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Despite security concerns, FG again extends NIN-SIM link deadline by three months

By Adeyemi Adepetun
26 July 2021   |   4:25 am
The Federal Government’s extension of the National Identity Number (NIN)-Subscriber Identification Modules (SIM) card verification exercise by another three months has been greeted with mixed feelings.

Applicants wait to obtain national identity numbers at the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) office, in the Lagos state capital of Ikeja, (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

• Govt to focus on remote areas as 59.8m NINs are now issued
• Telecoms operators claim over 50% GSM coverage of Nigeria

The Federal Government’s extension of the National Identity Number (NIN)-Subscriber Identification Modules (SIM) card verification exercise by another three months has been greeted with mixed feelings. This fresh extension comes just a day before the old deadline that was set to expire today.

While some industry stakeholders applauded the extension, others queried the rationale behind earlier deadlines that subjected people to mental stress before they could get their NIN-SIM registered, verified and linked.

The new extension announced by government, yesterday, makes it the sixth time since the first deadline of December 30, 2020.

A statement signed by the Director of Public Affairs, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ike Adinde and Head of Corporate Communications, NIMC, Kayode Adegoke, said the Federal Government has shifted the deadline from its earlier date of July 26 (today) to October 31.

The statement claimed that the decision to extend the deadline was made following a request by stakeholders to accommodate registration in hard-to-reach remote areas, diaspora, foreigners and diplomatic missions, and address low enrolments in schools and hospitals, as evidenced by enrolment figures.

Nigerians are, however, at a loss over incessant extension of deadline amid worsening insecurity in the country, which the policy was touted to address. The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami, earlier reiterated government’s resolve to embark on full implementation of the policy aimed at fighting insecurity in the country.

The Minister made the assertion in April through his Twitter account while reacting to an allegation of having links with terrorist groups. He said no amount of intimidation would stop the exercise.

Also, President Muhammadu Buhari, while urging Nigerians to participate in the synchronisation of their NIN with SIM cards, said it would help cover the nation’s security structure and identify criminals terrorising Nigeria.

But with the exercise into its eighth month and with nearly 60 million already linked up, the spate of insecurity, especially kidnapping, has not abated. Kidnap victims recently lamented how bandits were thwarting the Federal Government’s security regulations in the telecommunications sector.

Residents of Katsina, Zamfara and Kaduna states, who recently recounted their experiences in kidnappers’ dens, said they made the bandits’ telephone numbers available to security agents.

They, however, lamented that nothing was done to apprehend the hoodlums, thus making a mess of the Federal Government’s directives on registration of telephone subscribers and the linkage of SIM with the NIN.

Under sections 19 and 20 of the Nigerian Communications Commission (Registration of Telephone Subscribers) Regulations, 2011, telecommunications firms are expected to register all subscribers.

In 2015, the NCC directed all telecommunications firms to deactivate unregistered or partly registered SIMs. The regulation, according to government, is aimed at ensuring that all subscribers are traceable for security reasons. To further strengthen security in the country, the NCC last year directed the linkage of SIMs with the NIN.

According to the statement announcing the extension, this is as a result of a review of the progress of the exercise, which indicated significant progress, hence, the need to consolidate the gains of the enrolment and NIN-SIM verification process across the country.

The Federal Government disclosed that as at July 24, there were over 5,500 enrolment systems within and outside the country, which had significantly eased the NIN enrolment process and subsequent linkage of NIN to SIM.

The statement informed that President Muhammadu Buhari approved the extension as part of efforts to make it easier for citizens within and outside the country, and legal residents to obtain the NIN.

The NIN-SIM linkage also makes it easier for the security agencies to carry out their statutory duties and relevant parastatals under the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy are supporting them as required.

The government explained in the statement that there are now a total of 59.8 million unique NIN enrolments, with average of three to four SIMs per NIN.

With the great number of enrolment centres within and outside the country, and more coming up, every citizen, legal resident, and Nigerian citizens living in diaspora should be able to obtain their NINs.

When the last extension was announced four weeks ago, government said a total of 57.3 million unique NIN enrolments so far had been done, with an average of three to four SIMs per NIN, while more than 4,500 new enrolment systems had been added to the process since December 2020, bringing the number across the country to 5,410.

Nigeria has 188 million mobile subscriptions. Using the FG’s benchmark of three SIMs per NIN, it means roughly 170 million mobile subscriptions have been accounted for.

This, however, doesn’t account for the general population. With about 211 million people in the country and more than 105.8 million of them adults, it means nearly 50 per cent of the adult population is still without NIN.

With Nigeria’s mobile penetration rate currently standing at 55 per cent, there is a huge possibility that targeting just mobile subscribers as FG’s strategy to drive NIN registration might not be holistic. This is simply because about 90 million Nigerians would be excluded from the strategy.

SPEAKING on the development, the Nigeria Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, said it was obvious government cannot and will not be able to disconnect millions of active SIM cards until every eligible Nigerian has been given a NIN.

According to him, the extension is welcome and should be a continuous one as those turning 18 years old is continuous.

On whether the extension is to justify recent disclosure that GSM penetration is less than 50 per cent of the country, he said: “Not at all. NIN registration is captured by NIMC and those approved by FG to assist them. This capture is not just reliant on GSM technology, so the 50 per cent doesn’t necessarily apply.

The NIN linked with the SIM was just one piece of many pieces to resolving the multifaceted and complex security challenges in the country.”

On his part, a telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, is of the view that Nigerians should not have been made to pass through the harrowing experience to get registered at the beginning, especially when the COVID-19 second wave was at its peak.

“Of course, we predicted that there was no way the FG would have just allowed people to lose their SIM cards because they didn’t have NIN. The entire process should have been done region by region, then, the coverage would have been even,” Aluko stated.

The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, described the development as a very good one, which shows that government understands the plight of people with respect to the manner they accessed enrollment centres and recognised the concerns of operators to enable them provide easier access of enrollment for citizens, foreigners, machine to machine devices and also access to enrollment in more rural and remote areas.

While appreciating the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, for the kind consideration to have granted an extension of time, Adebayo disclosed also that extension has nothing to do with GSM coverage of the country.

He stressed that service coverage is far beyond 50 per cent of the country. “The argument has been that only a little over 50 per cent is covered by 3G services, which is not a concern in the enrollment for NIN. However, we believe the extension of time will enable better access and hopefully by the end of this extension, we will have a situation of just ‘walk in, capture and get NIN’ more so when mobile operators are ramping up enrollment and other required capacity very rapidly.”

President of National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, said the essence of the deadline is to capture all Nigerians.

Ogunbanjo said with just about 60 million NIN registered, “it is still a far cry from the destination. This shows that there are still about 70 million Nigerians that must not be ‘disenfranchised.’”

According to him, the fact remains that GSM coverage has not gone across the country as expected, because there are just fewer base stations in the country than we think. “So, full coverage of the country for GSM may not come now because of low investments in the sector for so many reasons.”

Recall that the NATCOMS boss had in March called on the Federal Government to extend the deadline of NIN-SIM linkage to December 31, 2021, rather than shifting the deadline every new month. Ogunbanjo had noted that the incessant one-month NIN registration extension was not enough to capture all Nigerians.

Also at the time, human rights lawyer, Monday Ubani, made a similar argument when he won a lawsuit against the Federal Government, Attorney General of the Federation, Nigerian Communications Commission, and the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, over the deadline set for NIN registration.

In the suit, Ubani contended that the two weeks ultimatum, which extended the deadline to April 6, 2021, will infringe on the rights of Nigerians as many will be unable to register for NIN, noting that it will take some kind of miracle for 100 million people to register their NIN and link it in the space of a month when it took 13 years to register 42 million. A Federal High Court, presided by Maureen Onyetenu, ordered the extension of NIN registration for another two months in March.