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Nigeria directs operators to block SIMs unregistered on NIN

A total of 73 million active mobile lines in Nigeria will not be making calls from today.

This follows the federal government’s directive to telecommunications companies to restrict outgoing calls on unlinked mobile lines following the expiration of the extension for the integration of the National Identification Number (NIN) and the Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) on March 31, 2022.

The directive was contained in a joint statement issued yesterday by the director of public affairs of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, and the head of Corporate Communications of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Kayode Olagoke. They said the directive took effect from midnight on Monday, April 4.

According to the statement, the minister of communications and digital economy, Isa Ali Pantami, reported that during the exercise over 125 million SIM cards had so far had their NINs submitted for immediate linkage, verification and authentication. Similarly, NIMC had issued over 78 million unique NINs till date.

As of the end of February 2022, active GSM lines hit 197, 768, 482; total active lines were 198, 123, 431, while the total number of connected GSM lines stood at 303,636, 267 according to data from the NCC.

President Muhammadu Buhari had given the directive for the implementation and commencement of the exercise in December 2020 as part of the administration’s security and social policies. The deadlines for the SIM-NIN linkage had been extended on multiple occasions to allow Nigerians and legal residents to freely comply with the Policy.

Reacting to this development, former president of Nigeria Internet Registration Authority (NiRA), Sunday Folayan, told LEADERSHIP that federal government’s decision to order telecoms companies to restrict outgoing calls for telephone lines yet to comply SIM-NIN linkage policy from April 4, 2022, is a good decision, but has implications on the economy.

Folayan said the enforcement of the government’s directive will force Nigerians who are yet to register their NINs, and link their NINs to their SIM cards, to do so.

He further stated that when all Nigerians had linked their NINs to their SIM cards, it will indirectly improve security in the country, adding that it can help in tracing where a call from a registered SIM is coming from.

“It is difficult to trace a call from an unregistered SIM, but if all SIM cards are registered and linked to NIN, it will be easier to trace the call. One of the reasons the government wants Nigerians to follow that directive of linking their SIMs to NIN was because it can help improve security in the country,” he added.

As for the economy, Folayan disclosed telecoms operators may experience losses at this moment due to the fact that people will not be able to place calls if their SIM cards are restricted.

“If they can’t make calls, there is no point buying call credits, thereby leading to huge losses to the telecom operators,” he explained, adding, however, this is just temporary as more Nigerians will see the reason to register their NINs and link their SIM cards to their NINs.

For smooth NIN registration, Folayan advised NIMC to ensure that they boost their capacity to accommodate Nigerians who are yet to register their NINs.

“In the next few days, NIMC will experience crowds at their various centres, considering the number of Nigerians who are yet to register their NINs.

“I would advise that NIMC should boost their capacity to accommodate the crowds. Also, while unregistered SIM cards are restricted to make calls, NIN registration should be an ongoing exercise, so that more Nigerians can still have the opportunity to register their NIN and link it to their SIMs whenever they can,” he said.

The president, Association of Telecommunications Companies in Nigeria (ATCON), Engr. Ike Nnamani, told LEADERSHIP that the deadline for people to register their SIM cards had been extended several times in the past and that people were still encouraged to register.

“We will still encourage people to go and register their SIM and link to NIN. There is a security implication when we have unregistered SIM cards in the system,” he added.

On his part, a well-placed voice in the industry, who does not want his name on print, however noted that much as the government has made efforts to encourage people to integrate their SIM cards with their NINs by extending several deadlines, it would be harsh to begin to cut off the lines of people.

He advised the government to incentivise the process and take minimal measures instead of the outright restrictions on people’s lines.

He said, “If you want the digital economy to be in the mainstream, it is a good idea but sometimes the way we go about implementing it may not be sensitive to people’s situation. However, the government has tried so much by giving several deadlines, and if you continue to break deadlines, it undermines even your own authority and integrity.

“When you want to implement this kind of programme, you make it the interest of people. Sometimes you can incentivize people constructively. I am not sure this cutting of lines will be good because people sometimes have emergencies. There is no wisdom in completely blocking somebody’s line; it is harsh.”

On whether the SIM-NIN integration had solved the lingering issue of insecurity in the country, public intellectual, Dr. Katch Ononuju, told LEADERSHIP that the exercise seems to have failed in that aspect, which he blamed on President Buhari’s government.

“No, we have not achieved this because the Nigerian government has not developed the political will to curb the crisis. The SIM-NIN linkage has been used to zero-in on the position of the terrorists, the problem is the absence of political will on the part of President Buhari to allow the military to do the needful,” he said.

Meanwhile the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has issued a statement confirming that they received formal instructions from the NCC to bar out-going calls on subscriber lines that are not in compliance with the SIM-NIN linkage policy.

ALTON chairman said ALTON members would comply with the instructions even as he called on telecommunication subscribers who had not obtained and linked a NINs to their SIMs to do so at any of the designated centres.

In a related development, the NCC has strongly warned telecoms subscribers to ensure they do not allow their NINs to be linked to another person’s SIM cards, no matter how close the person is to them.

The NCC gave the warning during a radio programme on ‘the Benefits of SIM-NIN Integration’ recently. AllAfrica

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