About 20 million Nigerians are at risk of losing their telecommunication lines as the Federal Government’s October 31st deadline for the linkage of the National Identity Number, NIN, and the Subscriber Identity Module, SIM linkage draws closer.
This is even as the FG, through the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, remain bullish about not extending the deadline one more time. To this end, the about 20 million Nigerians yet to link their SIMs to their NINs can expect to be deprived of telecom services from November 1.
“Soon, people without NIN will be denied necessary services that play vital roles in their lives, including the acquisition of a driving licence and a passport, “NCC’s Director of Public Affairs, Dr Ikechukwu Adinde, said.
According to NCC reports, over 180 million telephone lines have been linked so far with NIN. That is from a total of about 320 connected lines as indicated by NCCs subscribers data as of August 2021.
With an average of 3 sim cards per subscriber, this means that about 60 million unique NINs have now been linked to phone numbers from the average of 107 million unique telecoms subscribers the country boasts of.
Similarly, these figures also indicate that about 47 million subscribers with over 140 million sim cards are without NIN numbers and tend to be shut out of mobile network service if the commission chooses to stand by the October 31st deadline.
Telecom subscribers appeal for more time
In the face of the rapidly approaching deadline issued by the FG, telecom subscribers in the country are clamouring for a further extension of the NIN-SIM registration.
The president of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers, Adeolu Ogunbajo stressed the need for the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to move the deadline till the end of the year so as to allow users to complete their sim verification process.
“In view of the current security situation, which necessitated the policy, we want the deadline to be extended to the end of the year, so that from January 1, there won’t be any excuse. But I also would want a situation where subscribers should take advantage of the remaining days left in this window.”
“Another two months won’t be bad. We are pleading for a two-month extension – November and December – so that full implementation of the security policy can start in January, “he added.
The call for this extension has become important as a large number of Nigerians are still scuttling in NIN registration centres to obtain their National Identity Numbers, with the deadline just days away.
Previous extensions and the possibility of another one
The National Communications Commission first announced the end of December 2020 as the first deadline for NIN registration, but then had to extend several times. The October 31st deadline makes it the sixth extension the commission would be announcing.
The commission mandated the linking of NIN to SIM cards in mid-December 2020 to curb the rising number of crimes such as terrorism, kidnapping, advance fee fraud, and banditry that thrive on communication enabled by SIM cards.
The primary deadline for the NIN-SIM linkage was 30th December 2020 before the government initially announced an extension to 19th January, and thereafter an eight-week extension to April 6.
The reason for the deadline extensions, as at that time, was to give Nigerians and legal residents more time to integrate the numbers into their mobile lines.
On March 23, two weeks after the April 6th deadline, a Federal court sitting in Lagos ordered the extension of the deadline to June 30th, as the two-week deadline would infringe on citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression.
This extension also followed complaints by many Nigerians, including UTME candidates who have still been unable to register for the NIN.
The June 30th deadline, as reported, was followed by a further extension to July 26th after calls from stakeholders on the need to consolidate the enrolment and NIN-SIM verification process.
The more recent extension to October 31st came after a series of requests from stakeholders that implored the government to extend the dates to allow for registration in hard-to-reach places, foreigners and Nigerians in the diaspora.
It is uncertain if the government would be willing to extend the deadline for a 7th time even after having over 5,500 enrolment systems within and outside the country. But there are indications that it may.
Since the NIN-SIM linkage policy started in December last year, telcos have lost more than 19 million subscribers, according to subscriber data released by the Nigerian Communications Commission.
These figures are likely to rise if the FG disconnects unlinked lines by October 31st as approximately 44 per cent of unique Nigerian telephone lines remain unconnected to the NIN. This is a really significant number.
Mobile phone numbers are a prized asset to a lot of Nigerians and small businesses alike, and the threat of an eventual blockage, if there is no NIN linkage, is a serious concern.
Many have their bank accounts linked to their telephone lines and this means that they would be unable to carry out transactions via the USSD code or receive alerts during the period of the ban.
The federal government had announced that the implementation of the NIN-SIM linkage policy would help check the heinous and violent crimes assailing the country.
But despite these measures, insecurity in the nation is still rising and demands for ransom are still being made via phone calls by bandits and kidnappers, a report from the Daily Trust said.
So far, the federal government still stands by its word on the October 31st deadline and says Nigerians without NIN will have their sims blocked and will be denied the opportunity to acquire driving licences and passports.
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