Nigeria mobile phone masts to get 24-hour protection

Nigerian police officers on patrol - Archive shot Mobile phone operators said with the guarantee of security, they did not plan to withdraw any services

Nigeria's police chief has ordered a 24-hour surveillance of all telecom installations after attacks on mobile phone masts across the north.

Militant Islamist group Boko Haram said it had carried out the attacks, affecting nine mobile phone companies, on Wednesday evening.

It had threatened such attacks, accusing the firms of helping security agencies to monitor its members.

The group wants to impose Sharia law across Nigeria.

Security guarantee welcomed

Police chief Mohammed Abubakar said all regional forces had been told to set up special units to protect the installations.

"This order is sequel to recent security development in some parts of the country where these equipment and installations have become vulnerable and targets of reckless attacks and wilful destruction," he said in a statement.

Representatives of the main providers, who met in Lagos on Friday, welcomed the police move.

"With that guarantee, we will continue to provide services so we do not intend to discontinue services," Gbenga Adebayo, chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecom Companies of Nigeria, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Nigeria map

He said the mobile phone operators were particularly concerned about the economic impact this would have in the areas affected by the network disruption.

"It has been difficult to provide uninterrupted services… in the places bombed, people do not have services on their telephones and the few areas where they have fringes of signal there are cases of congestion because of overload on those few sites," he explained.

Experts say the damage to the mobile phone masts is likely to run into millions of dollars as the cost of a single tower can exceed $1m (£627,000).

Boko Haram launched a military campaign in 2009 to fight for Islamic rule, bombing government buildings, churches and assassinating moderate Muslim clerics.

In February, it threatened to attack Nigerian telecom companies - accusing them of breaking their "ethical obligations" and helping the security forces to monitor and track down its members.

Last year it was estimated Nigeria had 93 million mobile phone subscribers.

The country is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian and animist south.

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