ABUJA, Oct 14 Reuters - A telecoms blackout will be maintained in large sections of northwest Nigeria because it is helping the armed forces crack down on bandits responsible for a wave of kidnappers and attacks, said the country's top general on Thursday.
All telephone and internet service was extended in early September in the whole of the state of Zamfara, and the blackout was later shut down to parts of Katsina, Sokoto and Kaduna as military operations against the bandsits intensified.
The closure has made it difficult to know what is happening in the affected areas and has disrupted daily life and business for millions of people.
In the northwest, all communications were shut down out of necessity. In this period, we have achieved several success", said Lucky Irabor, Nigeria's national head of defence.
So the shutdown will remain as long as it is necessary. The shutdown is more of a blessing than anything else, he said.
Bandit gangs who camp in remote forests and travel by motorbike have kidnapped more than 1,100 children from their schools and has also targeted villagers and people travelling by road. In most cases they have demanded ransoms, and many have been paid - although the details are rarely made public
Irabor said the armed forces have killed 250 bandits in the northwest since the Blackouts began.
He also said more than 600 insurgents had been arrested during the period, without elaborating. It was not clear whether he was referring to bandsits or to the Islamist insurgents, which are mostly concentrated in the northwest and less northeast rather than in the northeast.