Sudden Policy Somersaults

Nigeria’s Policy Somersault: A Bizarre New Rule Threatens 198 Million Telco Subscribers

By  |  December 16, 2020

The month of December is usually associated with good tidings of the festive season but this particular December hasn’t exactly brought good tidings for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria. The last few weeks have come with one new stifling directive or another.

Just yesterday, a new directive from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for mobile network operators broke Nigeria’s internet space. 

The Commission passed a strict instruction to all network operators in Nigeria to disconnect all SIM cards that are without a valid National Identity Number (NIN) by the 30th of December.

The NIN is a unique number that should ideally identify each Nigerian. It is also a preparatory phase to securing the National Identity Card. The NIN is issued and managed by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).

The new directive was issued right after an important meeting that took place earlier on Monday which was convened by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami. This meeting involved the gathering of key stakeholders in the communications industry. 

The meeting in its resolution required the users of all network operators to provide a valid NIN. This NIN would be used to update individuals’ SIM registration records, starting December 16.

This agreement was reached, with the inclusion of the stakeholders during the meeting. 

At the meeting, the need to improve the integrity and transparency of the SIM registration process was highlighted, and NIN was believed to be a way to go about it.

The crux of the agreement reached, is that all SIMs without this NIN would be blocked from their respective network provider by the 30th of December.

Hence, in an overview, this means that the submission of NIN by subscribers should take place within two weeks, starting December 16, 2020 and ending 30 December 2020.

The general public was urged to ensure that their NINs are captured in their SIM registration data within that time frame, and also apologized for all inconveniences which might be occasioned by this directive.

Also, to monitor and ensure compliance by network operators, a ministerial task force was formed which comprised the minister himself, and also the CEOs of these telecom companies. 

It follows that violation of this new order attracts severe penalties.

“Violations of this directive will be met by stiff sanctions, including the possibility of withdrawal of operating license,” the commission stated.

New week, new rules?

The new order for network operators followed an earlier one given in the previous week by the minister. 

Last week, he mandated the Nigerian communications commission (NCC), to suspend the registration of new SIM cards across the country. This would mean that new SIM cards would no longer be sold, as the registration which ought to take place at the point of sale has been put on hold. 

According to the Minister, the move is to allow an audit of the Subscriber Registration database. And that, the objective of the audit, was to verify and ensure that network operators comply with the already set standard previously issued by the Ministry and the commission.

A directive drag?

Record puts the number of Nigerians already with a NIN at approximately 40 million, and thereby amounts to 20 percent of the entire population. That leaves out some 160 million Nigerians.

Also, according to NIMC, that number represents 21.3 percent of active mobile network users as of the end of 2019. As of October 2020, there are 198 million mobile network subscriptions in Nigeria and it’s not clear how many of those have gotten the new NIN requirement.

Now, this itself is a problem. The directive appears to be ill-conceived given the short timeframe for its execution. In a nutshell, it means that the remaining 78.7 percent of the number of GSM users are expected to secure their NIN within the short time frame of two weeks, else they risk being cut off from their network providers. 

Logically, it’s almost impossible and quite insensitive for that many people to secure their NIN within this timeframe, in the middle of a pandemic. 

Approaching this with a wider lens, it appears that the telecommunications industry is one of the few sectors that has grown significantly in Nigeria, in the past few years, even despite and during the pandemic. 

And this is the one same sector that individuals, yet to possess a NIN risk being cut off from. And in all frankness, this doesn’t look good for anyone.

But overall, there is great anticipation from here and many others to see how this plays out.

Featured Image Courtesy: Umaizi

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