The spate of kidnappings, banditry and other security challenges in parts of the country have generated heated criticisms against the federal government and some of its institutions, including the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), the regulatory agency responsible for ensuring that telephony Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) do their business in conformity with the laws of the country.
The federal government responded to the criticisms by deploying more security personnel and equipment to the affected areas where the vicious bandits and kidnappers attack towns and villages, abduct citizens to extort ransom, rape women, and in some cases, mercilessly murder their victims.
President Muhammadu Buhari assured Nigerians that the federal government was “fully determined to tackle this challenge ferociously until these remorseless killers are crushed and utterly defeated. We have deployed security agents to all the areas currently under attack, and we are constantly fine-tuning and escalating our security strategy.”
He gave details of the nature and action taken in confronting the security situation and explained that it includes the on-going operation Sharar Daji and the newly launched operation Puff Adder and operation Dirar Mikiya, which are focused on Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi and Niger states, including the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, where the criminals operate. The president ordered security forces to ruthlessly subdue the bandits, kidnappers and all those tormenting the population.
The acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, said that 46 kidnappers or bandits were arrested and ten others killed and 18 firearms recovered during police raids less than a week after Puff Adder led by the Nigeria Police Force was activated. Surveillance helicopters were sighted patrolling the skies along the Abuja-Kaduna highway, where some of the kidnappers operated.
Prior to the security meeting on his return from foreign diplomatic engagements in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, President Buhari asked Nigerians not to politicise the tragic security situation in parts of the country, and expressed his condolences to the families that lost their loved ones as a result of the criminal activities.
As part of the concerted and multifaceted efforts to tackle the negative security situation in parts of the country, the federal government suspended mining of gold and other precious minerals in Zamfara state, and ordered all the miners, including hundreds of foreigners to immediately cease activities.
On its part, conscious of its responsibility Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) had consistently sought ways of collaborating with the security agencies to minimise abuse of the facilities of MNOs by criminals, including kidnappers, bandits, insurgents and those engaged in electronic fraud.
For instance, the NCC in May 2017 organised a sensitisation workshop in Keffi for personnel of security agencies, sought partnership with them in tackling the activities of criminals undermining the operations of the telecommunication industry.
To achieve the goal of minimising crimes with or against telecommunication facilities, the NCC has intensified its collaboration and cooperation with all the relevant security agencies for the benefit and safety of Nigerians.
The NCC has equally interacted with the judiciary on the desirability to admit electronic evidence in court to ensure that no loophole or loose end exists to make it possible or easy for cyber criminals to escape justice.
NCC vice-chairman and chief executive officer said in a message to the interaction with the judiciary that the increase in cybercrime might be due to the proliferation of the internet and the decreasing cost of technology, which had provided millions of users the access to enormous resources.
In addition to the military, the police and the Department of State Security (DSS) that are directly involved in various ways in the combat activities against the kidnappers, bandits, cattle rustlers and other sundry criminals, the NCC is contributing to the effort by ensuring that telephone service providers cooperate in tracking down the criminals who use telephone platforms to contact the relatives and associates of the their victims to negotiate and arrange the payment of ransom.
In pursuing its mandates, the NCC has taken strong steps in collaboration with the National Assembly to make it a serious criminal offence to sell and use pre-registered Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards in the country, a lot of which makes it for cyber crimes to be perpetrated without tracing it to the users of the anonymous cards.
The Director, Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement of NCC, Mr. Efosa Idehen, stated at a recent public event in Enugu that the dangers of using unregistered SIM card include aiding kidnapping, robbery and financial crimes among others.
He said that it was the responsibility of NCC to ensure that Nigerians were safe while using mobile phones and warned that Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and their agents must adhere to the laws that prohibit the release of fully-activated SIM cards into the market without registering them in the name of a clearly identified user. He rightly described releasing of pre-registered SIM cards to the market as sabotage against national security.
The director regretted that eight years after the NCC introduced SIM card registration for national security them and not for the MNOs to know their customers, and warned that further infractions would cause the arrest and prosecution of all actors along the SIM card registration value-chain.
It could be recalled that the NCC fined a Mobile Network Operator N300 billion for dragging its feet in complying with the distribution and marketing of pre-registered SIM cards, which is not allowed elsewhere in the world where the multi-national MNOs is in business. Reports indicate that so far N275 billion of the fine has been paid.
While the management of the NCC under the leadership of the organisation’s Executive Vice-Chairman, Professor Garba Umar Danbatta, deserves commendation for insisting that the Mobile Network Operators must stop the pre-registration, activation and marketing of SIM cards because of the serious negative security implications of the practice, the NCC should not hesitate to strongly apply the full weight of the regulatory provisions on any MNOs that henceforth engages in acts that contribute to the breach of our national security by criminals.
Dambatta writes from Abuja.