With the deadline extension granted mobile phone subscribers and operators to sync their subscriber identity modules (SIMs) with their National Identity Number (NIN) drawing nearer, deactivation fever has gripped subscribers. MBENZE report
SEVENTY-FIVE-YEAR old Alhaji Aziz Ibirogba runs a brick fabricating mini-industry in Ijagba, a sleepy community on the outskirts of Lafenwa, Ogun State.
For three days, he would leave his house as early as 5 am to Igbogila, the headquarter of Ayobo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Lagos State with the hope of getting his data captured into the National Identity Database (NIDB) of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and being issued with his National Identity Number (NIN) to sync his three mobile numbers. And for these three days, his hopes were dashed.
An 85-year-old man, Fatai Akinbile, who was at the NIMC office, Alausa, Ikeja, to correct his date of birth, expressed bitterness about the process.
“I came from Ajah, left the house very early. The issue is they wrote 1953 as my date of birth instead of 1935. I have made attempts to correct it and they referred me to Ikeja,” he said.
Mr Akinbile, who said he did not understand why his SIM cards would be blocked, said he had been on the process for long and it is frustrating for him.
27-year-old Stella Efe is not leaving any stone unturned to sync her NIN with her SIM card.
“I live in Mowe, Ogun State and got here at 5 a.m. I was shocked by the sea of human heads I saw. I felt like running back to Shoprite bust stop. I decided to brave the odds and got number 153 because what happened to me in 2015 was a nightmare. My SIM was deactivated without prompting. It took me almost one week to get the process right. It was no fault of mine. I had done my SIM registration then and got feedback from my operator thrice. So, for me, it’s one beaten, twice shy,” she said.
These are fairly representative of the horrible experiences people are passing through across the country to get their NIN.
The journey to the sudden rush by Nigerians to obtain the NIN started after an “urgent meeting of key stakeholders” on December 14th last year. The key stakeholders who attended the meeting were the Chief Executive Officers and Management of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the NIMC and the Chief Executives Officers and management of telecommunications companies across the country. Minister of Communications and Digital Economy Dr Isa Ibrahim Pantami chaired the meeting on behalf of the Federal Government.
At the end of the meeting, the stakeholders reached the following resolutions for immediate implementation: Affirmation of the earlier directive to suspend the registration of new SIMs by all Network Operators; Operators to require all their subscribers to provide valid NINs to update SIM registration records; submission of NIN by subscribers to take place within two weeks from today December 16, 2020, and end by December 30, 2020; After the deadline, all SIMs without NINs are to be blocked from networks; a ministerial taskforce comprising the minister and all the CEOs (among others) as members is to monitor compliance by all networks; Violations of this directive will be met by stiff sanctions, including the possibility of withdrawal of operating licence.
The government said it regretted the inconveniences that the resolutions might precipitate upon the public.
The panic button was unwittingly activated by Pantami as Nigerians trooped out en masse to the nearest offices and designated registration centres of NIMC across the country to obtain their NIN. The development heightened tension amid the second wave of COVID 19 pandemic as most of the people at the Alausa NIMC office openly breached COVID-19 protocols. While some wore no face masks, many neither observed physical nor social distancing, an act that is a threat to efforts by the government to tackle the community spread of the deadly virus which has been on the rise in the last three weeks.
According to data from the NCC, there are about 207million active telephone subscribers in the country while data from NIMC showed that as at May/June 2020, only 41.5 million Nigerians have NINs out of a population estimated last year by the United Nations at 206,139,589.
Nigeria’s population is equivalent to 2.64per cent of the total world population, the UN added. Former President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, said about 25 million subscribers might have their SIMs deactivated should the government stick to its guns on the timeline.
When President Muhammadu Buhari moved NIMC from the Presidency to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy in the second half of 2020, the Director-General of NIMC, Aliyu Aziz pledged that NIMC would enrol 2.5million Nigerians monthly. He pledged while responding to the inquiries of Dr Pantami, who visited the headquarters of the commission in Abuja.
Teniola’s estimated 25 million potential subscribers to be taken off the network was not baseless after all. This is because, until the ultimatum was handed down, NIMC registration centres across the 36 states of the federation and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and 774 Local Government Areas of the country were 1000. Then the commission was plagued with logistical and technical challenges. For instance, it was alleged that the Commission’s server crashed shortly after the rush by panic-stricken people to get their data captured and get their NINs. Then the snail speed at which the process is done by the workers is another challenge. Analysts have said the process ought to have been driven digitally to ease tension.
Dr Pantami said digitalisation is an ongoing process. According to him, when he visited the NIMC office to supervise the process, he found out that it takes between three and five minutes for each person to get registered.
But subscribers who have been keeping vigil at various centres to get NIN urged the minister to visit the centre in Lagos or Port Harcourt, disguised as a private citizen, unaccompanied by the long line of siren-blaring escort cars, bulletproof jeeps fierce-looking mobile police escorts, to see the sufferings people are passing through.
He said there is nowhere in the world where prospective enrollee into the digital platform will not physically present himself for data capturing. According to him, while it is possible to download the form, filled and submitted virtually, it was practically impossible to submit biometrics virtually and get it accredited, adding that there is standard for facial capturing under NIMC Act 2007, section 13 and 14.
Reactions to tight deadline
Like a red rag to a bull, the ‘draconian’ deadline of the minister elicited furious reactions from Nigerians. Though they appreciate the move because it is capable of reducing insecurity in the country, they faulted the timing and the short deadline.
The House of Representatives urged the Federal Government to extend the deadline for the SIM/NIN synchronisation deadline by at least 10 weeks. Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu said as laudable as the idea behind the policy may seem, the timing is very wrong because Nigerians have not been properly sensitised.
He said if the NCC is not urgently called to halt their plans there may be unnecessary panic in the country, which may lead to the exploitation of vulnerable Nigerian thereby causing more pains in an already pathetic situation.
A subscriber advocacy a group, Association of Telephone, Cable TV and Internet Subscribers of Nigeria (ATCIS), advised the Federal Government to suspend the process because of the rampaging COVID-19 cases in the country.
The Federal Government eventually capitulated and extended by three weeks the period within which to link NIN with subscribers’ SIMs.
The decision to extend the deadline was reached at a meeting of major stakeholders with Dr Pantami.
A statement signed jointly by the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta and the Director-General, NIMC, Aliyu Abdulaziz noted that the National Task Force on National Identity agreed that the deadline be extended.
More registration centres
To address the problems of inadequate registration centres across the country following the deadline, the Federal Government approved the licensing of 173 private sector agents and 30 state governments and public sector institutions to conduct enrolment of Nigerians and legal residents into the NIDB on behalf of NIMC.
But the development is being challenged as it was alleged that many of those granted licenses do not have the equipment and offices right on the ground to carry out the exercise. It was also alleged that some of the MNOswho were given licence had yet to commence operations when the government came with the two weeks deadline for subscribers to link their SIM cards with NINs.
Findings by our correspondents indicate that 16 state governments were licensed to conduct the exercise. They are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Gombe, Lagos, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Oyo, Ogun, Sokoto, and Zamfara states. The public sector institutions granted license are the NCC, National Pension Commission (PenCom), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), National Population Commission (NPC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Joint Tax Board (JTB) and the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST).
Other public sector players involved are Military Pensions Board, Abuja Enterprise Agency, Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services, and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.
Besides the MNOs, such as Glo, MTN, Airtel and 9Mobile and others that were licensed by the government, some Non-Governmental Organisations were also granted approvals. Investigations showed that the African Youth Growth Foundation, An Nadaa Educational Foundation, Arrida Relief Foundation and Hadejia Ina Mafita were among the NGOs granted a licence to conduct the exercise.
Speaking with our Correspondent on the integrity of the exercise considering the large numbers of institutions granted a licence, the General Manager, Corporate Affairs of NIMC, Mr Kayode Adegoke, said NIMC had to bring a lot of players into the conduct of the registration to cover for the gaps already noticed. He said those licensed had passed through the crucible of auditing, and due process even before the agency was moved to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy for supervision. He explained that licensing the agencies was aimed at increasing the numbers of enrolment centres across the country from the current 1,000 to 10,000. He added that as at the time the two weeks deadline was given, enrolment had peaked at 43 million.
According to him, NIMC is desirous of completion of, and integration of the NIN exercise into the NIDB to allow the agency move to its regulatory role and function in a manner that it would deliver on its mandate creditably.
Codes to sync NIN, SIMs
Faced with the challenge, telecom operators unveiled shortcodes to enable their customers to link their NINs with their subscriber identity modules (SIMs).
Globacom said: “All our esteemed customers can now link their National Identification Number (NIN) to their mobile numbers by simply sending ‘UPDATENIN NIN FirstName and LastName’ to 109. For example, send ‘UPDATE NIN 12345678903 Chidera Abdul-Ola’ to 109.”
Customers can dial *346# to retrieve their NIN if they have already registered with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).
It noted that it was rolling out this measure to make it easy for subscribers on its network to comply with the new directives of Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) and as part of its commitment to ensuring customers have uninterrupted access to the various service offerings it provides.
It advised customers without a NIN to visit a NIN enrolment centre to get one.
9mobile also announced the launch of its intelligent portal for instant verification to help its customers link their SIM cards with their NIN. The Online Self-Service NIN update portal www.9mobile.com.ng/nin, which has already gone live on the 9mobile website, enables subscribers to verify and update their NINs instantly.
The platform provides 9mobile subscribers with an opportunity to submit and verify their NIN without physically visiting any of the Experience Centers across the nation.
Apart from the portal, 9mobile has also made available a USSD option *200*8# that allows subscribers to check the matching status of their NIN to their SIM and subsequently submit it for backend verification and mapping.
Commenting on the exercise, the Chief Information Officer, 9mobile, Ibikunle Jimo, said as a customer-centric telecoms company, 9mobile always looks out for the convenience of its subscribers by leveraging innovation.
MTN had earlier advised its customers to visit https://t.co/2T3Nc2rV0l to submit their NIN or dial *785# or visit myMTNApp.
Since it has obtained an enrolment and verification licence from NIMC.
Airtel had also unveiled its shortcode of *121*1# which it said will facilitate seamless link of NIN with SIMs on its network.
Various WhatsApp groups too were inundated with information such as this: “If you have PVC or BVN then you already have NIN. Don’t bother to go and queue or pay anyone money.”
Just dial *346# to know your NIN number. If it doesn’t display immediately, try it in another 3 days. Then proceed as follows when you have it: To link it with MTN dial (*785#); To link with Airtel dial (*121 *1#); To link with 9mobile dial (* 200 * 8#); To link with GL0. Send ” UPDATE NIN, NIN NUMBER, first name, last name ” to (109).