10.7 million barred GSM users groan
AFFECTED telecommunications service subscribers, in their thousands, yesterday besieged their network service centres across the country over the ban placed on their Subscriber Identity Modules (SIM) cards.
As at yesterday, about 10.7 million telephones lines, especially on the mobile networks have been barred both partially and in full.
Some of the SIM cards were found to have been pre-registered. Other issues responsible for the blockage of the telephone lines included poor biometric capturing of some of the subscribers, including poor and bad finger print information, facial distortions, among others.
When The Guardian visited some areas in Lagos (Oshodi, Matori, Ikeja, Island, Mushin, Surulere, and Ikotun, among others), where GSM operators have some of their customer service centres, large number of subscribers came to complain about their inability to either make or receive calls and send text messages.
Those who spoke to The Guardian expressed bitterness over the SIM registration processes and tongue lashed both the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the quartet of MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat.
They described the telecom firms and the regulator as a bunch of jokers, which have continued to inflict pains on subscribers, despite making billions of naira from them.
As at June, NCC said the country had about 148 million connected lines. But experts have faulted the figure, saying that if the multi SIM nature of the country was considered, Nigeria should not have more than 60 million subscribers.
From investigations, about N31 billion, which has been invested in the registration exercise in the last five years appears to be money gone down the drains as it is likely that many subscribers will be registered at an extra cost. While MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat claimed to have spent about N25 billion on the process, NCC, under former Executive Vice Chairman, Dr. Eugene Juwah, also got N6.1 billion from the Federal Government to do the SIM registration and harmonisation.
A customer, at Etisalat centre in Oshodi, who simply gave her name as Comfort, said she was surprised to wake up this morning (yesterday) to discover that her number had been barred.
“I wanted to make call for supplies at a particular construction site and I heard a pre-recorded voice telling me that my line has been barred, that I should visit their call centre for more information. I got here now and they told me that they could not find my registration details.
“It will interest you to hear that I have been using this line since 2011 and when I got the line, I registered it at Victoria Island and about a month later I got a message from the same network that my line has been properly registered on the network. But see what is happening now,” she added.
At Etisalat’s Ikeja office, the story was the same. In fact, about hundreds of customers were told to write their names and come back tomorrow (today) for fresh registration.
At MTN’s Ikeja office, it was a tug of war as customers besieged the place to regularise their SIM registration.
A lawyer, Ikechukwu Alison, has threatened to sue the network for misleading information.
Alison said: “I was one of MTN’s pioneer customers. I bought the SIM when it was original and fresh. When they called for registration, I equally participated and got confirmation that I have been fully registered on the network, only for them to bar the line. I just came here to be sure they can fix the problem on time, at least by end of the day. If it lingers beyond today and tomorrow, I will sue the network.”
A visit to Globacom and Airtel offices in Victoria Island showed a large crowd of affected subscribers crying foul over the whole process.
A Globacom customer, Tunde Calisto, was furious about the whole issue. He said he even thought it was a network challenge.
“I have not been able to make a call since yesterday. l initially thought it was a general network challenge, until a friend called me on my other network to ask if my line had been barred or not because he could not reach me.
“This line was properly registered and confirmation came from Globacom that they have stored my details on their database, which has been sent to NCC for harmonisation. See me here and see the crowd! How long are we going to continue with situations like this?,” he queried.
While expressing support for the deactivation of mostly pre-registered SIM cards, the President National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, said it is only those SIM cards found defective that should be put on suspension.
Ogunbanjo, who pleaded with the network operators to support the efforts of NCC and the National Security Adviser (NSA), said the whole effort is aimed at curbing to the barest minimum, crimes committed through the phones and other cyber outlets in the country.
“What we have discovered is that the Major Network Operators (MNOs) are funny. They find it difficult to yank off people with uncompleted registration details from their networks because of the money they will make. This should not be. From our investigations, the operators have not been co-operating, but it will be in their own interest if they cooperate”, he stated.
Commenting on the plight of subscribers, who registered and got confirmation of registration, Ogunbanjo said: “Such customers should still visit the service centres and formally complain, saying that NATCOMs will fight for compensation for subscribers in such categories.”
Indeed, on Tuesday in Lagos, the Head of Compliance and Monitoring at NCC, Efosa Idehen, disclosed that in September 2014, NCC discovered that from the SIM data the operators sent to the commission for harmonisation, that some of them were defective and had to be returned to the operators for proper checks.
According to him, about 18.6 million SIM data were sent back to MTN Nigeria; 7. 49 million sent to Airtel; 2.23 million to Globacom and 10.46 million to Etisalat.
Idehen however, said the monitoring exercise done recently by the NCC showed that operators are partially committed to the exercise.
According to him, out of the about 18.6 million SIM registration data found to be defective on MTN network, only about 1.6 million have been barred. He explained that what MTN actually did was to put the affected subscribers on “Receive Calls Only,” which means the subscribers cannot put a call through to another network.