By Chido Nwakanma
Our Federal Government has gone mad again.
It is difficult to draw any other conclusion upon news of the inexplicable FG order to telecom operators to block from their networks all users without the National Identification Number in two weeks, meaning from 30 December 2020. It has neither rhyme nor reason.
The order only reminds one of the Not To Be Broadcast hit of the late legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti. What thought processes informed such an order? Now officials of various government agencies are coming out of the woodworks with what they imagine to be clarifications.
This time the order is from the Nigerian Communications Commission, according to a statement by its Director of Public Affairs Dr Ikechukwu Adinde. The statement is on the IMPLEMENTATION OF NEW SIM REGISTRATION RULES. It follows the directive of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami).
Stakeholders of the Communications industry met on Monday 14 December and agreed on this New rule on SIMs.
“The meeting had in attendance the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Management of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), as well as the CEOs and Management staff of all service providers in the industry.”
The December Madness thrown upon the nation by NCC is because of an alleged “need to consolidate the achievements of last year’s SIM registration audit and improve the performance and sanity of the sector”. They decided on “urgent drastic measures… to improve the integrity and transparency of the SIM registration process.”
The Minister decided and instructed 1. Operators to require ALL their subscribers to provide valid National Identification Number (NIN) to update SIM registration records.2. The submission of NIN by subscribers to take place within two weeks (from today 16 December 2020 and end by 30 December 2020). 3. After the deadline, ALL SIMs without NINs are to be blocked from the networks.4. A Ministerial Task Force comprising the Minister and all the CEOs (among others) as members is to monitor compliance by all networks.5. Violations of this directive will be met by stiff sanctions, including the possibility of withdrawal of operating license.”
The Oxford Dictionary defines a zombie as A corpse said to be revived by witchcraft, especially in certain African and Caribbean religions. The order is a zombie, seeking to revive by word of mouth the corpse of NIN registration. The Oxford Dictionary defines a zombie as A corpse said to be revived by witchcraft, especially in certain African and Caribbean religions. ‘It has taken up to ten years without much progress. With the order of Minister Pantami, over 100 million Nigerians will suddenly succeed with their efforts at getting a NIN number! Wonderful.
It is nothing but a power show, dangling the threat of license withdrawal on the telcos and blocking from the network on citizens. The stated rationale is too thin to justify this Draco’s Decree.
I have a word for Minister Isa Ali Ibrahim. Think again, Sir, and reconsider this stance. Many reasons show why it is unworkable and does not cohere with rational thinking.
There was no such requirement when citizens like me registered our SIMS. You cannot spring such a new rule on us at the end of the year and give a two-week timeline for 150 million people. The Ministry and its agencies cannot manage logistics of the registration exercise, even as they have stayed away from discussion of the modalities.
Many citizens have tried without success to register for the NIN. I have done so thrice. One was at the Stanbic IBTC branch on Adetokunbo Ademola Street, Victoria Island. I have since tried to use the slip they issued me that day in the bank only for it to draw a null (NIN). I have done the online version—the same result.
The order comes as workers everywhere are shutting down for the year. National Identity Management Commission has notoriously been unable to manage the national identity process for more than eight years. How will it do so in two weeks? Baffling is the fact that their CEO sat at that conference and did not own up to the logistical impossibility of such a task.
Challenges with SIM are not like the pandemic. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, nations spaced out the implementation of lockdown and other control measures. Speaking of which, both the Ministry and NCC want to serve as instigators for super spread of COVID-19 that will happen inevitably when people converge in large numbers at NIN centres to attempt to register for their NINs again.
It is also curious that the Minister is compelling the telcos to do in two weeks what has taken them two decades of slowly and steadily building one success factor of the Nigerian economy. What will these draconian rules mean for a sector that the regulator and operator have built on dialogue and consultation over the last 20 years? Check the records, Sir.
What or who is behind the drum of this emergency? To stem what really?
The Bankers Committee worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria to implement the Bank Verification Number (BVN). It has been systematic and procedural, not knee-jerk. There is a well-articulated Regulatory Framework for Bank Verification Number Operations and Financial System Watch List. It has taken more than seven years. BVN has yet to capture all bank customers as it is work in progress.
Minister Isa Ibrahim Pantami would in my estimation not want to be associated with governance as punishment for citizens. In case he does not know, his Integrate NIN in two weeks or lose your SIM or license is nothing but authority as hemlock. We will not drink poison. Take it away. Put together a team of thinkers to study how other nations introduce new policies and the timelines they allow for implementation.
Please withdraw this order as quickly as you issued it.