The Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali-Pantami, on Wednesday, 5th February, 2020, issued directives to the National Communication Commission (NCC) to work out modalities for ensuring that Nigerians have restrictions on the number of SIM cards they acquire. To this, the minister suggested that the number of SIM cards a person possesses should not be more than three.
Ali-Pantami further directed NCC to ensure that the National Identity Number (NIN) becomes a prerequisite for registration of new SIM cards by Nigerians, and then passports and visas should be used for Non-Nigerians. For those that already registered their SIM cards, the directive fixed December 1, 2020 as the deadline for updating their records with their NIN.
The Minister of Communication and Digital Economy has very good intentions for sending out this new instruction. He bore the interest of Nigerians at heart. It is hoped that the adoption and the implementation of this policy will checkmate crime, especially kidnapping and cybercrime. But his intention is met with different reactions from Nigerians. Some believed it will help to reduce crime while others saw it as a waste of time because fraudsters and criminals always find ways to outsmart these policies. As someone rightfully suggested, if kidnappers and fraudsters could not be traced despite the compulsory registration of SIM cards before activation, regulating the number of SIM cards a person possesses will not stop them. Some even expressed their fears that the policy may only end up increasing the rate of phone theft and impersonation because criminals may implicate innocent people whose phones they stole.
However, there are a few concerned Nigerians, who viewed this new policy as detrimental to the wellbeing of Nigerians. This group believed that if these instructions were to be implemented, it will increase the difficulties Nigerians face. Some of the complaints they laid are noted below.
- Bad Network Services
These people noted that one of the reasons behind possession of many SIM cards is the poor network coverage in some parts of the country. Consequently, people, especially those that travel a lot, purchase SIM cards from different service providers so they don’t get stranded when they find themselves in any part of the country.
Apart from the case of some networks being unavailable in some parts of the country, Nigerian service providers are also known for their epileptic services. Sometimes, for no known reasons, service reception becomes bad for hours or days leaving its users cut off from the digital world. In a situation where the person has several SIM cards to replace the one without service, he won’t feel stranded in any way.
- Business Needs
The people here made several cases on why business owners should not be restricted to owning just three SIM cards. One of the points noted here is that establishments can have phone numbers from all the service providers in the country so their customers can choose to contact them through the number they find most convenient and available.
Another point raised here is that a business owner may provide official phone lines for his key officers. These phone numbers are usually registered with the owner’s bio-data because the staff members are expected to return the phone and the SIM to the company as they leave. But no business can enjoy this should NCC peg the maximum number of SIM cards per person at three.
Still on how this policy can affect businesses, someone said he has several business outlets and that he has different phone numbers for each outlet. Another person said that the policy will affect his security camera sale and installation business because his clients will need to have several SIM cards for their different wireless security cameras. This really calls for a review of that policy.
- Difficulty with SIM Card Retrieval
Retrieving lost SIM cards is not easy at all; and it’s expensive. Some people find it easier and cheaper to buy new SIM cards than to retrieve their old ones. The demand for police reports and affidavit for those that have lost their SIM pack is unnecessary and stressful (after all the service providers are supposed to have SIM owners’ bio-data with them). Apart from that, the person will be expected to pay a certain amount of money, which is always higher than the price of a new SIM.
- Separating Personal Phones from Official Ones
It is not always advisable to hand out personal phone numbers to business prospects. For a lot of reasons, it is better to separate business lines from personal ones. But it will be difficult to do this when restriction on the number of SIM cards a person will own is implemented.
As NCC considers how to set this new directive into motion, they should also consider the following:
- Improving Nationwide Mobile Service Network
NCC should task the service providers in the country to improve on the services they render to the people. I don’t think a lot of Nigerians will like the burden of owning many SIM cards if the providers they subscribed to are good.
- Using NIN as the Check
It is quite inconsequential to limit the number of SIM cards a person has when NIN will become a prerequisite for SIM card registration. If NIN becomes to telecommunication what BVN is to banking, people can have as many SIM cards as they wish and they will still be registered under one database.
- Stringent Measures on SIM and ID Cards Registrations
It is embarrassing to hear that despite several registrations and re-registrations of SIMs, claims about use of unregistered SIMs and inappropriately registered SIMs are still in existence and are used by criminals. It is time then for the agencies concerned to ensure that all activated SIM cards are duly registered. This will be easier when the NIN prerequisite policy becomes implemented. However, there is also need to ensure that NIN acquisition is as thorough as BVN is so as to avoid making mockery of the whole effort. In fact, NCC needs to learn a lot from CBN.
- Modifying the Maximum Number of SIM Cards
Should NCC insist on a maximum number of SIM cards to be owned and registered against a person’s NIN, it will then be necessary that they adjust the number they will restrict on people. For instance, it will be improper to treat businesses the same way private individuals are treated. In other words, the number of SIM cards owned by business owners should be more than that of others. Secondly, private individuals should be given the right to subscribe to all of the major service providers within the country.