ABUJA- A telecoms blackout will be maintained in large swathes of northwest Nigeria because it is helping the armed forces crack down on bandits responsible for a wave of abductions and attacks, the country's top general said on Thursday.
All telephone and internet services were shut down in the whole of Zamfara State in early September, and the blackout was later extended to parts of Katsina, Sokoto and Kaduna states as military operations against the bandits intensified.
The closure has made it hard to know what is happening in the affected areas, and has disrupted daily life and business for millions of people.
"Telecommunication in the northwest was shut down out of necessity. We have achieved successes within this period," said Lucky Irabor, Nigeria's chief of defence staff.
"So the shutdown will remain as long as it's necessary. The shutdown is more of a blessing than anything else," he told reporters.
Bandit gangs who camp in remote forests and travel by motorbike have kidnapped more than 1,100 children from their schools and have 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 had 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 bandits or to Islamist insurgents, who are mostly concentrated in the northeast rather than the northwest.
(Reporting by Felix Onuah, writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise) ((firstname.lastname@example.org))