Telecom operators and subscribers on Wednesday said the order by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for deactivation of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards not linked with users’ National Identity Number (NIN) in the next two weeks is a recipe for for confusion.
NIN is a unique number generated and issued by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) after completion of biometric data capturing.
The NCC issued the directive to telecom operators on Tuesday and warned that telecom operators that fails to comply risks withdrawal of its licence or payment of heavy penalty.
Former President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) Olusola Teniola, said the two weeks window was tight considering that there are 205 million active subscribers on the network while NIMC has so far captured 43million people.
He said the 43 million, most of who would be having multiple SIM cards, would be integrated through NIMC’s application programme interface (API) while those that do not have NIN will be disconnected.
Teniola said there would be panic considering the capacity of NIMC, especially during the Yuletide when people would want to get across to loved ones through voice calls and text messages in the era of COVID-19 but would not able to do so because they have been disconnected from the system by their service providers on the orders of the government. He said, this would inevitably lead to a shortfall in Q1 profit of the telcos.
The Nigerian Computer Society (NCS) commended the action of the government but wondered why the rush when there is neither awareness about the initiative nor the infrastructure on the part of the NIMC to handle the expected surge.
Its Executive Secretary, Rogba Adeoye, said the directive is good and should be encouraged but however the two weeks is too short because of the dearth of infrastructure to support it. “If you look at NIMC registration centres, they are already overstretched but you would recall that the telcos, not long ago, did SIM registration and invested heavily on the project. They can rely on this infrastructure to take customers off the network,” he said.
Adeoye said deactivating million of subscribers in one fell swoop will not only hit the Q1 earnings of the operators next year, it will also affect cash flows to the Federation Account by way of Value Added Tax (VAT) imposed on voice calls and text messages.
The ISSP chief dismissed as empty, the threat to withdraw the operating licence of any operator that fails to comply with the directive of the NCC.
The telecoms operators, acting under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) said it is not unaware of the pains implementing the directive will bring on the subscribers, it however pledged its readiness to comply with the directive.
In a statement jointly signed by its Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, and Publicity secretary, Damian Udeh, said it understood that this process will be inconvenient for subscribers, promising to provide the information and support needed to manage the transition.
ALTON said: “As an industry, we recognise the importance of a strong national identity system and the critical contribution it will make to the accelerated growth of our digital economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the role of digital communications, products and services even more important in our daily lives and it is a national challenge to ensure that the building blocks are in place to enable them to be provided safely and securely, to all.
“We are committed to working closely with all stakeholders to overcome this challenge and deliver an inclusive, value adding digital economy Nigeria can be proud of. We fully understand the vital role that we, as digital operators, have to play in this process and we are collectively committed to investing in the systems, processes and support structure that are required to enable it.
“In line with that, we wish to communicate our intention to fully comply with the two directives issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in the past week, and to work closely with them to overcome this challenge, together.
“We understand that this process will be inconvenient for subscribers, and w e are committed to ensuring we provide the information and support that you will need to manage this transition.
“Our focus is on minimising the disruption that it will cause and as the delivery mechanisms are developed, we will provide further information. We continue to seek for your cooperation and understanding as we work with the government in ensuring a reliable National Identity Ecosystem.”
But ATCON President Ikechukwu Nnamani is however, optimistic about the success of the directive. He believes the NCC.
He said: “Operators will take steps to meet the requirements. If it turns out the two weeks is not enough, the operators can always provide evidence of what they have done so far and ask for extension. Once it is a reasonable request the regulator will always listen.”
A subscriber, Efe Erazua, wondered why the government is deploying fire brigade approach to important issues.
She said many people have tried without success to register for the NIN. According to her, when she visited the Ejigbo Local Government secretariat to get it done, she met a sea of human heads while the council officials were also hostile.
“I got to the secretariat very early in the morning at about 5.30am. The number they gave me was 120. What that meant is that people practically slept within the secretariat. My first attempt was met with rude shock because I was denied entry by local officials.
“Someone directed me to the NIMC office in Alausa because the place appeared spacious enough. Getting into the premises was not an issue but the long queue was frightening. Then, it is either their server was down or there is one challenge or the other,” she said.
A text message to the CEO, NCC, Prof Garba Danbatta, failed to elicit response as at press time.
The NCC had given the operators two weeks to block SIM cards that are not registered with the NIN.