That Controversy Over Dangerous Masts And Towers

The quarrel between the Lagos State Government and stakeholders, which snowballed into a court case over the alleged health hazards and environmental unfriendliness of masts and towers may be resolved soon if the consultant employed by the Nigeria Communications Commission, Telecoms Answers Associates, TAA, is able to deliver.

Do masts and towers really transfer radioactive elements that are potentially hazardous to the health of those who live close to them? Is a mast a tower? Are towers masts? Everyone in the telecommunications sector, and even those who refer to themselves as ‘stakeholders’, wait with bated breath as a consultant to the National Communications Commission, NCC, Telecoms Answers Associates, TAA, seeks to unravel this conundrum.

Two weeks ago, the TAA conducted a series of interviews, screenings for potential survey assistants, SA who will visit the 20 or 51 local government areas of Lagos to conduct a street-to-street, local government to local government survey of masts and towers, M&T, in Lagos. Made up of mostly youth corpers and those not employed full-time, the SA’s duties include an identification of all the M&T in the city of Lagos. They are also mandated to determine the usefulness or otherwise of the M&Ts and provide an estimate of the magnitude of work needed to pull useless M&Ts down, if it was so ascertained by the SAs.

And indeed, this has been the crux of the matter for quite some time now. The Lagos State government, LSG, has had an axe to grind with stakeholders in the Information and Telecommunications sector over what it referred to as the indiscriminate erection of M&Ts. While the LSG insists that the M&Ts constitute an environmental hazard, stakeholders insist that LSG claim lacks empirical basis to determine whether the M&Ts are dangerous enough to be pulled down. Among their worry is the fact that no one knows who will bear the costs of dismantling them if the M&Ts are eventually discovered to be actually environmentally-unfriendly and injurious to the health of those living around them.

Perhaps so but perhaps not, but in wading into the impasses, the NCC wants to put to rest the lingering controversy, and rightly so. Part of the terms of reference that NCC gave to TAA is that it must determine the number of antennas that M&Ts carry, whether they are broadcast or telecommunications M&Ts and apply discretion in deciding whether the M&Ts are any useful in the places where they are mounted. The consultant is also mandated to determine if the M&Ts meet the required height and colour specifications of the M&Ts. Gbenga Sesan, TAA project manager told the SAs that their assignment was a sensitive one that they must handle with caution and a great sense of responsibility. According to him, ‘we want to use the database and reports you provide to advise out client, NCC, on several issues’’, he said at the orientation for SA’s held at the University of Lagos Guest House.

Titi Omatu, TAA principal consultant and IT engineer told the SAs what to look out for in their survey. He said that masts are an assemblage of poles mounted for the purpose of carrying reflections and the reflections may be via aerial or by antennae. According to him, masts may be self-supporting, guyed or tethered by wires to maintain some measure of stability against wind effects if they are up to a maximum of 300 metres or less. A tower on the other hand, according to Omatu, is a mast structure that stands un-guyed or un-tethered. In addition, he told the SAs that M&Ts may be monopoles which may be used for telecoms, broadcasting or as television antennas. He told the SAs that they were not to carry out any survey on television masts.

Quite unexpectedly, the survey has already run into logistics problems. Of the 20 SAs that TAA initially screened to carry out the survey, only 12 showed up at the briefing session at the University of Lagos Guest House. TELL investigation revealed that those who decided not to take up the assignment had reservations about the stipend they were to collect at the end of the exercise. Some complained that they had to bear the cost of transport and internet connectivity, to send daily reports to TAA. An SA who did not want his name mentioned said that they were promised maps and a Global positioning system, GPS, device but at the last moment, TAA told them that the GPS devices were too expensive. ‘With the confusion making the rounds over the number of local governments in Lagos, I wonder how I could’ve been able to go around my local government without getting into trouble’, he said. To some of the SAs who raised this fear, TAA asked them to rely on the internet.

TELL investigations reveal that M&Ts around Ifako–Ijaye hardly met the height, paint, requirements that Omatu spelt out. Most about 300 metres were neither guyed nor tethered. Already, there seems to be a kind of parallel survey on ground, perhaps to verify TAA findings. At some of the M&T TELL visited, their owners expressed some irritation why several persons in military uniforms have shown up to conduct the same survey and ask similar kinds of questions. Several cyber café owners in Anthony Village who spoke to TELL said that they are not aware that there were specific requirements that M&Ts followed. One of the proprietors who move his café to another location because he could no longer afford to pay the new rent his landlord asked for said that he has had to abandon his mast because it was impossible for him to take it along with him to his new place.

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