We commend the Federal Government for the extension of the deadline for linking Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) with National Identification Number (NIN) by six weeks. The development came on the heels of mounting complaints by Nigerians on the earlier deadline of December 16-30, 2020 given by the National Communications Commission (NCC) to all mobile network subscribers to complete the exercise, after which any SIM card without NIN will be disconnected from the networks. While it is good that the government has listened to public outcry and extended the deadline for the exercise, we still believe that six weeks will be inadequate for Nigerians without NIN to do so seamlessly. The reported scramble for identity numbers and subsequent extortion at the offices of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) across the country, show that Nigerians would need a longer period to complete the exercise. We also think that an exercise of this nature ought to be a continuous one instead of having a deadline as short as six weeks for millions of Nigerians without NIN to do so. At present, Nigeria has a population of about 206 million people. Out of this number, only 44 million Nigerians have NIN. Since the SIM validation exercise will affect about 200 million telephone lines, it will be extremely difficult to complete it within six weeks. A realistic deadline will be one year.
In a period when Nigeria is witnessing the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, it is not healthy to expose more Nigerians to crowd at the NIMC offices for the synchronisation exercise. Also, in these NIMC centres, the COVID-19 protocols are hardly observed. The process of NIN registration has been slow and plagued with several difficulties, including extortion. The registration of one person takes anything from a day to two weeks depending on various factors such as long queues, erratic power supply, internet failure and absence of capturing or registration officer.
While we subscribe to the necessity of the exercise and the bigger goal of improving national security, we call on the federal government to make the exercise a continuous one just like birth registration and others. We say this because there will always be new buyers of SIM cards and people qualified for NIN registration. It must be an ongoing exercise. It does not even require a deadline. We must do away with our usual ‘fire brigade’ approach to resolving some issues. At the moment, the government already has biometric data of Nigerians from international passports, National Identity Numbers, Drivers License, Permanent Voters Card, Bank Verification Numbers, (BVN) and the SIM registration data. The information contained in any of this can be shared and synchronised easily as obtains in foreign countries. In 2018, Nigeria launched a process to harmonise data from the multiple organisations behind the biometric data captures like the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Immigration Service, the Independent National Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and the NCC. In 2019, the NCC announced that it was in the process of verifying and harmonising data from SIM registration. It never did. Even the presidential directive that NCC and all data collecting agencies should submit their data to NIMC as the statutory body to create a national citizens’ database has been ignored. The scramble for national identity numbers and the attendant extortion can be avoided. The exercise will increase the spread of the COVID 19 pandemic because of huge crowds at registration centres without full compliance with the safety protocols. The government should not contemplate blocking any SIM card because doing so will affect e-banking, e-commerce, digital education, digital health and digital agriculture. We urge the NCC to give a realistic deadline for the completion of the linkage exercise.