A case to extend NIN-SIM linkage deadline
Without prejudice to the right of the Federal Government (FG) to set policy guidelines and enforce them, there are extenuating circumstances dictating the need for the extension of the deadline for the NIN-SIM linkage.
The National Identification Number (NIN) and Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) integration were initiated by the FG to capture the real identity of mobile phone subscribers who must link their NIN to the SIM. The initial deadline for the exercise was January 19, 2021 following which subscribers risked the prospect of being disconnected from the telecoms network.
After several extensions of deadlines, the FG set March 31, 2022, as the last day for the linkage.
Consequently, about 72 million subscribers to telecoms services have been barred for failure to meet the set deadline. The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has announced that it has thus far issued over 78 million unique NINs and currently carrying out enrollment from its over 15,200 centres nationwide.
In January 2022 alone, telecoms subscriptions in Nigeria grew by over two million from 195,128,265 to 197.152,777 according to Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Thus, it is obvious that the NIMC registration centres are few and far between to cater for a burgeoning subscriber base.
To insist on this deadline is to ignore the circumstances under which the exercise was carried out and the peculiar constraints of many subscribers.
In the first place, the process of linkage was fraught with difficulties owing chiefly to inadequate registration centres. Long queues and the attendant stress discouraged many from fulfilling this obligation. In the mix are also the corrupt practices of middlemen and officials who fleeced genuine subscribers in an exercise advertised to be free by the FG.
Sadly too, some subscribers have told some subscribers that they were still barred after successfully completing the linkage. A thorough check on the process has therefore become imperative.
When officials are not fleecing subscribers, network connections were epileptic thereby leading to lengthening queues and mounting misery for would-be registrants. Many left the registration centres frustrated and despondent. The frustration is yet to abate as subscribers who are unable to use telecoms services have besieged the few NIN registration centres in panic. The centres are now overwhelmed.
We, therefore, align with the position of the National Association of Telecoms subscribers who have called on the FG to extend the deadline by another 90 days for existing subscribers. The extension will reduce pressure on the registration centres and the frustration of telecoms subscribers.
But the argument can be extended to the fundamental human rights of subscribers who have been circumscribed from their freedom of expression and association. This point was made by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). While urging President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to immediately reverse the decision to block 72 million subscribers, it averred that “blocking people from making calls undermines their ability to communicate freely and associate with others. It infringes on their rights to freedom of expression and family life.” On the economic angle, SERAP argued that the decision to bar the subscribers will cause a wide variety of harm to economic activity, personal safety, and disproportionately affect those on the margins of society and hinder the ability of the government to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal Eight on the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth.
Nigerians are also questioning the gains of the entire exercise which the government hinged on improved security through digital surveillance of terrorism and other criminal acts. Terrorism has not abated as Nigerians watch kidnappers using Sim cards to negotiate and obtain ransoms with impunity. Other criminals also coordinate their activities in the telecoms space with government apparatus reacting only after the commission of crimes. Proactive digital surveillance would have nipped crimes in the bud.
In the midst of this stark digital surveillance failure, the hapless and harmless telecoms subscriber at the lower rungs of society would wonder why they are being unduly punished. In any case, more Nigerians will be born and the need for subscriptions to telecoms services will continue to arise. So, in practical terms, there cannot be any meaningful deadline for this linkage. On their part, subscribers should take the linkage seriously and refrain from waiting till the last dates of deadlines before carrying out their civic duties.
In sum, the need to extend the deadline has become imperative in view of the difficulties encountered in registering for NIN and linking the same to the telecoms network. As government considers extending the deadline by another 90 days for existing subscribers, it needs to work assiduously to convince Nigerians that the NIN-SIM linkage exercise will translate into a more secured country for Nigerians, where freedom and other democratic ideals will flourish.