Minister, NSA sing discordant tunes on 5G technology

The Federal Government appeared uncertain on its position on 5th Generation (5G) technology as the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy on Thursday disagreed on the benefits and suitability of the deployment of 5G technology.

The ONSA warned about grave national security risks potentially associated with the wrongful use of the 5G technology equipment for telecommunications services in the country.

The ONSA expressed concerns that the 5G technology infrastructure will be highly susceptible to eavesdropping, tracking, cyber-attacks, military and industrial espionage and other malicious activities by foreign actors.

Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, however dismissed fears of harmful effects of the technology in Nigeria and other countries.

He said the Federal Government was satisfied with results of trials conducted so far, adding that the 5G technology is safe and devoid of any negative impact on human health.

He said the country is presently waiting for President Muhamadu Buhari to approve a national policy on the technology before full deployment.

Director of Communications in the Office of the National Security Adviser, Dr Bala Fakandu and Pantami spoke during their presentations at a one-day investigative public hearing on the: “Present status of 5th Generation (5G) network in Nigeria and its technological impact on Nigeria citizens” organised by the Senate Joint Committee on Communications, Science & Technology, ICT & Cyber Crimes, and Primary Health Care & Communicable Diseases, in Abuja.

Senator Oluremi Tinubu, Chairman Senate Committee on Communications chaired the Joint Committee.

While agreeing that the ONSA was contacted before the deployment of the initial trial of the 5G network, the ONSA said there has not been approval for licence to deploy such facility, allaying the fears of citizens.

Fakandu insisted that there were national security concerns as the deployment of 5G technology could lead to certain vulnerabilities.

“But we are concerned about the deliberate vulnerabilities and backdoors within the 5G network equipment. That is one of the key concerns we have and this will make the infrastructure highly susceptible to eavesdropping, tracking, cyber attacks, military and industrial espionage and other malicious activities by foreign actors.

“We understand these are things that will be put in place particularly in the policy that the Honourable Minister has talked about but I need to emphasise it so that the stakeholders in the telecommunications industry will understand where we are coming from because the national security concerns is the concern of the Office of the National Security Adviser and of the President as well.

“We urge the Honourble Minister to carry the Office of the NSA along in the development of the policy so that we could have a robust framework to take care of these areas,” Fakandu said.

Pantami said that he had personally tried the technology to ensure that if there were going to be a victim, he would be the first one affected.

He noted that so far no negative impact has been established from the research and trial carried out both at the local and the international level.

“There is no link between 5G and COVID-19. And there is no relationship between 5G and any disease. The only issue being raised usually is about radiation. But people don’t realise that the radiation of 4G is more harmful than that of 5G. The radiation of microwave oven at home is more harmful than that of the 5G. The radiation of even the smart phone itself is even more harmful than that of the 5G,” Pantami said.

He noted that as his ministry was studying the technology, international bodies like ITU and WHO were also studying it.

“On the 25th September 2019, we conducted the first trial of 5G in Nigeria. In other to demonstrate trust and prove leadership by example, I personally pledged to make a trial so if there is any security implication or medical implication, then Isa would be number one victim. And if there is any relationship with COVID-19, I will be the first victim. To date I have not contracted the virus. And I did a test up to 10 times. So I did the trial personally. Mr President is very much aware of all these stages from the beginning to where we stopped.

“Part of what we have achieved through the engagement, conducting research, engaging ITU and WHO at the international level, we are in the process of compiling our final position. Most of the compiled position will be part of my draft national policy which will be presented to the Federal Executive Council for approval.

“The position is that we are almost at the final stage. So now, Nigeria is ready for 5G as long as we address the major challenges,” Pantami said.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan before declaring the session opened noted that the concerns of citizens about the 5G technology emanated from the limited knowledge of a virus that was wreaking havoc across the globe.

“But in the ideal sense, 5G is supposed to be advancement in communication. Speed and accuracy in the conveyance of messages and information are expected to be enhanced through it. The bottom-line is to improve on humanity’s dominance over nature, aside from the desire to ease living in a realistic and sustainable pattern. We must sustain the zeal to learn about our devices, especially those that we closely interact with.

“It was because of this that the Senate resolved in May 5, 2020 that this joint committee should conduct this investigation, in view of our desire to broaden knowledge on the innovation, and to inform policies,” Lawan said.

While welcoming stakeholders, Senator Tinubu said the hearing was necessitated by concerns from many quarters with claims and counterclaims by proponents and antagonists of the 5G technology.

“However, just like the proponents of the 5G claim, that the network is the best thing that has happened in the global telecommunication world, there have also been widespread reactions against its deployment especially as it borders on its probable negative health effects on humans.

“Claims and counter claims have emerged on the possibility of the technology causing injury to human health. As a result, there were protests in various nations of the world including Nigeria and in some instances violent demonstrations.

“The concerns raised include increased cancer risk, cause of COVID-19, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radiations, genetic damages, structural and functional changes in the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders and negative impact on general wellbeing in humans.

“These and other considerations bordering on human health necessitated the Senate in fulfilling its constitutional responsibility and obligations to mandate its four standing committees to thoroughly investigate the status of 5G Network in Nigeria and its technological impact on Nigerian citizens,” Tinubu said.