The Federal Government of Nigeria is planning to enforce the need for National Identity Numbers (NIN) to be acquired and submitted by Nigerians and valid passports and visas presented by foreigners before any Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card can be registered and activated successfully, BusinessDay has learnt.
This move is prompted by the government’s effort to validate the identity of all mobile phone subscribers and checkmate kidnapping and other mobile-aided crimes.
Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, minister of communications and digital economy, has directed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to revise the policy on SIM card registration and usage to include this, as well as other prerequisites.
This is in line with the powers of the minister as stated in Section 25(1) of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003- “the minister shall, in writing, from time to time notify the commission or and express his views on the general policy direction of the Federal Government in respect of the communications sector.”
All formally registered and active SIM cards are to be updated with their users’ NIN before December 1, 2020.
In addition, the new policy will allow only a maximum of three SIM cards to be tied to a user or subscriber’s identity meaning that a subscriber may only use three SIM cards in all.
In a statement released on Wednesday (today) in Abuja, the ministry of communications and digital economy said the policy revision was deemed necessary based on feedback security agencies following the successful revalidation of improperly registered SIM cards in September 2019 and the blocking of SIMs that were not revalidated.
The updated policy states that only fully accredited agents support the SIM card registration process without pre-registering SIM cards themselves, while the eventual registration should be done by the operators and no unregistered SIMs will ever be allowed on mobile networks.
Also, it will ensure that all subscribers can easily check the number of SIM cards registered to their identity, along with the associated phone numbers and networks, and ensure that mobile network operators fortify their networks against cyber attacks and ensure that they adhere to the provisions of the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR). With this, all SIM cards that have previously been or are currently being used to perpetrate crimes will be permanently deactivated.
“The NCC is to provide the minister with progress reports on the implementation of the revised policy,” the ministry said in the statement signed by Femi Adeluyi, technical assistant (Information Technology) to the minister of communication and digital economy.
The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has intensified efforts to enroll as many people as possible, more so, after the federal government enforced the mandatory use of NIN in organisations like the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) and now telecom operators, before service delivery.
Nigeria has over 184 million active mobile lines as at December 2019, according to data from the NCC website. However, these numbers cannot be associated with the amount of mobile subscribers in the country as one subscriber can have an unlimited amount of SIM cards registered. The NIMC currently has about 39 million registered Nigerians in its database. This is believed to change with the new policy.
Stakeholders say that the intense attempt to create a truly digital economy by enforcing traceable digital identification is advantageous and poses a ray of hope for a boost in Nigeria’s economy in the future; as the absence of unique identity numbers for every citizen in Nigeria may have been a contributory factor to the underdevelopment and security hazards of certain services and industries in the country.
“We need valid data to associate with the numbers of the amount of individual subscribers and not just subscriptions. The database we currently have only measures the subscriptions and not the people using the service. If we want to know the true numbers of Nigerians we must use the National Identity Database and not SIM registration,” Olusola Teniola, president, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) told BusinessDay in a telephone interview.
According to Teniola: “The policy makes a whole lot of sense because we have to reduce the number of frivolous registrations that we cannot associate with an individual, and the National Identity Commission (NIMC) has to be the custodian of Nigeria’s data”.