On December 15, 2020, a press release signed by the Director of Public Affairs of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, indicated that the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, and the Chief Executive Officers and Management of the NCC, National Information Technology Development Agency, National Identity Management Commission and ervice providers in the telecommunication industry held a meeting where, among others, it was resolved that between December 16 and 30, 2020, all subscribers identification module owners must update their registration records with their National Identification Numberm after which non-compliant owners would have their SIM cards blocked, according to Federal Government.
Rights and Freedom Advocates received the news of the dictatorial policy with amazement and wondered if informed and patriotic Nigerians were among those who took the draconian and short-sighted policy. The most disappointing was that the Management of NIMC was among the decision makers that took the iniquitous decisions when some Nigerians who have been going to NIMC offices for months have been thronging our office with complaints of not having opportunity to register for the NIN.
In fact, we have facts that people who got to NIN registration centres by 6am to 8am could not be attended to in a day except they would part with money to “some people” at the registration points apart from the fact that NIMC has inadequate offices nationwide to satisfy the need of Nigerians for the NIN registration. Unfortunately, the same agency could not caution the Ministry to avoid hasty decision that would not only ridicule the concerned authorities but the whole government. So, if government officials receive first class attention in registrations, they should not think it is so easy for other Nigerians not in high offices.
First of all, the news of the requirement for SIM cards NIN update with telecommunication service providers would not get to some remote places until after few months (which may even run into a year or more). Similarly, the telecommunication service providers are seriously battling with acute staff and offices to satisfactorily cater for the registration demands of their customers as customers are delayed for hours/days without attention and some are required to return for same services for unspecified number of days.
The NCC hasty approach on NIN-SIM card update is typical of any authoritarian government which failed to provide essentials mechanisms before implementing a mundane policy of this type. This is the end of the year when most SIM card owners are busy in their offices rounding off their records to meet regulatory authorities’ requirements. How would such same set of people be mandated to leave their daily bread for one hard nosed registration which they do not know when to be attended to? Or those who get excuse for a day but are not attended to would still be allowed by their employers the following day to leave work while trying to ensure adequate reports are prepared for necessary action?
The same confused government that insisted on social distancing still brought up a policy that has started witnessing overcrowded offices of NIMC and telecommunication service providers in less than 24 hours of the policy announcement. In early December 2020, the moribund National Orientation Agency came up with a primitive policy that Nigerians without face-mask and social distancing in public places would be arrested or fined. Now same government has instituted a strict policy that will flout its policies. Why this policy somersault and mystification?
Serious agencies and Ministry of government would have created a website for NIMC applicants/enrollers to submit their NINs at their convenience and the website would have been linked to all telecommunication service providers where people would not need to go to any office before providing required information and or details. The sophisticated global village has provided greater space opportunities for the populace to provide any details to government in their comfort room once their biometric data have been captured by NIMC.
As part of pragmatic suggestions above, RIFA opines that the policy timing is awkward and should be jettisoned for now as the last two weeks of the year is mostly leave or busy period for most offices and that Nigerians would not have adequate time to provide required details within the short period. Besides, there is need for government to carry out an extensive sensitisation policy for at least two months on all local radio in local dialects and lingua franca so as to inform the remote residents. Ideally, government should halt the policy until a website is created that would be linked to all telecom service providers so that once the subscribers access the website they will just select the service providers of their choice and will be redirected to the main website where accurate and self-service details would be provided at convenience.
The policy can only become realistic if extended to at least six months for the message to be widely circulated and provisions made for NIMC to increase its registration centres to nook and crannies of the Country. Until these are done, the hoax policy remains a dream not realisable in Nigeria of today and the citizens should hold the Minister in charge responsible for any loss of contract, revenue, information and other associated loss that may arise from such heinous policy.
. Soliu is the President, Rights and Freedom Advocates.