Confusion, chaos as Pantami forces Nigerians to link NIN, Sim cards amid pandemic
It is less than 10 days to the end of the year and Nigerians, who are supposed to be in a festive mood to celebrate their survival despite the challenging year, are in a race to beat the deadline set for SIM records update by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami.
With the threat to cut off any Nigerian, who has not done the National Identification Number integration with SIM registration on everyone’s mind, millions of Nigerians without the digital identity have bombarded the National Identity Management Commission registration centres across the country.
They have defied the dangers associated with large gatherings and not maintaining social distancing, and also the warnings of the government regarding the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
This is because the relevance of a mobile number for an average Nigerian goes beyond making calls as a phone is a business tool for most of them, hence the urgent need to comply with the government’s directive in order to avoid losing their means of livelihood.
With the total number of mobile network connections reaching 207.58 million as of October 2020, and only 43 million Nigerians enrolled as of last week, this means that millions of phone lines risk being disconnected.
Despite the increasing awareness of the role of technology to effectively facilitate government processes, the NIMC has asked Nigerians to download a registration form it uploaded on its website, fill it offline and bring it to any enrollment centre for the continuation of the process.
Pantami had last week directed the industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission, to instruct telcos to immediately suspend the sale and activation of new SIM cards to allow another audit of the subscriber registration database.
As part of the audit process, the telcos, the minister and the NCC reached an agreement that all SIM cards that were not registered with valid National Identification Numbers on the network of telecommunications companies should be blocked after two weeks, but the deadline was later extended to 10 weeks.
With the problem of inadequate resources and the NIMC registration centres across the country, stakeholders said it was unrealistic to register Nigerians without the NIN in a short time.
On Monday, at the Alausa centre of the NIMC in Lagos, a large crowd gathered there even though the Federal Government had granted approval to over 173 private sector agents and 30 state governments/public sector institutions to conduct enrolment of Nigerians and legal residents into the National Identity Database.
Some of them, who spoke to our correspondent, said they arrived there as early as 5.30am to register and pick a tally number to enable them to participate in the registration exercise.
A Lagos-based businessman, Bisoye Ogedengbe, said he got to the centre at 5.30am and was able to pick a number and after a few hours, he was told to get a printed copy of the registration form and fill before he could be allowed onto the premises.
He said despite the sacrifices he made, he was unable to register for the NIN.
Also, Adejoke Alade, got to the Alausa centre around noon on Tuesday but was told that she got there too late and might not be attended to as many others were there before daybreak.
“Why will I resume at this place very early when I have a business to run? I need to first look for a means to survive this economic hardship before attending to other things. Why does the government like inconveniencing people like this?” she lamented.
“My phone is my shop; I sell jewellery to people on WhatsApp. All my customers already know this phone number and I can’t afford to lose it,” Oluseyi Lamidi told her correspondent at the NIMC centre at Alausa.
Indeed, mobile phones have become critical aspects of the Nigerian economy, driving digital payments, e-commerce, insurance and e-government services, among others.
Speaking with The PUNCH on the issue, the President, Nigerian Computer Society, Prof. Adesina Sodiya, said the sudden rush to register was because a few people had been registered by the commission.
He added that most Nigerians had their biometrics captured during SIM registration and could be synchronised with other data to generate the NIN for Nigerians.
The NCS president added that this recommendation had been shared with the NIMC management.
However, Sodiya said the society was working with the NIMC to develop an application that would assist Nigerians to search for their NIN online.
According to him, the application will be ready for use by the end of the week.
Sodiya stated, “We are involved in what the NIMC is doing and we are aware that the commission is working on an application that can assist people to search for their NIN online, and we are testing the application. Before the end of this week, that application will be ready.
“Don’t forget that our mobile lines have biometric verification and records, and we are telling them that if they can integrate that with the NIMC database, people will not need to register with the NIMC again since their details have been captured.”
“The NIMC is aware of the problems people have. The number of people that the NIMC has registered is still very low and that is why we have found ourselves in this situation that people are rushing to the commission’s offices.”
The President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers, Adeolu Ogunbanjo, said the minimum time to allow Nigerians and telcos comply with the directive should be six months.
He said, “It is unfortunate that only 43 million Nigerians have the NIN, that is 25 per cent of the number of subscriptions, meaning that 75 per cent are still not registered with the NIMC. By the time they barrage the NIM centres and offices of the operators when the second wave of COVID-19 has started, it is going to be disastrous.” Punch
He said the suspension of SIM retrieval for most people, who lost their phones recently, was making life unbearable.
Ogunbanjo called on the government to urgently lift the ban on SIM replacement to allow many Nigerians, who had lost their lines, to retrieve them.
Meanwhile, the current and incoming CEOs of MTN Nigeria, Ferdi Moolman and Karl Toriola, during an investors’ call last week, said the ban on the sale of new SIM cards was unlikely to last long, but the NIN integration with SIM registration records could last for up to six months.
Also, the President of Private Telecommunications and Communications Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Opeyemi Tomori, and General Secretary, Okonu Abdullahi, condemned the directive, saying the Federal Government was punishing Nigerians for its incompetence.
The leaders asked how possible it was to achieve the NIN registration for all Nigerians in a few weeks when it had not been achievable in the past seven years since the capturing commenced.
The union said, “To expect Nigerians to register and obtain the NIN in order to link it up with their SIMs within two weeks what they could not obtain for these numbers of years beat our imagination.”
Rather than issuing a deadline and threats on linking up the NIN with SIMs, the union said the government should have addressed the bottlenecks encountered by Nigerians in the process of registration, which had prevented a majority of them from obtaining their NIN.
The National President, Association of Telephone, Cable TV and Internet Subscribers, Adesina Bilesanmi, said for many years, the government had persuaded people to enrol for the NIN, but the people had been adamant.
He condemned the crowding of the NIMC centres by persons, who wanted to register, saying it was not safe in view of the coronavirus pandemic that had resurfaced.
Bilesanmi advised the government to register people in phases such that the first phase could be done online, while a day would be assigned for the capturing of biometrics for registrants at their preferred centres as part of the second phase.
While Nigerians continue to throng the NIMC offices and expose themselves to coronavirus, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has remained silent on the risk the danger of the order by the Nigerian Communications Commission and Patanmi. The task force has deemed it fit to caution Nigerians against other forms of gatherings.