During a consumer outreach programme on Thursday in Bauchi, Mr. Phillip Eretan, a Deputy Director at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), declared that radiation from telecommunication masts does not have any harmful effect on human health.
According to a report by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Phillips said the World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed the harmless effect of these Base Transceiver Station (BTS) or telephone masts, as they are popularly called.
He revealed that some communities have barred service providers from installing masts in their locale for fear of assumed associated health hazards. He further urged them to cooperate with these companies for efficient service delivery.
Recent historical antecedents have shown these Nigerian communities are not alone in their paranoia and resultant rejection of telecommunication companies and their masts
In 2004, residents of Sutton Coldfield formed the Sutton Coldfield Residents Against Masts (SCRAM). They said these masts were causing a range of illnesses from nosebleeds to cancer and did not want them in their neighbourhoods anymore
While SCRAM sought legal resolution, one night an unknown radical group of residents provided a quick fix; they pulled down the offending 60-foot mast.
According to the original BBC report, there was no proof that the masts in Sutton Coldfield were responsible for the illnesses. However, at this crucial time, Nigeria cannot afford to be figuratively pulling down masts by rejecting them.
Even though Nigeria’s 84% mobile penetration rate is commendable, a likely more accurate 17% internet penetration rate dampens its shine. Strategically situating these Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) across Nigeria still remains the most effective means of deepening internet and mobile penetration. But this cannot happen if the people are afraid.
Are these fears and claims grounded in reality or just baseless paranoia?
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In a 2008 report, 4 years after the Sutton Coldfield mast came down, 14 people died of cancer in 7 years, all of whom lived within one mile of a mobile phone mast that emitted one of the highest levels of radiation in the United Kingdom. Again, authorities said there was no evidence.
In Nigeria, the NCC published a fact sheet (PDF) in 2017 that shows telecommunications masts are safe and do not pose a threat.
Inconsistencies in studies and reports on the subject matter over the years have made them largely inconclusive. But as they have swung between safe and unsafe; minus hearsay, there has not been any actual evidence that masts and mobile phone towers can cause health risks.
Until it is proven beyond all reasonable doubt that they are bad, Nigeria needs an increment in Base Transceiver Stations than reductions.