As the federal government seeks to address insecurity through linkage of mobile telecommunications lines with National Identity Number (NIN), ABDULRAHEEM AODU reports that another security challenge seems to be brewing in the form of massive unemployment.
The federal government had in the first week of December 2020 directed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to embark on audit of Subscriber Registration Database, a process requiring that all mobile telecommunication subscriber link their mobile Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card with their National Identity Number (NIN).The minister of communications and digital economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, who gave the directive said the objective of the audit exercise is to verify and ensure compliance by mobile network operators with the agreed quality standards and requirements of SIM cards registration.
Following the directive, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) were ordered to immediately suspend the sale, registration and activation of new SIM cards until the audit exercise is concluded and government has confirmed full implementation of the new directive. This was just as the senior special assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari, on new media, Malam Bashir Ahmad, said that the objective of the SIM and NIN linkage as well as the suspension of new SIM registration was for security purposes to address the growing cases of insecurity especially kidnapping and banditry. According to Bashir, “Government believes that harmonising all phone numbers through the NIN would help to curb the rising cases of terrorism and banditry because most of the bad guys would have no option but to link their phone lines to the NIN or lose their numbers. This would definitely help to curtail and checkmate the lingering security challenges in parts of the country.”
Telecom operators cry out
However, while the measure is aimed to achieve improved security across the country for the safety of lives and properties, which is vital to the well-being of Nigerians, stakeholders in the telecommunication sector, have raised alarm of an impending security challenges, as they noted that the suspension of new SIM card registration for over two months, has rendered about two million telecoms traders jobless.While the telecom stakeholders in northern Nigeria, under the aegis of Arewa Telecom Operators Agents and SIM Card Dealers Association (ATOASDA), registered their displeasure in Kaduna, their counterparts in the south took to the street in Asaba, Delta state to protests against the government policy.
Massive unemployment looms
Speaking in Kaduna, the president of Arewa Telecom Operators Agents and SIM Card Dealers Association, Malam Hassan Yakubu, said that the directive by the minister to suspend sale, registration and activation of SIM cards has rendered over two million youths jobless across the nation.The telecom dealers said they were aware of the federal government’s intention to address security challenges through linkage of National Identity Number NIN with mobile SIM card numbers and suspension of new SIM card registration, but expressed fear that rendering two million youths jobless might worsen the security challenges by creating an army of unemployed youths who could take to crimes in order to fend for themselves.Yakubu said, “As a registered association underthe Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) with registration number CAC/IT/NO131761 and with Nigeria Communications Commission volume number as NCC/CAB/2019/ VOL.1/011, we are fully in support of federal government’s measures to protect lives and properties of the citizenry.”But we are urging the federal government to tread carefully on this issue, considering that all available research works on the causes of insecurity across the country have been linked primarily to youths unemployment.”The income of telecoms business partners, staff and agents, majority of whom are within the age bracket of 20 to 40 years in the value chain is determined by the number of activations /SIM registration carried out within the month,” Hassan lamented. “Following federal government’s directives to NCC to carry out an audit of the subscriber registration database to ensure compliance to set quality standards and requirement. Mobile Network Operators were directed to suspend the sale, registration and activation of new SIM cards until the audit exercise is concluded which the telecom companies adhered to.”The government also gave December 31st 2020 as a deadline for all subscribers to link their SIMS to their NIN or face disconnection. But by December 30 2020, the minister of communications and digital economy postponed the disconnection until mid January, 2021. By the mid of January, 2021, the minister once again postponed the disconnection until February 9, 2021. “In all of these, the telecom SIM registration partners, staff and their agents remained jobless for over two months. Further, the telecoms sub-sector is severely affected by the directive and attendant postponement but not limited to that.
The suspension may lead to further insecurity
Speaking further he said, “Our fear is that the suspension of SIM card registration may trigger another worse form of insecurity especially in zones most affected by insecurity; in fact, the growth in the telecom sector is determined by the very sub-sector that was suspended and the much celebrated 17% contribution by telecom sector to the GDP was as a result of the activities of the sub-sector under suspension.”The growth in the telecom sector is determined by the very sub-sector that was suspended, while the perpetual postponements hinder the partner’s growth as well as the telecom sector. More than 40% of the partners are on different kinds of loans with different kinds of repayment patterns and periods.
Telecom partners loses N10bn, FG loses N1bn VAT
He said, “More than N10 billion in revenues have been lost by partners in last two months, while over N1 billion in VAT and withholding tax has also been lost by the federal government. At present, there are local governments in Nigeria that do not have a single NIN centre. For instance, Kajuru local government area of Kaduna state.”
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Speaking on what the telecom operators see as solution to the impending security challenge, Malam Hassan said, “We wish to advise that the federal government can still achieve the desired result as well as avoid creating more problems in an attempt to solve a problem. “We demand that the suspension be revised immediately, SIM cards sale, registrations and activations should be allowed to continue to avoid the danger the suspension may expose the youths to, but that no new SIM card should be allowed to synchronize without the support of NIN number and ID card until the SIM card and NIN number pairing is concluded.”That all existing SIM cards must be paired with the NIN numbers within a stipulated time, suggesting that, an average of three months should be allowed for smooth and effective pairing. That an average of 10 new NIN machines be deployed in every of the 774 local areas of the federation for a better reach. “We also appeal that a support fund be specifically created by the federal government for the partners, while tax waivers be granted to the sub-sector under suspension to enable then pay back their loans. That by lifting the suspension and allowing the process to continue, the gap created by the suspension would be filled and also improved.”