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SIM-NIN Linkage: Rumblings as Nigerian Telcos deactivate over 40m consumers’ telephone lines

*Nigeria’s Mobile Network Operators block over 40 million telecoms consumers’ telephone lines over their reported failure to link Subscriber Identity Module Cards to their National Identification Numbers after the stipulated February 28, 2024, deadline for the exercise

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

Nigeria’s Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have blocked over 40 million telecoms consumers’ telephone lines over apparent failure to link their Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Cards to National Identification Numbers (NINs) by the stated February 28, 2024, deadline.

ConsumerConnect reports the telecoms operators, following the expiration of the deadline issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), gave effect to the telecoms sector regulator’s directive at the weekend and blocked subscribers’ telephone lines.

Increase from 12m to over 40 million blocked telephones lines

The 40 million telephone lines represents a 28 million increase from the 12 million phone lines the Telcos initially, planned to deactivate in regard to the Commission’s mandate to do so.

Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, Chairman of ALTON

There are about 224.7 million active mobile telephone lines in Nigeria, according to NCC.

Earlier, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) had confirmed that the MNOs would proceed to block 12 million lines on view of the  industry regulator’s directive.

It is recalled that the NCC notice issued December 2023, had directed the MNOs to bar telecoms consumers’ SIMs that had not been linked to their owners’ NINs by February 28 this year.

The Commission, in the notification, also directed the telecoms operators to bar SIMs holders whose NINs have been submitted but not verified by March 29 this year, and interdict those who have less than five lines linked to an unverified NIN by April 15, 2024.

Subsequently, Mr. Reuben Muoka, Director of Public Affairs at NCC, during the recent 45th Kaduna International Trade Fair, in Kaduna State, Northern Nigeria, as well reminded subscribers of the need to do their SIM-NIN linkage.

The Commission equally, cautioned that there would be no extension of the deadline, warning that Telcos that failed to enforce the deadline after February 28 would be sanctioned.

However, Engr. Adebayo told The Punch Sunday, March 3, that the number of barred lines had risen to 40 million, disclosing that telecoms consumers’ SIMs without NINs were also included in the new figure.

The Chairman of ALTON was quoted to have said: “I can tell you that over 40 million lines have been blocked and the affected customers are those who didn’t submit their NINs at all.

“Some persons have not presented any NINs to operators. They haven’t registered their SIMs or participated in the harmonisation programme.”

Reasons for increasing number of deactivated  telephone lines, by Engr. Adebayo

Adebayo also explained: “They (subscribers) simply haven’t made any presentation of the NINs to their operators and those were the persons blocked.

“So, why is the number so alarming despite repeated warnings? It shows many people still communicate but are not registered.”

The Federal Government, in view of the increasing insecurity of lives and property of Nigerians, the need for reliable, sustainable national planning, and service providers’ Know Your Customer (KYC) obligations, December 16, 2020, had introduced the SIM-NIN synchronisation initiative to enable security agencies to track criminals in the country’s telecommunications ecosystem.

Nonetheless, several Nigerians, including Prof. Isa Ali Pantami, ex-Minister for Communications and Digital Economy; and former Sen. Shehu Sani from Kaduna State, have accused the security agencies apparently, failed to use the SIM-NIN linkage arrangement to track criminals expeditiously, particularly armed bandits and kidnappers, who often use mobile telephone lines to speak with victims’ families during ransom negotiations across the country.

The synchronisation involves validating the NIN with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), and matching the subscriber’s NIN records with the SIM registration information (verification) to ensure proper subscriber identification.

On the breakdown of subscribers or SIMs that were deactivated by Telcos over the weekend, Adebayo said: “We currently don’t have the breakdown of disconnected lines per network right now but I know over 40 million lines have been deactivated.”

He also disclosed that another series of SIM disconnections would be implemented by the end of this month and mid April 2024.

“The second tier of disconnections that will happen are those who have provided NIN but have more than five Mobile Subscription Identification Numbers associated with their NIN, and these have not been verified.

“This is because some have differences in the order of their names, and some have differences in their dates of birth,” he stated.

More telephone lines for deactivation by March 30, says ALTON

The ALTON Chief noted: “The information provided to the operators when they did the SIM registration is different from what they provided (to NIMC) when they did their NIN.

“Some subscribers also have some differences in other records that are very critical to their verification process.

“So these people who have more than five MSINs attached to their NIN and haven’t been verified will be disconnected effective March 30, 2024.”

Adebayo said: “So, we may have more disconnections happening by the end of this month.

“If somebody has given a name that has not been verified and has been receiving text messages to verify and they haven’t done that, by March 30th, those people will be disconnected and the figures will further increase.”

He further explained, “There are two sources of data-primary and secondary.

“During the first registration process, the customer’s information is on-boarded to a server when everyone did the SIM registration but the secondary record is for details given during NIN. Hence your primary record has to be uniform with the secondary data across the platforms before you can be verified.

“Furthermore,  for those who have less than five MSINs, by April 15th, they will be disconnected if they don’t harmonise their records before then.

“So we are going to go through a series of disconnections or service suspensions over the next two months if people don’t follow the laid down regulations.”

Subscribers’ group kicks, urges NCC for extension of deadline for SIM-NIN linkage

Meanwhile, telecoms service subscribers have frowned on the latest move by the network operators in blocking tens of millions of their telephone lines in compliance with the NCC’s directive.

Reacting to the development in the telecommunications sector, Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, President of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers has stated that the group will seek redress in court Thursday this week, if the SIM card blockade deadline is not extended.

Adeolu, in an interview Sunday, March 3 also confirmed ALTON’s position on the increased number of deactivated telephone numbers, saying the number of barred subscribers was above 12 million.

Urging the NCC to consider the plight of telecoms consumers, and grant a 31-day extension for the exercise, he stated: “We have appealed to the Nigerian Communications Commission to extend the deadline till March 31.

“But if this is not done, we will observe the situation for the next three days, that is Monday to Wednesday, and if this is not granted, we will have to file a case in court on Thursday.”

Chief Ogunbanjo further said: “We have, and still appealing that this deadline be extended. We understand their position concerning security issues but a 31-day extension would not harm anyone and that is why we didn’t ask for three months.

“The NCC boss should please give us this gift as a resumption gift and not punish subscribers.”

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