Nigeria’s telecom subscribers were thrown into panic after the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy mandated the country’s telecom regulator, Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC), to ensure that all mobile network subscribers have their National Identification Number (NIN), linked to their phone numbers.
The regulator therefore gave marching orders to mobile network providers to that effect, threatening to cut off those who failed to harmonize their NIN with their phone numbers from telecom services.
The decision has generated condemnation from Nigerians for different reasons; one being that only about 28 million Nigerians have their national identification number and it will take far more than the allotted time for over 180 million telecom subscribers in the country to enroll into the database of National Identification Management Commission (NIMC), where the NIN will be generated from.
In view of this, digital rights group, Paradigm Initiative (PIN) has asked the court to restrain the Nigerian government and telecommunications service provider from carrying out the order requiring that all SIM cards not linked to the National Identity Numbers be disconnected by the telecoms service provider by December 30, 2021.
The organization decries the Nigerian government’s order requiring all telecommunication service providers to ask their subscribers to link their National Identification Numbers (NIN) to the SIM cards within two weeks.
PIN says it is seeking a perpetual injunction restraining the government and the service providers from carrying out the draconian order as it believes it is a violation of fundamental rights to freedom of expression of Nigerian Citizens as guaranteed by Section 39 of the Nigerian 1999 constitution (As amended).
Adeboye Adegoke, Senior Program Manager at Paradigm Initiative said the proposed blocking of SIM cards not linked with the National Identity Number is unlawful and unconstitutional.
“Many young people and others, using their mobile phones for expression or to do business online will be affected by the poorly thought-out policy. No reasonable Nigerian will support such a policy that is geared to make life unbearable for Nigerian citizens,” he said.
In June 2020, the Director-General of the NIMC, Aliyu Aziz said only 38% of Nigerians have any form of identification. According to him: “over 100 million Nigerians have no identity (ID). These include the poorest and the most vulnerable groups, such as the marginalized – women and girls, the less-educated people, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, people with disabilities and people living in rural and remote areas.”
The said policy has created panic in the polity since it was announced. Nigeria at the moment is experiencing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic according to the daily numbers from the Nigeria Centre for Defence Control (NCDC) in the past one week.
Valery Nijaba, Communications officer at Paradigm Initiative said the decision is a fire brigade approach to governance that will expose Nigerians to the second wave of COVID-19.
“This is a time when we need to discourage public gatherings, crowding, and the likes, but it appears that the government is not sensitive enough to see those nuances and has asked that 100 million Nigerians should go and register for the National Identification Number within 2 weeks, so we are left with no choice but to seek the intervention of the court.
“Requiring over 100 million Nigerian citizens to register for NIN in two weeks is not only unrealistic but a fire brigade approach to governance that will not bring any value to the people,” she said, adding that decisions like this only encourages corruption.
“Whatever the government is trying to achieve by the strange directive is ignoble. When the same government tried to compel students writing UTME examinations to register for the NIN as a prerequisite to sitting for the examinations last year, many students couldn’t register, with documented cases of government officials and law enforcement officials weaponizing the desperation of the students to register for NIN to extort them and their parents. The government was forced to walk back on the policy at that instance. These are the type of effects the fire-brigade approach to policy making leads to” Valery added.
Telecom service providers were already billing subscribers N20 to check their NIN status until the Minister of Communication Dr. Isa Pantimi asked them to stop.