A workers’ strike at Nigeria’s incumbent fixed line operator Nigerian Telecommunications Company (NITEL) has caused huge problems for the country’s main gateway for international calls and internet connections. The strike has led NITEL to shut down key underwater fibre-optic cable SAT-3, leaving many businesses in Nigeria without a telecoms service. African telecoms provider Gateway Communications has provided its customers affected by the strike with direct, high speed, low latency connections to the global internet backbone through satellite connectivity, while other telecoms operators, including MTN Nigeria, have told customers that the strike will lead to interrupted internet services. Unions hope the strike will force the government to pay a NGN4.5 billion (USD96.5 million) debt it owes the operator, which has suffered financial difficulties since it was privatised in 2006. Sule Shehu, NITEL spokesman, said ‘We can’t do anything about the strike, so we are appealing to the workers to return to work, and open the offices and SAT-3.’
Local industrial conglomerate Transcorp took control of NITEL two years ago after unsuccessful efforts to privatise the company, but has so far been unable to reverse its decline. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, NITEL was the country’s top operator until 2005, with more than half a million fixed lines at the end of 2004. However, its customer base has since declined to less than 100,000, mainly as a result of fixed to mobile substitution in the continent’s fastest growing telecoms market.