Telephone subscribers are once again thrown into pandemonium, as the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), yesterday, declared about 63.2 per cent of the Subscriber Identification Modules (SIM) cards data information processed by the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country as invalid.
Invalid, in the sense that data collected are beset with some irregularities such as invalid face capturing and fingerprints, wrong biometrics, among others.
Since the SIM registration commenced in 2011, thousands, if not millions of subscribers have registered their SIMs to validate their numbers at least four times, in compliance with NCC directive, as such it is not clear at what point such registrations became invalid
The Commission, which disclosed this at the South-South regional sensitisation workshop on the dangers of fraudulently-activated SIM cards organised in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, disclosed that since the SIM registration exercise started, "a total of 151,449,837 registration data of subscribers have been processed, with only 55,749,652 records valid, making 63.2 per cent of the total records invalid based on invalid face capturing and fingerprints."
NCC said the various irregularities identified in the exercise underscored the importance of proper SIM registration.
Already, one of the telecommunications operators, Airtel, has sent text messages to its subscribers to go an update their Know Your Customer (KYC) details at any of its customers experience centres.
The message read: "Dear Customer, kindly visit any approved Airtel KYC Centre to update your KYC details before 30th March, 2019. Dial *121*3*8# to get your serial number. Your line may be barred in the days leading up to 30th March, 2019, if you fail to do so. Kindly ignore if you have updated within the last 48 hours. Please hurry to avoid line disconnection. Thank you for choosing Airtel."
Lately, the messages have been followed with calls from the network on subscribers to go and update their SIMs data.
This also implied that it is just a matter of time before other operators including MTN, Globacom, and 9Mobile would call out their subscribers to go and update their KYC, a subtle way of compelling them to go and re-register their SIMs.
Recall that that in August 2015, MTN, Airtel, Glo, and Etisalat (now 9Mobile), the four leading mobile operators in Nigeria deactivated all lines with unregistered or improperly registered mobile subscriber data on their networks in a surprise move resulting in a deluge of crowd at their various service centres nationwide.
NCC had said that out of the 37.79 million deactivated lines, Etisalat (9Mobile) had 19.46 million followed by MTN with 18.6 million lines. Airtel had 7.4 million lines while Glo accounted for 2.33 million lines. The move led to various sanctions, which included a N1.04 Trillion fine on MTN.
Some of the affected SIMs had been with subscribers since the GSM revolution began in 2001, purchased for as much as between N30, 000 and N50, 000.
The Guardian checks showed that operators spent over N10 billion on SIM registrations. NCC requested for and got budgetary approval of N6.2 billion to register existing operators.
Subscribers too have started groaning over the increasing call out to update their SIMs.
A Festac subscriber, Chukwujekwu Anthony, blasted both the operator and regulator. According to him, "First, I don't know why we have to go through this process again. You can see the queue! Most of us have jobs to attend to, but Airtel has subjected us to this harrowing experience again. This will be the fourth time I am coming for KYC updates, SIM registration in the last three years. What is the problem with the network!
"Second, I don't think NCC is doing its job as a regulator, because I don't see why this same exercise should be repeating itself severally. What happened to the previous data collation, where are the data? Who keeps them? When will there be a central data base in this country? Who is in charge of hamonisation? Or this how we are going to be going to and fro, when other countries have moved up! I am tired of this country," Anthony lamented.
At the Port Harcourt forum, the NCC also said it will no longer be business as usual for perpetrators of fraudulently-registered SIM cards, as it will henceforth try those indulging in the illegal activities as felony with 25 years imprisonment, as prescribed by the law.
According to the Commission, henceforth, once an agent engaging in pre-registered SIM cards is arrested, the culpability in such a case will cascade to other players in the SIM registration value chain including the super agents, the Heads of Marketing of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and possibly the Chief Executives of licensees, who illegally benefit from such illegal SIM registration activities to meet their marketing targets.
Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management, NCC, Sunday Dare, who disclosed this at the workshop, insisted that the right things must be done to by the registration agents and their MNOs to curb the dangers posed by the menace.
According to Dare, who was represented at the forum by the Director, Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement at the Commission, Efosa Idehen, the moves follow eight years of continuously fighting cases of fraudulently-registered or activated SIM cards since 2012, without appreciable compliance by the MNOs and their different layers of registration agents across the country, thereby constituting a threat to national security and jeopardising national interests.
Dare explained that aside many sanctions provided in the Registration of Telephone Subscribers Regulations 2011, for improperly-registered SIM cards per SIM cards, penalty for violation, imposition of N1 million on a person found to be dealing with subscriber information in a manner inconsistent with the Regulations, arrest and prosecution, among others, which the Commission has been enforcing, the NCC "will begin to be pleading national security and national interests against anybody found culpable of fraudulently-registered SIM cards in the telecom industry."
Meanwhile, Idehen also made a separate in-depth presentation on dangers of dealing in pre-registered SIM cards, took the participants through the various regulatory interventions already implemented and other ongoing initiatives all aimed at enforcing broad-range compliance with SIM registration rules in the last eight years.
"Unfortunately, despite the level of stakeholder engagements, sanction so far imposed, arrests made and prosecutions secured through working with law enforcement agencies, among others the level of compliance with the SIM registrations rules by the various players across the SIM registration value chain remains unsatisfactory," he said.
However, speaking with The Guardian on the issue of invalid SIMs data, the President, National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, blamed both the operators and consumers for the errors.
Ogunbanjo said some consumers are fraudulent in nature, "so they will do everything to manipulate their registration, including given fake information about themselves."
Ogunbanjo blamed the MNOs for giving their agents targets to be met, saying: "this is where the problems come in. Some of these operators handed huge registration targets to their agents; they can tell them they must register one million subscribers in a day before they will be paid. So, in the process of meeting this target, errors come in, which renders some of the data collected invalid. On the long run, the subscribers would be asked to come and re-register.
"I want to implore the MNOs to desist from giving targets to their SIM registration agents, if not the errors will continue."
Reacting to the development, the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, noted that NCC would still need to give more explanation as to where the problems of invalidity comes from.
Adebayo said operators actually followed the protocol, standard and methodology for SIM registration as issued by the NCC.
"If NCC claimed the data are not valid, does it mean they do not meet their standards, that information must be provided. There is need for more information on the part of the Commission on this.
"Some of the lapses they claimed might just need some clean up, but our position is that we registered SIMs in the country based on the protocol established and approved by the NCC," he stated.
Furthermore, Idehen said the low compliance level to SIM cards registration, therefore, necessitated the need for the sensitisation workshop, to, once again educate all players in the SIM registration value chain on the dangers posed by fraudulently-registered SIM cards to Nigeria's national security.
"It is no longer going to be business as usual for all players in the SIM registration value chain. We will no longer allow some deviants to jeopardise our national interest and national security.
"Today, cases of fraudulently-registered SIM cards have been aiding and abetting robbery cases, kidnappings, financial frauds and all manners of criminalities where the anonymity of the registered subscribers makes criminal investigation difficult for the law enforcement agencies.
"That is why we will now be pleading breach of national interest in the prosecution of arrested perpetrators of pre-registered SIM cards," Idehen said.
Responding to issues on ensuring proper SIM registration, Idehen said t aside other requirements, the only four identity cards that should be accepted by SIM registration agents, who help operators to sell SIM cards are the national identity cards, the voters' card, drivers' licence, and the international cards.
He also stressed that capturing of the subscribers data must be done properly. "Agents must ensure that clear pictures of the subscribers are properly captured, that their finger prints are well taken, and that only four ID cards are recognised for now any of which must be presented and confirmed by the registration agents before doing SIM registration."
Outside of these, MNOs and their agents should accept the mantra:"No valid identity card, no SIM registration."
Meanwhile, Idehen said the NCC is working with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), in ensuring that data collected from the mobile subscribers are in line with the national specifications.