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In the throes of SIM-NIN linkage policy

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Minister of Communications and Digital Economy Isa Ali Pantami


The quest for building a wholesome digitalised identity and economic system for Nigeria received further boost on Thursday 6th, May 2021, when President Muhammadu Buhari, in Abuja, launched two important telecommunication policies initiated by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy under the leadership of the Minister, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami).

The policies are the Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration, and the National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector.

The National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector benefits Nigerian start-ups by enabling government’s Ministries, Department and Agencies to increase patronage of local digital start-ups.

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On other hand, the Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration allows Major Network Operators (MNOs) to resume the registration of new Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards, coming on the heels of suspension of SIM registration by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in December last year, following its directive to telecom operators to compel subscribers to link their National Identification Number (NIN) with their SIMs, failing which unlinked SIM would be blocked.

The implementation of SIM-NIN integration has not been an easy policy as it was met with resistance from key stakeholders. While telecom operators opposed it on the ground of probable dip in their revenue, subscribers were embittered because they could not obtain or register new SIM while those that wanted to replace lost or damaged SIM cards could not do so.

The outcry against the exercise was also due to the short window for compliance, which was two weeks initially coupled with the inability of most Nigerians to obtain their NIN from the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC). Social distancing in observance of Covid-19 safety protocol did not help matters either. Thanks to Pantami’s intervention, there have been several shifts in the deadline which is now 30th June.

Why so much brouhaha about SIM-NIN linkage? The answer may not be too far. Mobile phone numbers are a prized asset for majority of Nigerians because their bank accounts are linked to their telephone lines meaning they were unable to carry out transactions via the USSD code or receive alerts during the period of the ban.

Therefore, the revised digital identity policy by Pantami and President Buhari’s approval of it is indeed a positive development for the country, telcos and their customers, One, it will bolster the ongoing NIN registration by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC). Two, telecom companies will now begin to experience bounce back in their income.

Thirdly, customers can now register new SIM cards, and replace lost or damaged SIM cards, and have their biometric information linked with their NIN.   

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The principal objective of SIM-NIN linkage is to help in building a reliable national digitalised ID system that can foster a digitally inclusive society in Nigeria. This will in turn ensure government can plan well for equitable distribution of infrastructure and social amenities, as well as welfare of the citizens. Lack of reliable data partly accounts for Nigeria’s under development.   

Non-digitalised mode of identification, which has been in use in Nigeria over a long period of time, often makes it easy for criminals and fraudsters to get away without any trace. Because non-biometric and paper IDs are easy to procure or fake by fraudsters and criminals, coupled with sophistication in crimes as a result of advancement in technology, a digitalised ID system is inevitable. 

GSM numbers serve as a vital personal information required for processing important documents like travel passports, driver’s licence or filling bank documents.  Hence, SIM-NIN linkage specifically will help in checkmating the activities of fraudsters, kidnappers, bandits, terrorists and cybercriminals. An integrated SIM-NIN will make it easier for our security and intelligence agencies to profile, track and arrest criminals regardless of their hiding place.

The Federal Government recently directed all agencies which collect biometric data to harmonise them with NIMC so that citizens do not have to provide the same information multiple times. In past years, citizens had to go through the repeated rigour of multiple data capturing at every point in time.

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But now, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) now uses NIMC data for verifying personal data for travel passport processing and other immigration protocols. The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) has also begun data biometric harmonisation with the NIMC database for driver’s licence processing.

Candidates registering for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) now go through a simplified process as they are only required to generate a profile by sending their NIN via their telephone number to a dedicated USSD code from the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).

Bank Verification Number (BVN) – a Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) mandatory Know Your Customers requirement for banks – is already being harmonised with NIN. No BVN can be done without an active telephone number of the bank customers.

The role of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy in achieving faster implementation of this government’s directive on biometric data harmonisation among all agencies which collect biometric data cannot be underplayed.

This is against the background that several attempts by successive administrations to generate a reliable and accurate national database by obtaining proper identity of all citizens and residents in Nigeria, have been hampered chiefly by lack of a coordinated approach to data gathering.

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As it was the practice then, government agencies such as NIS, FRSC, NIMC, JAMB, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Population Commission (NIPC), etcetera individually collected demographic and biometric information, which used to be time-consuming \ often times captured data were not even stored.

Even financial institutions like banks and telecom service providers, despite their advancement in technology and sophistication, sometimes fail on accurate biometric capturing.

The revolutionary NIN–SIM Data linkage by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy through NCC, has not only assisted government to correct the past haphazard manner in which biometric data collection was done previously, it has improved outcome. For instance, NIN enrolment has, of today, reached record 54 million mark. Government can also save more money as data collection is now harmonised as against the duplicity of the same exercise across different agencies.

The national digitalised ID system and a harmonised national database campaign, has given Nigeria hope that having a correct identity of our citizens and non-citizens that are resident in the country is possible.
Abubakar, a social commentator, lives in Jalingo.

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