Many businesses in the country, including banks, hotels and telecommunication operators, have started counting their heavy losses reported to be running into billions of naira incurred as a result of the ongoing industrial action by employees of the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL).

Private telecom operators (PTOs) who accused the striking workers of economic sabotage were most hit as their equipments were shut down by the workers who they also alleged went away with some components of the equipments.

But in Lagos yesterday, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), the umbrella body for senior staff associations in the country, advised the Federal Government to release the over N89 billion debts owed NITEL by its agencies and parastatals, state governments and other PTOs immediately.

However, the national carrier's staff who have been denied their entitlements may soon heave a sigh of relief as the committee set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo to look into their agitations has assured them of the release of the sum of N1.7 billion from the Ministry of Finance as part of the debts owed the NITEL by government ministries and parastatals.

Banks which had relied on the NITEL for their telecommunication facilities, including E1 lines for their telephone banking applications were hard hit as customers could not carry out necessary transactions.

Also many hotels as well as multinationals were also affected by the strike as the workers shut down all NITEL facilities across the country. Services of PTOs were also disrupted due to the shut down.

As a result, private telecom operators are now considering moving their general equipment room from NITEL's premises, and many of them, in the interim, have set up alternative VSAT communication equipment to transit their traffic while others had opted for microwave link to get their traffic across to other operators.

Striking employees of the national carrier had Saturday night shut down the power supply to the PTO House where all telecom operators interconnect with each other. It was also at the point they interconnect to the SAT 3 sub-marine cable which carry international traffic out of the country.

This Day gathered from a GSM operator yesterday that the action of NITEL staff also had serious negative effect on the operations of GSM operators as capacity, especially on the international route, dropped by as much as 20 percent.

Enraged telecom operators yesterday declared that NITEL's staff action was nothing less than economic sabotage. Officials of the PTOs who met at the premises of Multi-Links last week said the operators have mandated a Committee to look at the technicalities of relocating from the NITEL's premises. According to them, it was unacceptable for NITEL staff under any guise to dismantle systems belonging to other operators and go home with the components. According to them, the staff knew that those equipment were not NITEL's properties and they went ahead to tamper with them.

Although they said they empathize with the workers for being owed salaries that long, they however said that was not enough reason for them to sabotage other people's means of livelihood.

Before the facilities were switched back after the day-long strike, most of the PTOs were operating like intercom as they could only carry on-net traffic. They could not transit calls to each other's networks just as they could not connect to the GSM networks.

This Day