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Wrong timing to update SIM registration records

By AbduRafiu
17 December 2020   |   2:58 am
Julius called Umar this morning. Umar sprang from his bed and rushed to pick the call from where he was recharging the battery of his phone. He had only one bar left. The battery had run that low

NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta

Julius called Umar this morning. Umar sprang from his bed and rushed to pick the call from where he was recharging the battery of his phone. He had only one bar left. The battery had run that low because he had had an unrelenting power outage. Now that the light was back, he had better recharge it.

Umar: Yes, Julie Bobo! What’s up?

Julius: Umar, where are you? Have you heard?

Umar: Heard what? I am at home? Heard what again? Another massacre or kidnapping? Is it about the renewed onslaught by Mr. COVID-19?

Julius: None of these. Communication service providers –MTN, Glo; Airtel, and 9Mobile are to block your lines if, by 30 December, you do not submit a valid National Identification Number. The NIN is to be used to update your SIM registration records.

Umar: What’s that? What is NIN? Just like that? And all within two weeks? During Christmas Season?

Julius: You are not being singled out; the directive affects all who use cell phones. Nigeria ranks among countries with highest internet/phone density in the world—about 127million.

Julius: Adigwe forwarded a statement said to have been issued by Nigerian Communication Commission to that effect to my

WhatsApp portal and it reads as follows:
“IMPLEMENTATION OF NEW SIM REGISTRATION RULES
“Following the earlier directive on the suspension of new SIM registration by network operators, the Honourable Minister of communications and digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), convened an urgent meeting of key stakeholders in the Communications industry on Monday, December 14, 2020.

“The meeting had in attendance the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and management of the Nigerian Communications Commission (CCC), the National Information Technology development Agency (NITDA), the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), as well as the CEOs and Management staff of all service providers in the industry.”

Umar: And so?

Julius: But let me finish now…

Umar: All right; continue.

“At the meeting, the need to consolidate the achievements of last year’s SIM registration audit and improve the performance and sanity of the sector was exhaustively discussed and all stakeholders agreed that urgent drastic measures have now become inevitable to improve the integrity and transparency of SIM registration process.

“To this end, the following decisions were taken for immediate implementation by all Network Operators:
“1). Affirmation of the earlier directive to totally suspend the registration of NEW SIMs by all operators.

“2). Operators to require ALL their subscribers to provide valid National Identification Number (NIN) to update SIM registration records.

“3).The submission of NIN by subscribers to take place within two weeks (from today December 16, 2020, and end by 30 December 2020).

“4). After the deadline, ALL SIMs without NINs are to be blocked from the networks.

“5). A Ministerial Task Force comprising the Minister and all the CEOs (among others) as members is to monitor compliance by all networks.

“6). Violations of this directive will be met by stiff sanctions, including the possibility of withdrawal of operating license.

“The general public is hereby urged to ensure that their NINs are captured in their SIM registration data. All inconveniences which might be occasioned by this directive are deeply regretted.”

Adigwe who passed the statement to me asked for my reaction.

My take is that but for the timing, the suddenness of notice and the shortness of the duration to comply, the step is understandable. It is undoubtedly meant to boost security measures. With the level of insecurity in the land, every effort to get Nigerians out of the seeming entrapment should be welcome. A good thing, however, can be done in the wrong way, and it is so often done the wrong way in Nigeria. The citizens end up being insulted and threatened by government agencies set up to serve them. In practically every developed country data capturing and issuance of National ID number is a given. It is part of the existential document, literally speaking, in the United States. There is hardly any activity in which the National ID would not be required: For school enrolment, for voting or to collect welfare perks. From birth, there is data capturing from where the census of the country is determined. Therefore there is no hiding place for bona fide American citizens. This makes social and economic planning to be done without fuse. It is seamless. It is used to trace criminals.

Given the escalation of criminal activities in our country and the problem of insecurity moving inexorably to get out of hand, the case for the National ID card and authentication of telephone SIMs is unassailable; it is unarguable. Only last Friday, gunmen stormed a government secondary school in Katsina State and abducted more than 300 boys from their dormitory in the dead of the night. Kidnapping is almost a daily occurrence in parts of the country. Negotiations for ransom are carried out on phone. Who owns the phones, revalidation of SIM cards with NIN will go a long way to block phones getting into unknown hands. As in all things, we wake up too late, and the authorities buffeted from the daily harrowing experiences of Nigerians are not known to be innovative. For our leaders, it is order and obey. With all that Nigerians are grappling with, they are being given just two weeks to obtain their NINs and present them to their service providers failing which their SIMs will be disabled. Just like that! Has anybody considered the stampede that will follow this directive that ALL (capitals NCC) subscribers to Network services should within the two weeks file to the offices of the services providers to update their SIM registration records? There are about 127 million SIMs in the country. NINs for this humongous figure is expected to be submitted within two weeks!

The timing for the exercise is awkward. It ought to have occurred to the Nigerian Communication Commission that it falls within the Christmas season. Companies begin to shut down for the year from 15 December and may not be back until mid-January. Individuals wind down in preparation for Christmas and the attendant holidays from the same date. Those who travel to their villages, running away from Mr. COVID-19 and its minions in the cities may not return until mid-January as well. Any little thinking ought to show that a period the government itself has alerted the citizens of the advent of the second and more vicious wave of Coronavirus rampaging is not the time to encourage people massing to a service provider office or to gather in clusters to revalidate their SIM cards. Gathering in clusters violates the protocols health authorities have advised everyone to keep. It is even more shocking to note that it is during the Christmas season when there is an exchange of goodwill and prayerful wishes and a time you exhaust the apps in the android phones for all manner of activities connected with the Yuletide that any attempt would be made to block telephone lines.

I am aware that to facilitate the process of revalidating SIMs registration, the Nigerian Communications Commission has approved 173 data capturing agents, among them private companies, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and Civil Society Organizations, totaling seven; start-up companies and small as well as medium enterprises, 46 of these; and Small, Medium Enterprises (SMEs), 32 of them; and state government offices or agencies, for example, Lagos State Residents Agency and a similar agency set up by Kaduna State Government. Altogether the number of data capturing agents comes to 203. The figure is expected to speed up the NIN registration.

The improved access for the revalidation does not vitiate the argument that the timing is wrong. The addresses of most of the companies are also not known. In the end, it is the offices of the service providers that will be bombarded by the subscribers. And come to think of it, the service providers did their own data capturing. No one can obtain a driver’s license without submitting himself to data capturing by the Federal Road Safety Corps. Banks do their own before Bank Verification Number can be issued; and without BVN, a bank account cannot be opened. To obtain a voter’s card there is data capturing. This means that we already have enough data in various data banks of these organizations. Why is it impossible for the National Identity Management Commission to coordinate this process and from the national data bank issue and post the NIN to all the service providers who would then be left to carry on from there to do the needful? Service providers do not have difficulties getting in touch with their subscribers should the need arise.
The prompt and thoughtful intervention by the House of Representatives is bound to bring relief to a great many anxious Nigerians. Passing a motion, the House said yesterday that while it appreciated the measure was in aid of security, it considered two weeks too short for 200 Nigerians to conclude the process. It asked for 10 weeks extension. That is what makes eminent sense.

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