS Masts Threaten Lives in Osun, Lagos

Published 1st Jun, 2023

By Sodeeq Atanda

“It’s just unfortunate the mast fell and killed my daughter as she went out to buy something from a nearby shop. Her name is Lawrencia John Asuquo, and she was about to sit for the Primary 6 exams. She was a pupil of St. Theresa Primary School, Odukpani Qua Town,” emotionally distraught John Asuquo Etok said after a network mast collapsed and killed his daughter on March 19, 2014.


Telecommunications is one industry in Nigeria that plays a substantial role in the economic life of the country and the people. It is also one sector where compliance with rules and regulation is abysmally low, and this is clear on all sides. The cost of this reckless attitude to rules is heavy on the people: loss of property, lives and livelihood, leading to misery.

John Asuquo Etok, a resident of Cross River Sate, sent Lawrencia John Asuquo, his daughter, on an errand in their neighbourhood on the evening of March 19, 2014. A few hours later, the girl became someone to be buried.

A network tower had collapsed and killed the schoolgirl. She was not the only victim, one Adindu Fynecountry also had his life taken by the same mast.

READ ALSO: MTN Refunds Internet Data of Prominent Customer with Connections to NCC

Towers collapse in every corner of Nigeria, and it does not seem to have an end in sight. We could say that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the body responsible for regulating the industry, has been doing some great job. However, its efforts is not yet clear in this area.

Aside the falls of active mast platforms which pervade the industry, the phenomenon of abandoning inactive masts in communities is adding fuel to the fire, putting the lives of Nigerians on the line.

CRIES OF THE DEAD

Prince Agulabri was supposed to be the happiest man on April 26, 2014, when he was dedicating his new baby in his church in Okwagbe, an Urhobo community in the Ughelli-South Local Government Area of Delta State.

The atmosphere of dedication turned dark when a mast erected close to the church fell and killed the baby’s father. It is now years since he died because a company failed to comply with industry standards.

The collapsed mast that killed the baby's father in Delta.
The collapsed mast that killed the baby’s father in Delta. Source: Google

Adeolu Adeleke, 52, a Lagos trader, is another victim who lost his life in a tower collapse incident in 2013. A mast fell on Marina street in Lagos on the fateful day during a downpour.

As recent as 2021, an unidentified man in the Ihima community of Kogi State joined the long list of victims of telecoms mast collapses in Nigeria.

Not less than three persons in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, paid dearly for the lukewarm attitude of service providers in 2017 when a mast erected at Mile 3, Oroworukwo-Nkpolu area of Diobu, fell. Among the deceased was a 15-year-old girl. It was a disaster unforeseen by the residents.

An eyewitness explained how it happened: “We were just on the road before the mast fell down. The thing affected one other sign board and both of them hit the girl. The girl was returning from an errand the mother sent her. We don’t just understand how the thing happened. Everything was very fast.”

A collapsed antenna. Source:
A collapsed antenna. Source: allnews

The situation that befell Agulabri, Adeleke and many others is story of accumulated failures by private organisations and regulatory bodies.

READ ALSO: JUST IN: NCC Bans Citizens Under 18 Years From Owning SIM Cards

Joe Igbokwe, the former General Manager of the Lagos State Urban Furniture Regulatory Unit (UFRU), painted a picture of these failures when he visited the scene of the Mile 3 incident.

“We have carried out a series of structural integrity tests on some of these structures and reports made available to them. Our findings from the just concluded structural integrity tests on some of the masts within Lagos metropolis have shown that nearly all masts in the state used by banks and other companies are not only defective, but accidents waiting to happen at the slightest wind storm,” he revealed.

Yet, there is no public evidence to show that any company or individual has been made to face the law and serve justice.

A HEAP OF ABANDONED MASTS

Recognising the danger of abandoning masts in various locations, the NCC issued a circular to network service providers operating in the country in 2019 to disassemble their unused masts.

The regulator stated it had observed 693 abandoned masts littered the rural and urban settlements in clear violation of extant laws. According to the Guidelines on Technical Specifications for the Installation of Telecommunications Masts and Towers of 2009, service operators have a duty to pack up any unused infrastructure.

“A tower that has not been used for a continuous period of three years may be deemed to have been abandoned,” the guidelines state.

Before the NCC notice, the Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA) announced in 2017 that more than 90 telecoms masts had been abandoned in the state.

The agency said some of the network platforms were installed with disregard to regulatory requirements. “Removal of abandoned and non-compliant masts and towers, so far, we have started the activity around Ikeja and its environs and about 95 masts, towers have been decommissioned. The agency has also set up a task force named ‘Zero Tolerance on Non-Compliant Mast and Towers in Lagos Island’, saddled with the responsibility of combing the entire length and breadth of Lagos Island to discover substandard, as well as illegal or unpermitted masts, towers,” Babajide Odekunle, the general manager of the agency, said.

According to the terms of the mast installation guidelines, towers longer than 25 metres in height should not be installed in a residential area. Equally, transceiver base stations are expected to have a 7.5-metre setback from the demised building, excluding the fence. Despite this, FIJ observed that many masts as long as 50, 60 metres are situated in many communities.

On the danger abandoned masts constitute to the public, the commission said, “Failure to maintain these structures over long periods of time has resulted in their technical failure and constant vandalisation with negative consequences on public health and safety.”

MORE TELECOM AND RADIO MASTS STILL ABANDONED

Despite the identification of over 800 faulty or abandoned masts between 2017 and 2019 by the regulatory bodies, FIJ has found that several masts are still lying useless in different places, posing threats to humans and environment.

In Tooto village, near Iwo, Osun State, a high-rise three-legged mast has been abandoned for more than seven years and the community has tried in vain to have the owner remove it.


Abandoned antenna in Tooto
Abandoned antenna in Tooto. Photo Credit: Sodeeq Atanda for FIJ

Entrance of the transceiver base station in Tooto
Entrance of the transceiver base station in Tooto. Photo Credit: Sodeeq Atanda for FIJ

Chief Lukman Lawal, Baale Tooto, explained that the station had been left inactive for the past seven years and all his efforts to prevail on the service provider to remove it fell on deaf ears. He also said that the station had been vandalised many times.

“We have told the company that owns it many times to come and pack all their belongings here, particularly the mast, but they have refused to do so. The community feels unsafe with this gigantic structure which might have been deteriorating,” Lawal told FIJ.

READ ALSO: A UBA Customer Deactivated Her MTN Line and Informed the Bank. Still, Fraudsters Used it To Steal Her N2.1m

The community leader promised to provide documents showing the company’s details, but had not done that when this report was filed.

At Testing Ground in Iwo, Osun State, there is another mast said to belong to the defunct radio O.Y.O., a radio station belonging to old Oyo State before the creation of Osun State in 1991.

Abandoned radio mast in Osun State

FIJ found that since the radio station became moribund more than two decades ago, the mast has been standing unused on a vast stretch of land. Upon a visit to the old radio station premises, we found that some people had turned its building to a home. How they moved in is unclear as they refused to explain.

On the campus of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, we identified a communication tower that has been long neglected by its owner. According to the station’s site ID IHS_OSU_1011B, the network infrastructure is a property of IHS Towers, a network infrastructure provider.

IHS abandoned mast in OAU
IHS abandoned mast in OAU. Photo Credit: Sodeeq Atanda for FIJ.

IHS abandoned mast with site in OAU
IHS abandoned mast with site ID IHS_OSU_1011B in OAU. Photo Credit: Sodeeq Atanda for FIJ.

IHS confirmed ownership of the mast in OAU and promised to improve the outlook of the site for future use.

“We confirm ownership of the site on the grounds of Obafemi Awolowo University. This site is not active, and we have been assessing its future use. The safety and security of all IHS sites is our key priority and appropriate measures are in place at this site. In the immediate term, we are taking steps to tidy and improve the presentation of the site. We appreciate you reaching out to us on this matter,” the company said in an emailed response to FIJ.

In Lagos, the story is the same. In a residential yard at Benson bus-stop, Ikorodu-Ibeshe, a Globacom network station has been standing inactive for more than six years.

Glo mast at Ikorodu-Ibeshe
Glo mast at Ikorodu-Ibeshe. Photo Credit: Sodeeq Atanda for FIJ

The mast from a distance and Beson Estate's signpost.
The mast from a distance and Beson Estate’s signpost. Photo Credit: Sodeeq Atanda for FIJ

The mast from a distance and Beson Estate's signpost.
Lagos State property identification number. Photo Credit: Sodeeq Atanda for FIJ.
A generator overgrown by weeds
A generator overgrown by weeds. Photo Credit: Sodeeq Atanda for FIJ

Saheed Shopeyin told FIJ that his late father leased the portion of land for the base station to Dixon Technologies. According to him, the company was handling mast on behalf of Glo World and had refused to pay the family arrears of six years’ rent.

READ ALSO: Criminal Syndicate Stealing Phones in Abuja Using Fake MTN Promotion

“Dixon Technologies and Glo are the owners of the mast. They have abandoned it for the past four years. Before abandoning it, they were owing us two years’ arrears of rent. Because of their refusal to pay and remove their property, we have taken them to court, and the matter is ongoing,” Shopeyin explained.

A daughter of the late Shopeyin, who chose not to mention her name, also explained, “We go to sleep afraid of the danger this mast is posing to us. You could see that the premises has become bushy. We have seen snakes come out of the facility many times at night and it is scary. They should come and dismember the station.”

FIJ observed that the station has a property tag number 70034361 issued by the Lagos State.

LACK OF CONCERN FOR PUBLIC SAFETY

Very seriously, the installation of communication masts in residential areas continues to be a source of worry to many families. The worries, however, appear to mean little or nothing to the profit-driven players in the telecoms industry.

Life has become unbearable to Ayo Folarin and his family since a cellphone tower was constructed in their backyard in Lagos State. The family lives on Kelani Olaniyi Street, Toga-Zanmu, Badagry, Lagos.

Report of telecom mast causing distress

Folarin expressed his challenges in a report in 2021: “My wife is unable to sleep in the house; her mind is never at rest. Two of my young children have developed high blood pressure. When the generator powering the mast is on, my house vibrates non-stop. The smoke of the generator enters the house, causing health problems for my family.”

The source of their sleeplessness cum health issues was an industrial generator powering a communication facility erected behind their building in 2008 in breach of standard procedures.

Residents of Oke-Agbe street in Garki, Abuja, were before a house of representatives committee in 2020 with a complaint against MTN and Airtel.

They were appalled that after an order by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) to stop the construction of a monopole in their neighbourhood, the companies stopped for a while and returned to the site.

In Folarin and the Abuja residents’ cases, the affected companies were found to have disregarded the law.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Customers Refuse to Enter Fuel Station as NNPC Raises Price to ₦511/Ltr in Port Harcourt

The NCC had not responded to an email requesting for its comments at press time.

Some platforms have plummeted to the ground during inclement weathers largely because they were structurally weak. Despite recording fatalities and destruction of multi-million naira property, network service providers seem to always go scot-free or sometimes pay administrative fines, which appears ineffective in causing a change of attitude.

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Published 1st Jun, 2023

By Sodeeq Atanda

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