Since the Federal Government ordered that National Identification Numbers (SIMs) yet to be linked with user’s Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) be partially deactivated, the affected subscribers have been in agony, struggling to get their lines back fully functional. ABOLAJI ADEBAYO reports
Despite the long period of the SIM-NIN integration exercise and its subsequent extensions for all subscribers to link their SIMs with their NIN, a great number of subscribers still fell victims of circumstance as their lines were barred from making calls, though they could do other things such as receiving calls, sending SMS and using data. Government, through the Ministry of Communications and the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC)’ had, in December 2020, directed SIM subscribers to link their national identity numbers to their SIM cards, with a warning that subscribers, who failed to do so by January 19, 2021, would have their SIMs blocked. As gathered, about 120 million subscribers were affected by the directive from the Federal Government. Available statistics from NCC in February showed that there were 303,636,267 connected GSM mobile lines in the country, out of which 197,768,482 were active. Of the 197.8 million active subscribers, 78 million had, so far, been linked.
When the policy was introduced and eventually mandated, the Federal Government said it would enhance the security of the country. According to government, the policy is one of the viable tools to fight insecurity ravaging the country. Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said terrorists and bandits were denied access to telecommunication services with the ongoing implementation of NIN-SIM linkage policy in Nigeria. The Director, Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement, NCC, Mr. Ephraim Nwokonanya, informed that there was an appreciable progress in NIN-SIM linkage policy meant to address rising cases of insurgency, kidnapping and banditry in the country. According to him, NIN-SIM implementation has been a potent tool in addressing the nation’s security challenges. “Yes we are making progress. The only challenge we are faced with now is, if they kidnap you, I mean the bandits, they use your number to call. They will never use their phone lines, it is the kidnapped person’s phone number they use to call and switch it off immediately. They can keep you at a different place and make the call elsewhere. If a phone is off, there is no way one can trace it. It’s a big challenge. “Even in the National Assembly, someone brought this up, to ban all kidnappers lines, some people objected, that if they use a person number to make calls why can’t Federal Government block the terrorists/bandits phone numbers. Then someone rose up to say there will be more killings, this is because kidnappers are after victims’ money, so, there is no way it will curb the problem. But now there is progress, because they are being denied of SIM cards,” he said.
Following the restriction on outgoing calls for subscribers whose SIMs were not linked with NIN, those affected have been undergoing frus-tration trying to get their SIMs linked with their NIN. Their frustration started from the point of NIN enrollment for those who have not been enrolled before. Those who spoke to New Telegraph complained that despite paying as much as N10,000 to be registered for the exercise that is supposed to be free, they were also delayed to be registered. At times, there would not be network at the centre, while some centres were congested. One of the victims, Salam Sakiru, at a NIMC center, lamented: “I have been coming here for the NIN, but the frustration is too much from long queue to network failure.” Meanwhile, some others complained that they sent their NINs to their various telecoms company as directed following the guidelines by pressing the codes peculiar to such company to submit their NINs, but were surprised to get their lines barred. Adedamola Alegbeleye, a nurse, said: “I have my NIN, which I submitted to MTN then. I even received message, but I was surprised to wake up and noticed that I could not make calls through my line. And since then, I have been trying to re-submit for activation, but it has not been successful and I cannot go and queue for the whole day in their office, the crowd is too much. In fact, the frustration is high.” President of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers, Adeolu Ogunbanjo, stated that the capacity for NIMC to accept uploads was not particularly adequate, adding that congestion in the past couple of days had aggravated the situation. He said: “Subscribers are trying to link their lines, but they are still being barred. The capacity of NIMC to accept the upload is not particularly adequate. Now, there are so many people who want to upload all their data so that NIMC will verify. “That is not happening because there is so much congestion right now. And, unfortunately, the relevant ministry does not want to listen. They are still saying, through NCC, that they are not going to extend it anymore. This is why we would be joining SERAP in its suit against government.”
Mobile telecoms’ losses
Aside the subscribers losing from the ban on their outgoing calls, mobile telecommunications companies have also been affected. It was gathered that telecos had lost revenue to the tune of N75.78 billion within 22 days of the ban as subscribers struggle to get their NIN linked to their SIMs. MTN Nigeria said it had lost over 1.3 million subscribers. The telecoms subscribers declined 1.9 per cent year-on-year (YoY) to 70.2 million in the first quarter of 2022, from 71.5 million in the first quarter of 2021, representing a loss of 1.3 million subscribers. This is according to the telecommunication firm’s unaudited report for the first quarter ended March 31, 2022, obtained from the Nigerian Exchange Group (NGX). The report reveals that active data subscribers grew by 10.5 per cent to 35.9 million active subscribers in the first quarter of 2022, from 32.5 million in the first quarter of 2021. In terms of revenue, the telcoms giant recorded N470.98 billion for the first quarter of 2022, compared to N385.31 billion obtained in the corresponding period. The firm’s voice revenue grew by 5.8 per cent to N258.76 billion in the first quarter of 2022, as against N244.61 billion in the first quarter of 2021. Similarly, the data revenue grew year-on-year by 54 per cent to N162.73 billion in 2022, from N105.69 billion in 2021. Its profit after taxation jumped year-on-year by 31.3 per cent to N96.81 billion in the first quarter of 2022, from N73.74 billion in the corresponding period of 2021. In the report, the telco blamed the drop in mobile subscribers on the regulatory restrictions on new Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) sales and activations. The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Karl Toriola, who commented on the report in the same statement, maintained that new subscribers to the tune of 1.7 million had filled that gap by the end of the first quarter of 2021. Toriola said: “Although our mobile subscriber base declined by 1.9 per cent YoY from 71.5 million in March 2021 to 70.2 million, we sustained the growth trajectory from Q4 2021 as we ramped up capacity for SIM registration and National Identity Numbers (NIN) enrolment. As a result, we added 1.7 million subscribers in Q1’22. In addition, active data subscribers rose by 10.5 per cent YoY to 35.9 million, with 1.6 million added in Q1 as we continued to drive data conversion from our new and existing subscriber base.” He explained that MTN complied with the directive requiring all operators to restrict outgoing calls for subscribers whose SIMs were not associated with NIN. That directive, he explained, affected 19 million subscribers. Giving an update from April 25, 2022, Toriola said about 8.7 million of those restricted submitted their NINs for verification, of which approximately 1.2 million had been reactivated, many of whom were highvalue customers. The CEO worried that the strict policy of the Federal Government would not only affect subscribers but the telcos themselves.
On December 15, 2020, the Federal Government declared that after December 30, 2020, all SIMs that were not registered with valid NINs on the network of telecommunications companies would be blocked. It later extended the 2020 deadline following widespread opposition against the announcement and gave three weeks extension to January 19, 2021. It also gave another six weeks’ extension, but many organisations called for further deadline extension or outright suspension of the NIN registration process.
Meanwhile, the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has vowed to engage the Federal Government over the mass blockage of subscriber lines. The ALTON Chairperson, Gbenga Adebayo, said the blockage of subscribers’ lines had been a major challenge for ALTON as several sectors have been affected by the blockage of information flow, even as far as the rural areas. He said there was need for government to further extend the exercise for other subscribers to have opportunity to get their SIMs linked with their NIN seamlessly. Ogunbanjo asked government to further extend the exercise by another three months, citing NIMC’s inadequacy as a challenge. “We are still appealing to the agencies to give at least another threemonth extension. Let them unbar subscribers so that sanity can be restored to the centres. Another 90 days won’t make any difference, it would only give us time to regularise,” he said.
With the challenges faced by the subscribers to get their NIN linked to their lines, the Federal Government may be forced to choose another option rather than deactivation of SIMs.