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SERAP urges Nigerian Government to unblock unregistered SIM Cards in 48 hours

President Muhammadu Buhari

*The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the Federal Government to reverse the directive, saying ‘blocking people from making calls undermines their ability to communicate freely … infringes their rights to freedom of expression and family life, as well as socio-economic rights

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Citing alleged infringement on consumers’ rights to freedom of expression, family life, as well as socio-economic rights, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the Federal Government of Nigeria to unblock millions of unregistered mobile phone lines.

ConsumerConnect reports the group, in its reaction to the recent Federal Government’s directive to the telecommunication companies (Telcos) to bar all outgoing calls on unregistered and unlinked lines effective from Monday, April 4, 2022.

Prof. Isa Ali Pantami, Honourable Minister for Communications and Digital Economy

Unlinked lines are Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Cards not yet registered and linked with the National Identification Number (NIN) by users.

Kolawole Oluwadare, Deputy Director of SERAP, in statement issued Sunday, April 10, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “direct the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to immediately reverse the apparently unlawful decision to block over 72 million active telecommunication subscribers from making calls on their SIMs.”

The rights organisation stated: “Blocking people from making calls undermines their ability to communicate freely, and associate with others. It infringes their rights to freedom of expression and family life, as well as socio-economic rights,” SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said.

The group’s Deputy Director also said that the government’s decision would have a chilling effect, dissuading the free expression of ideas and information.

SERAP contended that the move is inconsistent and incompatible with the country’s international legal obligations to respect, protect, promote and facilitate economic and social rights.

The decision contradicts the tenets of the rule of law and democratic society, it noted.

It further stated: “Immediately reversing the decision would be in conformity with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and Nigeria’s international human rights obligations.

“Reversing the decision would also improve the confidence of the international community in human rights and the rule of law in Nigeria.

“The decision will cause a wide variety of harms to economic activity, and personal safety, and disproportionately affect those on the margins of society.

“This will directly hinder the ability of the government to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s Goal 8 on the promotion of sustained, inclusive, sustainable economic growth.”

SERAP as well said: “Millions of Nigerians including persons with disabilities, elderly citizens, persons living in remote areas have been unable to capture their biometrics, and obtain their National Identity Numbers (NINs) due to logistical challenges, administrative and bureaucratic burdens, as well as the persistent collapse of the national grid.”

“We would be grateful if the decision to block people from making calls on their SIMs is reversed within 48 hours of the receipt and/or publication of this letter.

“If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions in the public interest to ensure full compliance with human rights standards.”

The organisation added: “The rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of association, whether offline or online promote the democratic ideal by allowing citizens to voice their concerns, challenge governmental institutions, and hold government accountable for its actions.”

“The democratic ideal rationale also recognises the necessity of having a well-informed citizenry to participate in the democratic process.”

“We support any lawful means to address the growing insecurity across the country. However, while the authorities have a legal responsibility to protect, ensure and secure the rights to life and property, any such responsibility ought to be discharged in conformity with human rights standards.”

“While we recognise the need for your government to take measures to ensure security and safety of the people in the country, we are seriously concerned that the decision to block people from making calls appears to go beyond the restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, information, and association.”

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