The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has issued a directive mandating all mobile network operators to deactivate all SIM cards which are not duly registered with a valid National Identification Number (NIN) within the next two weeks.
The decision was the outcome of a meeting between the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami, key stakeholders in the communications sector and the management of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).
In an official statement, the NCC maintained that all mobile subscribers must update their SIM registration records by submitting valid National Identification Number (NIN) information on or before December 2020.
According to the commission, all SIM cards without updated NIN registrations before the stipulated deadline will be disconnected from the mobile networks.
The new development follows an earlier order by the NCC directing all operators including MTN and Airtel to completely suspend the sale and registration of new SIM cards pending the completion of a thorough audit of the Subscribers Registration Database.
The commission disclosed that a Ministerial Task Force led by Pantami has been set up to oversee compliance by all networks, stating that operators which flout the order will be heavily sanctioned and could see their licences withdrawn.
Over 150 Million Nigerians Don’t Have NIN
In Nigeria, just over 42 million people possess a National Identification Number. Hence, more than 150 million Nigerians are still without a NIN. For context, this figure represents a huge 75% of the entire population.
Going by NCC stats, there are over 200 million mobile subscriptions in Nigeria. With up to 100 million unique mobile subscribers, it can be inferred that only about 42% have a national identification number.
How exactly does the NCC expect an estimated 54 million network subscribers to provide a NIN that they haven’t been able to obtain yet, in the space of two weeks?
The National Identity Management Commission’s (NIMC) challenges have resulted in only a minority of Nigerians being represented in the country’s identity database in more than five years.
Considering the two-week timeline given by the NCC, it is both harsh and infeasible to expect Nigerians to go all out post-COVID-19 to update SIM card registrations with NIN that millions of them do not even possess.
If the commission would go on to enforce compliance, then it could end up blocking the SIM cards of 25% of the entire Nigerian populace. The directive is wrongly timed and simply impractical.
NCC Trying to Force NIN Registration
The latest directive by the NCC is in line with Nigeria’s reviewed SIM card policy which makes the National Identification Number (NIN) a mandatory requirement to register SIM cards in the country.
Recall that in August, the NIMC was transferred to the Pantami-led Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMCDE) to bolster the implementation of the commission’s identity goals.
It appears that apart from working to clamp down on multiple registrations and fraudulent sales of SIM cards by vendors, the NCC is also assisting the NIMC to “force” Nigerians to register for their NIN as quickly as possible.
With the NIMC having failed to adequately identify the majority of Nigerians due to inadequate funding and mismanagement, the move by the NCC seems a part of the strategy to drive national identification across the country.
While mobile network operators which are still enabling unregistered SIM cards are being targeted by the NCC, their subscribers are the ones who will be most affected by the current directive.
That said, it remains to be seen how the policy plays out in terms of compliance in the next two weeks.