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Confusion over govt’s directive on SIM cards registration

By Adeyemi Adepetun
16 December 2020   |   4:17 am
The Federal Government’s directive, which bars the activation of new Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards, may pitch telephone users against Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country, especially those who have genuine reasons for the purchase of new SIM cards.

The Federal Government’s directive, which bars the activation of new Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards, may pitch telephone users against Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country, especially those who have genuine reasons for the purchase of new SIM cards.

Findings by The Guardian showed that while MNOs have complied with the directive, subscribers seem to be at the receiving end as those with a genuine intention for new SIM cards are denied.

For instance, those who lose their lines may not be able to retrieve it until another two to three months or after the supposed audit must have been completed. For now, no specific date for the commencement of the audit, and fixed time to end it has not been agreed.

Consequently, while subscribers may have to wait another two months to be able to retrieve the line, service providers won’t smile to the bank on account of activation of new SIMs.

A subscriber, who recently lost his SIM cards to armed robbers at gun point, said the telecoms operators said they could not issue him another line. He was asked to come back in February 2021.

Narrating his experience, Associate Professor and Head of Department, Mass Communications, University of Lagos, Dr. Adepoju Tejumaye, who was attacked by armed robbers, and in the process lost his phone with his two major telephone lines, said the service providers refused to issue him new SIM cards.

“On Friday, November 11, around 5:30 am, at Ketu Bus stop, I was driving but had to slow down due to traffic. Suddenly, two guys armed with guns and other dangerous weapons forced themselves into my car. I tried to wrestle with them, but eventually, I ran out of the car. They ransacked the car and went away with my phone.

“After laying complaints at the Police station, I went to both Globacom and 9mobile experience centres to retrieve my lines, but they all declined, saying there is a directive from NCC, which has stopped all forms of SIM registration and activation. I explained to them the situation that brought this up but they did not listen to me. Now, the two lines connected to my bank accounts, WhatsApp and Facebook are gone. I can’t have access to them. They said I should come back by February to retrieve it. Imagine what I would have lost between now and then.”

Tejumaiye urged the Federal Government to have a rethink, stressing that such policies could harm people. “We quite understand that there are some nefarious activities some people are doing with SIM cards, but whatever policies FG wants to implement should have a human face. What this simply means is that whoever should lose his or her SIM card cannot get it back until February. Imagine the loss one would have incurred by then. It is a serious issue.

“The government should have thought deeply about the policy through and through before bringing it out. Perhaps, put some kind of conditions that will make one be able to prove that he actually lost a SIM, especially anybody attacked by armed robbers.”

Confirming the inability of telcos to issue new SIM cards, a senior MTN official, who preferred anonymity, said anyone who loses his or her SIM card cannot get any new one for now.

“No SIM swap, even a get back plan, none for now. A SIM swap requires we issue a new SIM. But as it is now, nothing of such can be done going by the NCC directive,” he said.

According to him, no date has been fixed for the commencement of the audit and no ending time.

This MTN official is worried that even foreigners coming into Nigeria, for the first time, would also not have access to any SIM card.

He expressed bitterness over the inability of the country to have a central database. “The question is that with all the SIM registration and data gathering we are doing, BVN, international passport, driver’s license and all sorts, there is no central database, no harmonisation. Then, what are we doing as a country? It is only the telcos that will always be at the receiving end. The NCC itself also carried out SIM registration with huge allocation, what happened to that data?” he queried.

Speaking with The Guardian, the President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Ike Nnamani, said the policy should not have affected existing subscribers, who need SIM replacement.

“From what we gather, this is a review of new SIM card registration. I don’t think if you are an existing customer, and have issues with your line; the operators will not be able to attend to you. There is a big difference between the registrations of new SIM cards versus customer support for existing properly registered subscribers. I don’t think the current directive will affect people who just lost their SIMs for one reason or the other,”

According to him, the operators should be able to give the necessary support to existing subscribers.

Nigeria National Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, said he believe that the continuous audit of SIM cards and the directive from the Federal Government should allow concurrence sale of SIM cards to the operations of the telcos and the industry.

Teniola said the audit should be a back end affair. He stressed the need for the proper hamonisation of the disparate data in the country.

According to him, the directive seems rather too harsh, and sends some uncertainties within the business community, and might have potential impact going into Q1 2021.

“Already, the directive has affected the performance of the listed telcos, and is further affecting it. The stakeholders would want answers around the true state of the previous audit done. Remember, the SIM registration exercise started around some eight years ago by ATCON members. Today, there is a teledensity that is over 100 per cent; active mobile subscribers of about 207 million. It is well known that the Internet and general services are actually assigned to a SIM card. The activities of Nigerians, who are communicator on daily basis, are via the SIM card.

“It must be mentioned that our activities as a country, migrating to a digital economy will also come via the SIM cards. So, new lines on mobile devices are fundamental to the digital economy. As much as we are looking for investment, we should not create any uncertainty in the market, especially as we plan to implement the New National Broadband Plan,” he stated.