Confusion, anger as linked SIM users lament inability to make calls
•Experts urge affected customers to visit operators’ outlet for rectification
•NCC asks MNOs, agents, consumers to comply with SIM replacement guidelines
Confusion, anger and frustration were let loose yesterday, especially from subscribers who claimed to have been barred in error despite successfully linking their National Identification Numbers (NINs) to their Subscribers Identity Module (SIM) cards.
Recall that the Federal Government had directed telecommunications operators in the country to bar outgoing calls from all unlinked SIMs on their network, effective Monday, April 4. This is targeted at enforcing the NIN-SIM rule.
The Guardian had reported yesterday that following compliance to the directive by the service providers, especially the mobile network operators (MNOs), some 75 million lines have been barred. But it appears the barring have equally affected some subscribers who claimed to have verified and linked their NINs to SIMs.
A Globacom subscriber, Abioye Owolabi, told The Guardian yesterday that he had completed the linking and verification exercise as far back as 2021, “but I was shocked this morning to discover that I cannot make calls. This is my main line and imagine not being able to make calls. It is shocking! All what I was asked to do then, I complied with and got confirmation that my line was successfully linked.”
Another Globacom user, Esther Olatunji, also said she has been barred despite completing the NIN-SIM exercise. “I woke up to make calls this morning (yesterday), only to discover that I cannot call out. I remember completing the entire NIN-SIM process around June 2021 and there was confirmation to that effect.”
Olatunji, however, said she sent a message to *109# and “I was asked to provide my NIN, which I did. After about two hours, a message came as ‘Thank you for providing your NIN. SMS confirmation will be sent to you once your NIN has been verified and linked to your line.’ I am still waiting for them to unbar me.”
Nduka Maduka, a 9mobile subscriber, said he was among the first set of Nigerians that registered and linked the SIM successfully, “but I woke up this morning to discover that my line has been barred. I will visit the 9mobile outlet to go and vent my anger because I knew what I went through to verify and link then, only for them to block me again.”
Toeing same line as others, Amaka Ndubusi lamented that both her Airtel and MTN lines cannot call out. “I cannot remember if I actually linked both then, but I know I got confirmation from one of the operators to the effect that when my line had been verified, a confirmation text would come, but am not sure there was any confirmation text to that effect.”
MTN however, apologised to customers affected, stating that the order was a directive from the Federal Government. It, in turn, asked those who claimed their lines were barred despite linking them with their NINs to send in their numbers for rectification.”
MTN via its official handle, @MTN180, stated: “Y’ello. We apologise for any inconvenience caused you. The communication to implement restrictions on outgoing calls for customers who have not linked their National Identification Number (NIN) to their SIM is a directive from the Federal Government.”
MEANWHILE, crowds were seen at some designated National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) offices, centres and telecoms operators’ outlets. For instance, crowds were at the NIMC Alausa office; some outlets around Ejigbo, Ayobo, Surulere and Ketu, among others.
While some were there to lodge complaints, others were there to complete the NIN registration. Explaining what could warrant some linked lines being barred, a senior telecoms official, who preferred anonymity, said: “It could have been as a result of incomplete registration. It could also be computer errors. It could also be that the NIN has been linked to too many SIMs. So, the last linking might have been rejected. The problem could also have come from the poor backend integration from the NIMC.
“Such subscribers can go to the service outlets and get them sorted out. The fact is a blocked SIM is revenue loss to operators and the government too. So, no operator would be happy to lose any subscriber.”
A senior official of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), who doesn’t want her name in print, told The Guardian that some preliminary challenges are expected.
“We are just perfecting the system. Some few challenges would come up at the initial stage, but they will be sorted out. What any affected subscriber can do would be to visit service providers, I mean the MNOs outlet and the challenges will be resolved,” she stated.
FURTHER, the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has said members have complied with Federal Government’s directive, which ordered them to bar out-going calls on subscriber lines that are not in compliance with the NIN-SIM linkage policy requirement that all Subscriber Identification Modules (SIMs) must be linked with a National Identification Number (NIN).
ALTON, in a statement signed by its Chairman and Head of Operations, Gbenga Adebayo and Gbolahan Awonuga, respectively, said the directive followed multiple extensions of the deadline, which had been granted by the Federal Government to allow subscribers complete the NIN-SIM linkage.
“ALTON members are committed to complying with the instructions and call on telecommunication subscribers who have not obtained and/or linked a NIN to their SIMs to do so at any of the designated centres.
“We remain committed to supporting the Federal Government of Nigeria and upholding the rights of citizens to communicate, to share information freely and responsibly, and to enjoy privacy and security regarding their data and their use of digital communications,” the body stated.
IN a related development, the NCC has insisted that MNOs, their licensed agents and telecoms subscribers should always comply with the SIM registration, activation and replacement procedures as set out in the Revised National Identity Policy for SIM Registration.
The commission made the request during the sixth edition of the Telecom Consumer Town Hall on Radio (TCTHR), a radio-based interactive consumer outreach programme of the commission, broadcast under the auspices of NCC Digital Signature, the commission’s flagship radio programme.
The programme, which had NCC officials and representatives of MNOs in attendance in the studio, was aired live on Treasure FM 98.5, Garden City, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, at the weekend with the theme: “Understanding SIM Replacement Procedures.”
Speaking during the radio sensitisation programme, the Director, Consumer Affairs Bureau, NCC, Efosa Idehen, said while operators are to ensure strict compliance when registering their customers, the SIM card owners too have the responsibility to be vigilant to ensure that they are properly captured either for new SIM activation or SIM replacement.
“As the telecoms regulator in Nigeria, our role is to enforce compliance with the extant SIM activation and replacement procedures to avoid problems that may arise in the event of stolen, lost, damaged SIMs or the need to upgrade SIM cards,” he said.
Idehen underscored the significance of SIM registration to personal and national security, and asserted that compliance with the stipulated procedures for SIM replacement will forestall identity theft, fraudulent SIM swap and other deceitful activities that can be carried out with a SIM card.
He informed the listeners that in accordance with the Revised National Identity Policy for SIM Registration, all SIM replacements shall be undertaken by the service providers or their licensed agents in a controlled environment to eliminate the recurrent complaints of inconclusive SIM replacement procedures. He said such experiences had resulted in subscribers being defrauded by cyber fraudsters.
Idehen also advised the telecom consumers to be wary of fake SIM registration agents purporting to be working for MNOs with intent to defraud unsuspecting subscribers. He said one of the antics of such agents is to ask for the one-time password (OTP) forwarded to the consumer for activation of the SIM, especially after the SIM replacement process has been done. He warned telecom consumers to be wary of such scams.
Addressing the requirements for SIM replacement, the Director, Public Affairs, NCC, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, said the use NIN is compulsory in addition to all other criteria stated in the SIM Replacement Guidelines. He declared that the provision is stipulated in the Revised National Identity Policy for SIM registration.