New Telegraph

Pantami: Nigerians fret over 51m NIN database

Allegations against minister threatens NIN-SIM linkage exercise

The controversies trailing the person of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, has sparked fears among Nigerians over what becomes of the National Identification Number (NIN) database, which contains full details of over 51 million Nigerians. This is even as conspiracy theorists are alleging that the compulsory linking of the NIN to Subscriber Identity Module (SIM), which the minister made compulsory for all telecoms subscribers in the country, could be to achieve other plans other than national security.

As of the first week in April, the minister, who chaired a meeting of the Ministerial Task Force on the NIN-SIM data linkage, had disclosed that over 51 million people have been captured in the NIN database. Many Nigerians who took to various social media platforms to express worry over the raging allegations against the minister, said they now feel unsafe having their data in the custody of a man that is being linked with the most dreaded terrorist groups in the world, Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Amidst calls for his sack or registration, they said the data, which is in care of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) under the supervision of Pantami, could have been compromised if the allegations against the Minister turn out to be true.

Reports first emerged last weekend that the Minister was on the United States’ terrorists watch list, which the minister vehemently denied and threatened to sue the media houses. However, further investigations by some online platforms revealed more about the minister, with old audio and video evidence of the minister’s preachments in support of the terrorist groups. Pantami, however, subsequently announced that he had renounced the views. He said during his daily Ramadan lecture at Annor Mosque in Abuja last Saturday that he now knew better about some of the comments he made in the past.

Pantami had posited that the campaign against him was politically motivated, saying: “For 15 years, I have moved around the country while educating people about the dangers of terrorism. I have travelled to Katsina, Gombe, Borno, Kano states, and Difa in Niger Republic to preach against terrorism. “I have engaged those with Boko Haram ideologies in different places. I have been writing pamphlets in Hausa, English, and Arabic. I have managed to bring back several young persons who have derailed from the right path. “Some of the comments I made some years ago that are generating controversies now were based on my understanding of religious issues at the time, and I have changed several positions taken in the past, based on new evidence and maturity. “I was young when I made some of the comments; I was in university, some of the comments were made when I was a teenager.

“I started preaching when I was 13, many scholars and individuals did not understand some of the international events and, therefore, took some positions based on their understanding, some have come to change their positions later.” Meanwhile, telecoms industry stakeholders have also expressed concerns that the minister’s current imbroglio is threatening the success of the ongoing NIN-SIM linkage exercise. Credible sources within the industry, who are also carrying out the mandate of registering Nigerians for the NIN, said since the controversies about the Minister broke out, the number of Nigerians coming for the registration had reduced. “It is possible that some of those who have been following the recent reports about the minister are no longer comfortable with giving out their data.

It is also possible that many are anticipating that the Minister may be sacked and the NIN-SIM linkage exercise may no longer be mandatory. But what is certain is that all Nigerians need to enroll for the NIN for Nigeria to build a credible database of its citizens,” one of the sources said. The deadline for all telecom subscribers to link their lines with their NIN, which was initially fixed for December 31, 2020, was extended to February 19, 2021. The government later extended the same to April 6, 2021, and a few days to the expiration, the Ministerial Task Force on the NIN-SIM data linkage, chaired by Pantami, further extended it to May 6, 2021.

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