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Kidnapping kidnappers with technology, the Gwandu solution

By Prince Osuagwu
The Acting Executive Vice Chairman, EVC of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Dr Bashir Gwandu, has in recent times, tried to prove to the government, that most of  the problems giving Nigeria serious migraine, can easily be nipped by technology.

Immediately he was announced as the acting EVC, Gwandu immediately threw his weight behind the SIM registration exercise commenced by his predecessor, Engr Ndukwe.

After that, he was to show concern to the future of kids on the cyberspace, organising a programme in Lagos, tagged Child online protection consultative meeting, to brain storm on ways of protecting the e-child whose innocense could be exploited by cyber thieves and unscrupulous cyber maniacs.

The event charged government to go for software that can provide a holistic protective strategy for online children, even as it also charged parents to monitor activities of their children on the net to ensure they are not available as prey for cyber rapists.

In the same vein, the commission was to assemble all the telecom stakeholders in response to the matching order given the commission by the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, to within three months provide action plan for telecom sector continued growth.
The telecom operators, including CEOs of Globacom, Etisalat, MTN, Visafone, Starcomms among others agreed with Gwandu’s NCC that a quick remedy must be provided to ensure that the height of telecom growth  in the country does not drop.

They also agreed on a couple of quick actions plans that would in a couple of weeks, give both telecom consumers and industry faithfuls hope of a better tomorrow.

But perhaps for Gwandu, all these were just policy matters which every EVC, irrespective of his background, could embark upon. So when the news of the kidnap of four prominent Nigerian journalists last week, hit the airwaves, perhaps the engineer in him was awaken.

First, Gwandu shocked journalists when he announced that the kidnappers themselves can be kidnapped, but with a more modern method, using technology.

He further expressed that drawing from one of his short, medium and long term plans to move the telecom industry forward, he was pushing for a subsidy to operators to install equipment on every mast and tower that could be used for triangulating between sites in order to identify real-geographical location of both GPS and None GPS-enabled Mobile handsets.

Gwandu stated that with the triangulation project, all GPS-enabled handsets can also be tracked by low earth orbit satellites, adding that there were also other equipment that could be deployed to track and identify the locations of handsets being used to solicit for ransom.

For him, once ownership of numbers can be identified, handsets can be tracked, and their geographical location becomes identifiable, then, any call made to solicit for ransom will help to locate the Kidnappers.

He also believed thatthe SIM Card registration offers significant solution to the issue of kidnapping, decrying the problems causing lull in the registration process.
An embittered Gwandu regretted that “with just about N1000,  a multitude of crimes can be committed by purchasing multiple Sim-cards and fraudulently use them to threaten others via voice or text messages and also commit other phone-assisted crimes. This has to stop, and we are working hard to stop it”, he added.

To curtail the phone assisted crimes Gwandu said the Sim-card registration will not only help to identify the owners of Mobile phone-numbers but the data-base to be created will allow for pictures of criminals captured on CCTV or other cameras to be compared and searched for in the phone users data-base for facial identification.

He also explained that the Sim-card registration can help in national-planning as well as for identification of criminals anywhere, anytime.

Gwandu has also initiated a project that will block stolen handsets once they are reported as being stolen to help in forestalling criminals from using snatched handsets in perpetrating crimes.

He said NCC will soon start publicity campaign to inform consumers of the availability of the stolen-handset blocking system, adding that discussion with countries in West-Africa so as to have a coordinated approach to blocking of stolen handsets was on.

Undue regulations, inimical to telecom investments.

In a related development, Gwandu also paid a courtesy call on the Minister of Environment, Mr. John Odey where he openly reminded the former Communications Minister that any restrictions to deployment of masts and tower across the country by any government agency, state or local government, will negate the efforts of government to attract investments in the sector and will also worsen the quality of services in the telecom industry.

The Acting EVC, was actually reacting to the onslaught by an agency under the environmental ministry, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Agency, NASEREA, which decommissions telecom masts and base stations it alleged to have erected without proper environmental impact assessment.

At the meeting, Odey set the tone for amicable resolution of all areas of conflicts when he assured the NCC team of efforts  to harmonize existing regulations for the benefit of sustaining a the sector growth even when NESREA carries out its jobs as the police of the environment. However, Gwandu hinted that the telecoms industry remained one industry that has been working in this country in addition to bringing a lot of investments and creating jobs.

His argument was that for an industry that is promoting different businesses and improving the country’s GDP, there is every reason to spare it of interference from various agencies or governments.
This is what he told Odey: “Honourable Minister, equally important to mention is that we cannot have telecom services without putting masts and towers around the country because we don’t have infrastructure in place like other countries, we don’t have fiber and wired lines across the country.

“There have been jitters in the industry and in the investment world for those coming to invest in telecom areas. Luckily, you and the President have been working assiduously and travelling round the world to attract investment to Nigeria.

“In the light of these, we want to suggest that regulation should be across board. But if we are talking about health with respect to emission of radiation, this is something that no person can tell you that there is absolute evidence.

The World Health Organization has conducted series of research and there is no conclusive evidence of any impact on human health. It is the non-ionizing emission that is coming from towers and masts and it does not upset molecules in the body.

There is no conclusive evidence in terms of impact and this is a major issue for the whole world not only for Nigeria”.

The Director General of NESREA, Mrs Benebo Ngeri, had complained that the telecom operators failed comply with the agency’s deadline for conclusion of audit on the environmental impact assessment of their towers.

However, Gwandu noted that the NCC was in agreement with the issues of health concerns relative to the location of the installation of masts but that the Commission was working to amend existing regulations to tackle such problems.

He added that people who invest in telecom were doing so because there are clear rules and these rules should be enforced within the books otherwise conflicting laws would send wrong signals and drive away investors.


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