Angry and frustrated subscribers affected by the partial Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) deactivation order of the Federal Government yesterday thronged the offices of the telecoms companies to find out why they couldn’t make calls on their phones even when they have sufficient airtime.
After several extensions, the Federal Government had, through the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), ordered telecoms operators to bar subscribers on their networks that have not linked their SIMs to their National Identity Number (NIN) from originating calls ostensibly as a prelude to total deactivation.
No fewer than 72.7million lines would be affected by the government ban.
At the MTN office located along Fatai Atere Way, Mushin, Lagos, subscribers besieged the office and formed a very long queue. Many of them had woken up only to discover they couldn’t originate calls from their phones. One of them who identified himself simply Chukwudi, a spare parts dealer, said he was shocked when he tried fruitlessly to make calls to his boys to give them instruction as usual.
He said: “I am a spare parts seller. Normally, when I wake up in the morning, I used to call my boys and give them instructions on what to do for the day. When I tried my MTN line, there was no response. Since I use a dual SIM phone, I switched to my 9mobile and was told: ‘Call not registered on network’. Since this place is closer to my shop, I decided to come and find out what has happened,” he said.
Asked why, for so long, he refused to link his SIMs with his NIN, he said he didn’t know how to do it.
In Ayobo and Abesan Estate on the outskirts of Lagos, frustrated subscribers also besieged the two enrolment centres adjacent each other in Ayobo. The centres, which are shops, had between 15 and 20 would-be enrollees, mainly teenagers.
Some of them blamed the punitive cost of enrolment for NIN for their misfortune. Many of them said N2,000 was too high to enroll for something that should have come freel.
Seventeen-year-oldTimi Akolade said he had told his parents to make the money available, but they refused because two of my brothers were in private universities and the weight was taking a toll on the family finance.
“My parents complained that NIN should be free. They accused the operators of the enrolment centres of taking undue advantage of the situation. But when I told my mom this morning that my number is on the verge of being blocked and I reminded her that I will need the NIN to do my Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination next year, she quickly raised the money for me to come and do it today. But see the crowd now. I have been here for about one hour,” he said.
The clerk at an enrolment centre in Enibel Street, Abesan Estate, Bidemi Olajubu, said the centre has seen an unprecedented human traffic whose lines were affected by the Federal Government’s directive. “The pressure has been much on me since yesterday. Today, the pressure has continued. People are angry that they couldn’t make calls with their phones. Many of them are doing business and are unable to connect with their customers,” he said.
An auto mechanic sighted in the centre was angry with the system. He said since has the Biometric Verification Number (BVN) and a drivers licence, those two ought to have sufficed for NIN.
The NCC yesterday insisted that Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), their licensed agents and telecom subscribers, must comply with the SIM registration, activation and replacement procedures as set out in the Revised National Identity Policy for SIM Registration.
The Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) also confirmed the receipt of directives from the NCC to bar out-going calls on subscriber lines that are not in compliance with the NIN-SIM linkage policy requirement that SIMs must be linked with a NIN.
Chairman of ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, however, pledged the support of the operators to the effect the directive of the NCC. “ALTON members are committed to complying with the instructions and call on telecommunication subscribers who have not obtained and/or linked a NIN to their SIMs, to do so at any of the designated centres.
“We remain committed to supporting the Federal Government and upholding the rights of citizens to communicate, to share information freely and responsibly, and to enjoy privacy and security regarding their data and their use of digital communications,” Adebayo said.
Director, Consumer Affairs Bureau at NCC, Efosa Idehen, who urged operators to comply with the SIM Registration Guidelines said while operators were to ensure compliance when registering their customers, the SIM card owners, too, have the responsibility to be vigilant to ensure that they were properly captured either for new SIM activation or SIM replacement.
“As the telecoms regulator in Nigeria, our role is to enforce compliance with the IM activation and replacement procedures to avoid problems that may arise in the event of stolen, lost, damaged SIMs or the need to upgrade SIM cards,” he said.
Idehen underscored the significance of SIM registration to personal and national security, and asserted that compliance with the stipulated procedures for SIM replacement would forestall identity theft, fraudulent SIM swap and other deceitful activities that can be carried out with a SIM card.
He said in accordance with the Revised National Identity Policy for SIM Registration, SIM replacements shall be undertaken by the service providers or their licensed agents in a controlled environment to eliminate the complaints of inconclusive SIM replacement procedures. He said such experiences have resulted in subscribers being defrauded by cyber fraudsters.
Idehen also advised the telecoms consumers to be wary of fake SIM registration agents purporting to be working for MNOs with intent to defraud unsuspecting subscribers. He said one of the antics of such agents is to ask for the one-time password (OTP) forwarded to the consumer for activation of the SIM, especially after the SIM replacement has been done.
Addressing the requirements for SIM replacement, the Director, Public Affairs, NCC, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, said the use of NIN is compulsory in addition to other criteria stated in the SIM Replacement Guidelines. He declared that the provision is stipulated in the Revised National Identity Policy for SIM registration.
Adinde, who was represented by the Port Harcourt Zonal Controller, Venny Eze-Nwabufoh, said using the NIN for SIM replacement is beneficial as it helps in identifying the real identity of a mobile phone user, limiting identity fraud, other network related crimes as well as improving national security. The Director Public Affairs also stated that the public sensitisation on SIM registration generally is in line with the obligation of the Commission to ensure effective implementation of the Revised National Identity Policy for SIM Registration.