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Nigerian President Blames Phone Company for Boko Haram Attacks

Nigeria asked phone giant MTN to shut down unregistered SIM cards. They failed to respond in time.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (R) and South African President Jacob Zuma arrive for a joint sitting of the National Assembly in Abuja on March 8, 2016.
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma began a two-day state visit to Nigeria on March 8, which observers see as an attempt to mend fences between the continent's largest economic powers. Pretoria is putting a positive spin on the visit, talking up the pair's "good bilateral political, economic and social relations" and potential new business opportunities. / AFP / PHILIP OJISUA        (Photo credit should read PHILIP OJISUA/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (R) and South African President Jacob Zuma arrive for a joint sitting of the National Assembly in Abuja on March 8, 2016. South Africa's President Jacob Zuma began a two-day state visit to Nigeria on March 8, which observers see as an attempt to mend fences between the continent's largest economic powers. Pretoria is putting a positive spin on the visit, talking up the pair's "good bilateral political, economic and social relations" and potential new business opportunities. / AFP / PHILIP OJISUA (Photo credit should read PHILIP OJISUA/AFP/Getty Images)

For more than six years, Boko Haram extremists have wreaked havoc on northeastern Nigeria. In that time, Nigeria’s military has failed to effectively defeat the group, which regularly launches suicide attacks across the Lake Chad region.

But on Tuesday, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari put some of the blame for Boko Haram’s rise on an unlikely perpetrator: South African mobile phone giant MTN, which has more than 62 million subscribers in Nigeria.

“You know how the unregistered [SIM cards] are being used by terrorists, and between 2009 and today at least 10,000 Nigerians were killed by Boko Haram,” Buhari said Tuesday at a joint news conference with South African President Jacob Zuma, who is visiting Abuja this week.

According to the Nigerian government, Boko Haram militants plan and launch attacks using unregistered SIM cards that make it hard for officials to track their movements. The Nigerian government repeatedly asked MTN to disconnect unregistered SIM cards to slow the militant group, but the phone company failed to comply with an earlier deadline. Last year, MTN CEO Sifiso Dabengwa resigned shortly before the company paid the Nigerian government an initial $250 million fine for failing to pay on time. Nigeria wanted a total of $3.9 billion. 

On Tuesday, Buhari, who was sworn in as president last May, claimed that MTN’s delay contributed directly to Boko Haram’s success in killing innocent civilians. “Unfortunately, MTN was very, very slow and contributed to the casualties,” he said at the news conference.

Photo Credit: PHILIP OJISUA/AFP/Getty Images

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