Possible Reasons FG Extended the NIN-SIM Linkage Deadline, Risk of SIM Deactivation & Possibility of Jail Term
For the third consecutive time, the Federal Government again extended the deadline for linking SIMs to the National Identification Number (NIN). The deadline for NIN-SIM linkage was pushed forward by a month to May 6, 2021.
The latest postponement is, perhaps, proof of how impractical it was when the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had first given a 2-week deadline for NIN-SIM linkage in December 2020.
Why FG Extended Deadline
Apart from capturing mobile subscribers’ identity, the government’s SIM-NIN linkage exercise has been enforced in order to compel about 158 million Nigerians to acquire their NIN. Since the NCC order, however, just 6% of that number has been accounted for.
That is, only 9 million of 158 million people have obtained their NINs so far.
Before the linkage exercise commenced, 42 million Nigerians had got their NIN. Despite the fact that several more people have enrolled following NCC’s directive, a 71% majority (149 million) of the entire Nigerian population remain without NIN.
Moreover, only 51 million NINs have been integrated into the country’s national identity database, according to the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami.
At an average of 3 to 4 SIMs per mobile subscriber, it can be estimated that close to 150 million SIMs have been linked to NIN. With Nigeria having over 200 million mobile subscriptions, this means about 50 million SIMs are still unlinked.
These factors ultimately led to the recent deadline extension.
Deactivating SIMs Poses Big Risks
If the NCC’s SIM deactivation sanction is upheld, then all NIN-SIM linkage defaulters would lose mobile connections.
Individuals will suffer internet shutout and people such as e-hailing drivers and dispatch riders would be adversely affected. These people can’t work without using the ride-hailing/logistics apps installed on their smartphones.
Mobile-dependent micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) could also be put out of business.
Many small businesses including e-retail merchants and even crypto P2P vendors operate entirely using smartphones. Blocking their SIMs would mean that they can neither provide these services nor access customers.
This will effectively shut out cash inflow for these businesses and might force them out of operations if prolonged.
Ironically, telcos will bear the brunt of blocking SIMs in no small measure. Deactivating SIMs will further cut down mobile subscriptions for operators which have already lost massive revenue since the suspension of SIM sales and registration.
Telco mobile subscriptions reduced by 8.4 million between December 2020 and February 2021, meaning that network providers have incurred losses of up to N11.9 billion (using the sector’s Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) of ₦1,420).
With ICT currently Nigeria’s 2nd biggest contributor to gross domestic product (GDP), a significant decline in the sector’s revenue might lower the country’s real GDP in Q1 and Q2 2021.
NIN Defaulters Could Face Prison Sentence
Contrary to what certain people might think, the government fully reserves the right to imprison defaulters of the NIN-SIM linkage order. The Nigerian Constitution confers on the government the authority to do this if an individual has “failed in the fulfilment of any obligation imposed upon him by law.”
The NIN is a mandatory requirement backed by law for all Nigerians and the SIM linkage exercise is a direct order from authorities. Hence, a refusal to fulfil these obligations passes as a crime and may attract fines or lead to imprisonment.
Persons not possessing the national ID in countries like Egypt are charged stipulated fines, but there are no confirmed reports of governments that have jailed citizens or residents for not having IDs.
In the worst-case scenario, people without national IDs are unable to access government services such as banking and voting, but cases of arrest are usually associated with outright criminal activities.
Clearly, there is still a huge number of Nigerians not yet represented in the country’s national identity database. While the roll out of additional centres by telcos and private ID companies has accelerated the NIN registration process, there is still much work left to be done.
However, significant progress has been made. Suffice it to say that the 9 million NINs registered in just over 3 months is a far cry from the 42 million NINs assigned in 13 years.
On the whole, it seems as though nearly all SIMs will be linked before the May 6 deadline, but the vast majority of Nigerians will remain without the NIN.
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