Nigeria: The Many Shifts in NIN-SIM Linkage Deadline

8 April 2021

Emma Okonji writes on the continuous shift in the deadlines given by the federal government for the NIN-SIM linkage.

For the fifth time in the row, the federal government has fixed new deadline for with the National Identification Number (NIN)- Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) linkage, after the first deadline on December 30, 2020, which was a two-week deadline from December 16 to 30.

The various deadlines and their shifts have continued to elicit so much joy among telecoms subscribers who had initially warned the federal government of the consequences of such deadlines.

Although there was uproar and agitations from Nigerians from all walks of life, condemning the initial two weeks deadline, and giving reasons that it was Christmas season where many people travel and make preparations for the celebration, coupled with the gradual coming of the second wave of COVID-19 as at December last year, the federal government had insisted on the deadline, But it was eventually shifted from December 30, 2020 to January 19, 2021 and later shifted again to February 9, 2021, after seeing the rush and near stampede of people who visited the branch offices of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) on a daily basis for SIM registration in order to beat the deadline.

Since the initial December 30, 2020 deadline, the federal government has fixed five different deadlines and has equally shifted the deadlines several times, the recent being the shift by one month from April 6, 2021 to May 6, 2021.

The federal government, through the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, had in December last year, directed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to give a two week deadline for the proper registration of SIM card for the linkage of SIM cards with the NIN. The directive as at then was that any subscriber that failed to meet up with the two weeks deadline would automatically be disconnected from the telecom operators' network and would not be able to make calls or receive calls via the SIM card.

Based on the directive of the federal government, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, on December 9, 2020, ordered the suspension of the sale and activation of new SIMs, and on December 15, 2020, it directed all operators to update SIM registration records with valid NINs with an initial deadline of December 30, 2020. While the suspension of new subscriber acquisition continues, the deadline for NIN update has been extended several times, with the latest being May 6, 2021 to accommodate logistical challenges.

The shifts

In a statement that was jointly signed by the Director, Public Affairs,NCC,Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, and the Head, Corporate Communications, National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Mr. Kayode Adegoke, it was explained that the request for the extension was presented to President Muhammadu Buhari and he endorsed it.

The recent extension will enable telecoms subscribers who are yet to register and submit their NIN for linkage with their SIM card, to do so.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, chaired the meeting of the Ministerial Task Force on the NIN-SIM data linkage, where it was decided to extend the NIN-SIM linkage exercise by another one month.

The meeting, which took place on Thursday, April 1, 2021, was attended by key stakeholders, including the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC); Director General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC); Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA); Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); Representative of the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON). Others included the NCC Executive Commissioners, Technical Services and Stakeholder Management, MD/CEOs of MTN, Airtel, EMTS (9Mobile), ntel, Spectranet and Smile Communications, as well as the COO of Globacom.

The Chairman of the EFCC addressed the meeting and stated that the NIN-SIM linkage would support the federal government in checkmating the activities of fraudsters and cybercriminals. The minister noted the importance of obtaining feedback from all stakeholders in order to ensure that the NIN-SIM linkage process is one that cannot easily be compromised. Pantami thanked Nigerians for their patience and compliance with the federal government's directive on the NIN-SIM registration exercise. He reiterated government's commitment to continually taking decisions aimed at easing the pains of the citizens with regard to issues related to NIN and SIM registration.

Subscribers' joy

Telecoms subscribers have continued to express their joy over the continuous shift in the deadlines for NIN-SIM registration and linkage. The subscribers had hitherto warned the federal government and the NCC for fixing short and unachievable deadlines for NIN SIM registration and linkage, while citing several hiccups faced by subscribers as a result of the short deadlines, but the federal government insisted on the deadlines, but later realized the ambiguity in achieving the deadlines and rescinded its decision by shifting the deadlines severely. The various shifts in deadlines have continued to create relief and joy in telecoms subscribers, who have commended government for listening to the masses.

When the deadline was shifted from February to April this year, the President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, said: "The further extension of the deadline for NIN-SIM linkage from February 9 to April 6 shows that the minister has listening ears, and we commend him for that. We were already working to challenge the minister in court before this new extension. So, we are likely going to drop the idea of instituting a court case against the minister." Following the recent shift to May 6, 2021, Ogunbanjo said: "Telecoms subscribers are happy with the development, but they want him to extend it more to December 31, 2021, since several millions of subscribers are yet to register till date.

The protest

Prior to the initial shift from December 30, 2020 to January 19 and February 9, 2021, telecoms subscribers had expressed their displeasure over the short deadline, and gave reasons why it was difficult to meet up with the different deadlines.

One of the protesters, a human rights lawyer, Barrister Monday Ubani, challenged the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy and the NCC in a law court over short deadlines for NIN-SIM registration, and got court order for two months extension.

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, ordered the extension of the deadline for National Identity Number (NIN), by two months effective from Tuesday, March 23, 2021.

Justice M.A. Onyetenu granted the extension while delivering a ruling in a suit filed by Monday Ubani, human rights lawyer, against the federal government, Attorney General of the Federation, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy.

In the suit, Ubani had contended that the initial two weeks ultimatum, which was later extended three times to April 6, 2021, given to telecommunication operators to block SIM cards of Nigerians who have not registered their SIM card with NIN if allowed, will infringe on his constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression, right to own moveable property and right to life.

Ubani, therefore, prayed the court for an order halting the said ultimatum and extending the deadline.

Other prayers made by Ubani included: a declaration that the ultimatum was given to telecommunications operators by the 1st, 3rd and 4th Respondents to block all Subscriber Identification Modules (SIM) cards that are not registered with NIN, is grossly inadequate and will not only work severe hardship but will likely infringe on the fundamental rights of the applicant to freedom of expression as guaranteed by section 39(1)(2) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as violate section 44(1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which prohibits the compulsory acquisition of right or interest over the moveable property.

In his ruling, Justice Onyetenu granted all the prayers made by Ubani.

Other protesters complained of the slow pace of NIN registration at the few established NIMC centres across the country, a situation they said, was hindering NIN-SIM linkage.

NIN-SIM update

The federal government recently said updates of the NIN-registration process, showed that over 51 million people have been assigned NINs.

"There are many people who have enrolled and are in the process of being assigned NINs. With each individual having an average of three to four SIMs, the total number of SIMs tied to NINs would close to the total number of registered SIMs in the country. The current number of monthly enrollments has increased significantly to about 2.6 million registrations. There has also been a remarkable increase in the number of enrolment centres across the country with about 3,800 centres available for enrollments. There are also many more new centres in the pipeline," the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, said in a recent statement.

The federal government had earlier said a total of 56.18 million NINs have been collected by the mobile network operators. The number of NINs collected represents a significant increase when compared with the 47.8 million reported by the technical committee on January 18, 2021.

A statement from NIMC said: "Over 1,060 registration centres for NIN have been activated and made operational by NIMC across the country, while Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have opened hundreds of centres and are rapidly deploying resources to open thousands of other NIN enrolment centres across states of the country. This is in line with the policy of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to enhance security and make the process of obtaining NINs easier for Nigerians."

Pantami reiterated the need for Nigerians and legal residents who are yet to register for the NIN to be diligent and take advantage of the extension to enroll for their NINs and link with their SIMs."

On the perceived slow rate of NIN registration and issuance, which is put at 56.18 million as at February 1, compared to the 208 million registered SIMs across networks, the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, said each of the 56.18 million NIN holders, has between three and four SIM cards that were registered under a single name and identity, which brings the number of registered SIMs attached to the 56.18 million NIN holders, to about 168.54 million.

He added that out of the estimated 208 million SIM cards from the 56.18 million NIN holders, about 20 million of the SIMs are used for machine interface devices like Point of Sales (PoS) and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), which would further add to the estimated 168.54 million registered SIM cards to reach an estimated 188.54 million registered SIM cards, a figure he said was close to the 208 million registered SIM cards across networks.

Adebayo added that NIN registration and submission have not been slow as perceived by some Nigerians.

Travail of new SIM suspension

On December 9, 2020, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, had ordered the suspension of the sale and activation of new SIMs, and on December 15, 2020, it directed all operators to update SIM registration records with valid NINs with an initial deadline of December 30, 2020. The suspension of new subscriber acquisition still continues, a situation that has cut off intending and new subscribers to the telecoms network.

National Chairman of NATCOMS, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, who narrated the ordeals of his members over the suspension order, said some subscribers had been victims to robbery attacks in different parts of the country since the suspension order, while some misplaced their mobile phones and none could retrieve their mobile lines nor purchase a new SIM card because of the suspension order on the sale and activation of new SIM cards.

"Most of our members who owned and run their businesses, and have lost their mobile phones or attacked by armed robbers, since the suspension order can no longer communicate and their customers can no longer reach them on phone for business transactions," Ogunbanjo said.

He therefore, called on the federal government to intervene and re-order NCC to lift the suspension order on new SIM cards, to enable Nigerians retrieve their lines and reconnect to their business partners, customers, friends, relations and well-wishers.

Ogunbanjo, who faulted the suspension order, said the order had inflicted so much pain on Nigerians, since people could lose their mobile phones at different circumstances beyond their control.

Initially, both those who wanted to activate their lost SIM card replacement and those that bought new SIM cards, were not allowed to activate them.

But with the recent approval of SIM swap centres in March this year, telecoms operators, will be able to activate any SIM that will be swapped. To this effect, those subscribers who had lost their SIM cards and were unable to activate new SIMs, will be able to do so.

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