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The NESREA, NCC Feud Over Telecoms Masts
Nigeria Created: 17 Aug 2012
Two federal government agencies, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Environmental Standard Regulatory Agency (NESREA), recently engaged each other in a show of supremacy over how to use or not to use Nigeria’s environmental space for telecommunication business purposes.

There are claims that the masts used by telecom providers radiate electromagnetic field (ETF) rays which are injurious to health. While NCC certifies a five-metre distance and other requirements, NESREA insists that it is “too close to residential buildings” and stipulates a minimum of 10 metres, as stipulated by its 2007 establishing Act. NESREA has consequently shut down a number of base stations that contravened its position.

But the executive vice chairman of NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah, said the law empowers it as regulators to make regulations which become subsidiary laws for the telecommunications industry. He noted that empirical evidence shows that the radiation from a telecommunications mast is less than what we get from our television to justify its setback rule of five metres for masts.

Under the law, the NCC, created via Decree No. 75 of November 24, 1992 (amended in 2007), has the right to regulate telecommunication activities in Nigeria. In placing base stations, environmental impact assessment (EIA) negates the NESREA Act. It is therefore preposterous for Juwah to insist that “we have a right to set standards about size and setback of masts, among other matters”. A “subsidiary law” cannot be equal to a subsisting Act of parliament.

What is indisputable is that mobile phones communicate with towers through radiofrequency (RF) waves and that medical doctors have found that radiofrequency waves or electromagnetic fields are capable of damaging human tissues at high intensity.

The radiation from them, they said, heats body tissues the same way microwave ovens heat food. The rapid increase in the use of mobile phones has led to a corresponding rise in the number of transmission masts in many places in the country. Some studies and medical cases are said to have shown that these masts are the cause of serious illnesses.

But both the World Health Organisation (WHO), and minister of health Onyebuchi Chukwu said that research has not been able to provide support for a causal relationship; research findings have been mixed.

Much as the relationship between these elements are contentious, we would seek local research to establish the nexus or otherwise of EMF to human health. Given the large number of mobile phone users, it is important to investigate, understand and communicate any potential public health impact from mobile phones and masts, which work by transmitting radio waves through a network of fixed antennas called base stations.

There is also a need for legislative framework to resolve the grey areas between the regulatory agencies on issues of operations, infrastructure, and consumer rights and protection.

Agencies of the same government could bicker. Where extraneous considerations befuddle national interest and citizens’ welfare, erring agencies ought to be whipped back in line by their supervising ministers.

The Goodluck administration should act swiftly to mitigate the challenge posed by the recently established Urban Furniture Regulatory Unit (UFRU) in Lagos State that has a mandate to regulate the building and maintenance of telecom masts across the state.
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Source: Leadership, Editorial, 10 Aug 2012

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