Telecom Operators Take Steps to Safeguard Fibre Optic Cables Along Lagos-Calabar Coastal Road

Nigeria’s telecommunications industry is undeniably the nation’s lifeblood, providing essential connectivity and data services across the country. This robust connectivity is largely enabled by fiber optic cables, which bring network capacity closer to subscribers.

As of 2023, Nigeria has deployed an impressive 78,676 kilometers of fiber optic cable, with significant concentrations in urban areas such as Lagos (7,864.60 km), Edo (4,892.71 km), FCT (4,472.03 km), Ogun (4,189.18 km), and Niger (3,681.66 km).

However, fiber optic cable cuts present a persistent threat to this critical infrastructure. These disruptions significantly impede the country’s digital advancement, frustrate users, and incur substantial costs for businesses. Over the past five years, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) reported over 50,000 instances of infrastructure damage, with fiber cuts accounting for over 30 percent of network outage incidents. Telecom companies face an average of 1,600 cuts per month, according to a recent report.

Repairing these damages is both challenging and costly. A Bloomberg report revealed that damaged cables cost telecom companies N27 billion ($23 million) in repairs and lost revenue in 2023, with MTN Nigeria and Airtel Africa Plc bearing the brunt. MTN alone experienced over 6,000 cuts last year, necessitating the relocation of 2,500 kilometers of vulnerable cables at a cost exceeding N11 billion—funds that could have been used to build new lines in underserved areas.

These cuts stem from various sources, according to Lekan Balogun, Managing Director/CEO of NetAccess Limited, who spoke at the first edition of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON)’s Critical Conversation Breakfast Meeting in Lagos. “Accidental damage during construction by unaware excavators is a major culprit. Lack of proper planning and communication between construction firms and telecom operators leads to these incidents. Additionally, deliberate vandalism and cable theft play a role,” he explained.

Recently, MainOne announced the completion of repairs to its submarine cable following an outage on March 14, 2024. However, telecom operators are concerned that Nigeria may face further internet disruptions when the Lagos-Calabar coastal road construction begins. Submarine cables like SAT-3, MainOne, Glo 1, WACS, and ACE, which originate from Europe and have landing stations in Lagos, are at risk of damage if not rerouted before construction commences.

Telecom operators have alerted the public to the potential for significant damage to submarine cables and nationwide internet disruptions if the relocation is not completed prior to the road work. ATCON Executive Secretary Ajibola Olude emphasized the importance of including the association in the project planning to ensure the careful relocation of telecom facilities. Similarly, Gbenga Adebayo, Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), expressed concern about the likely impact of the Lagos-Calabar coastal highway construction on telecom facilities, particularly submarine cables.

Addressing fiber optic cable cuts involves more than just fixing the cables; it is about building a more connected future for Nigeria. A robust and reliable telecom infrastructure is essential for economic growth and social development. By prioritizing the protection of these vital connections, Nigeria can ensure a more stable, efficient, and inclusive digital landscape for all.

Adebayo called on the federal government to begin consultations with telecom operators for meaningful discussions on the relocation of submarine cables and the associated costs. ATCON President Tony Emoekpere highlighted that major road construction works contribute nearly 80 percent to potential fiber cuts, necessitating engagement between construction companies and regulators. He suggested that underground cable ducts be factored into road deployment costs to prevent future cuts, a practice successfully implemented in countries like Rwanda and Kenya.

In response to these concerns, the federal government has deferred and redirected the realignment of the Lagos-Calabar coastal road projects. Minister of Works David Umahi, during a stakeholders’ meeting in Lagos, announced that critical telecom infrastructure, including submarine cables, has been spared from demolition following a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

The Group CEO of Machine and Equipment Consortiums Africa, Mr. Iliyasu Abdullah, commended the federal government for safeguarding critical infrastructure along the Okun-Ajah community. Former ATCON President Engr. Ikechukwu Nnamani also praised the government’s plan to reroute the Lagos-Calabar road construction to protect essential telecommunications infrastructure.