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Assuaging subscribers’ pains in SIM card deactivation process


SIM-cards-CopyFOR millions of subscribers across the various mobile networks, this is crunch time. They are unable to use their phones because of a directive by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), for the operators to immediately stop the sale and distribution of illegally preregistered Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) cards; and in fact, immediately deactivate them.

Affected subscribers, in their millions, in the last two weeks, are feeling betrayed, let down and very much alone; left in the lurch of despondency to experience the nightmare of a world without phone.

They have poured out in their numbers to besiege the trading posts of the operators demanding for answers to their problems while the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers, (NATCOMS) is threatening a law suit to address the hurt of its members. There can be no easy words to assuage the level of indignation being felt here.

But the intention of the Commission was different. NCC’s spokesperson, Tony Ojobo, has explained on various news channels that the decision was actually taken for the good of country and its people. He also explained that what seems a sudden decision actually spanned over two years within which period the commission has appealed to the operators deactivate SIM cards found to be having issues, but that all the appeals were rebuffed.

However, the operators too have come out to defend themselves. According to MTN Nigeria’s Senior Manager, Regulatory Affairs, Quasim Odunbaku, who listed challenges bedeviling the exercise in the country to include incomplete registration; fraudulent registration (provision of fake personal information) and pre-registration/sale of pre-registered SIMs (registration of SIMs for the purpose of sale).

He explained that all SIMs in the listed categories, according to NCC are to be reverted to pre- registered status within 48 hours, stressing that heavy fines and penalties are imposed for default.

“NCC seeks to hold operators exclusively liable for these defaults, regardless of cause”, he stated.

According to him, the challenge of pre-registered SIMs, which he referred to as the biggest problem, is out of the control of the operators. “The challenge has been that there is no law limiting the number of SIMs a subscriber can have and register. This shouldn’t be. This gap has been exploited seriously. It is difficult for the system to detect at once anyone with double or multiple registrations. The systems are not real time.”

While warning agents against acts capable of undermining the process, Odunbaku said MTN is legally obliged to take decisive actions against TPs who permit breach of registration processes.

Nonetheless, the commission claimed to be aware of its tripod relationship with the primary constituencies, namely: the operators, the consumers and the government; and would always strive to ensure a balance without tilting it to any one’s disadvantage.

This relationship is defined in the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003. Plus the promotion of fair competition in the communications industry and the implementation of government’s general policies on communications, the Act particularly charges the regulator with the protection and promotion of the interest of consumers against unfair practices including but not limited to matters relating to tariffs and charges for and the availability and quality of communications services, equipment and facilities.

Against this background it must really be a painful but very expedient necessity for the commission, last week, to still come down heavily on the industry reeling out the following measures:

•Service providers must commence immediate deactivation of any SIM card that does not generate any economic activity after 48 hours of registration as contained in the NCC directives.

•The general public is hereby notified that selling, buying and use of pre-registered SIM card is illegal and is punishable under the NCC law.

•Immediate deactivation of all SIM cards that are not properly registered or contains incomplete registration. However, subscribers who are so disconnected are advised to go back to their respective Service Providers to properly register their SIM cards.

•Any Service Provider who fails to abide by these measures would be sanctioned, as this is considered an attempt to sabotage Government’s efforts to address security challenges in the country.

•All subscribers are advised to bear with the inconveniences that these measures may cause them as this is designed to safeguard lives and properties of all citizens.

According to NCC, these measures have been taken to prevent the telecoms industry from declining into an emergency situation, restore discipline and ensure the protection of life of the citizenry across the country. The need to have credible data base of phone users prompted the SIM card registration in 2010.

The exercise ended in 2012 with 110 million lines registered, although registration is ongoing as new SIMs are added to the networks and data scrubbed and uploaded to ensure foolproof data base.

In the last two years there have been several communications from the regulator to the operators on the need to maintain scrupulous control on the SIM card registration exercise in order to achieve one of the cardinal aims of attaining a credible data base and in the process help solve security concerns in the country. While the appeals may have fallen on deaf ears, worries are hitting frenetic heights about the activities of miscreants and other evil-intentioned minds who continue to exploit the loopholes in the process to unleash havoc on unsuspecting Nigerians. This culminated in the meeting of August 4, 2015 between the office of the NSA, the regulator and the operators with the operators being given seven days within which to deactivate all pre-registered SIM cards.

The guidelines on SIM card registration are very clear. Any card without economic activity in 48 hours is immediately be blocked. Now the pre-registered SIM card comes with a different hazard entirely.

According to market observers, it is like a loaded gun. If it gets into the hands of the undesirable, the society will have a reason to worry. It is the worries that have goaded the NCC to take a very firm stand in order to help secure of the safety of the generality.

Though, several expenses have gone into the SIM registration exercise, comprising N25 billion by the operators and another N6.1 billion by the NCC, the commission said all these monies have not gone down the drain as currently speculated.

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