The slow pace of the SIM to NIN registration has raised many concerns, and what are the hiccups?
Amidst the hustle and bustle involved in linking the Subscriber Identity/Identification Module (SIM) with the National Identification Number (NIN), particularly in the public space, telecommunications giants have devised simple means of making the registration process less arduous for their subscribers.
It’s almost a year since the SIM-NIN policy was introduced by the Federal Government, yet the exercise has been extended on several occasions, and one wonders why the noticeable obstacles stalling the envisaged progress of the registration process have not been addressed.
A joint statement signed on Saturday by the Director of Public Affairs of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Dr Ikechukwu Adinde, and the Head, Corporate Communications at the Nigeria Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Mr Kayode Adegoke, issued by the Minister of Communications and Economy, Professor Isa Pantami , on behalf of the Federal Government, approved an extension of the exercise until December 31, 2021. The last deadline for all Nigerians to link their SIM with NIN was October 31.
As of October 30, 2021 NIMC reportedly stated that there were over 9,599 enrolment systems and over 8,000 NIN enrolment centres within and outside the country for the exercise. And so far according to a source, the NIMC has issued 66 million unique NINs, and so the Federal Government therefore deserves commendation for this level of achievement made regarding SIM-NIN registration exercise.
It will be recalled the Federal Government issued a stern directive that SIM cards that were not linked to NIN would be blocked, maintaining its stand that telecommunications companies that failed to block phone numbers of their subscribers who have not linked their SIM to NIN, would have their operating licences withdrawn.
In December 2020, sales of new SIM cards by telecommunication companies were put on hold to allow the Federal Government to carry out a comprehensive audit of the Subscriber Registration Database, but the government lifted the ban on the registration of new SIM on the condition that new subscribers must link their SIM to the NIN.
A factor hindering the SIM to NIN registration is government’s failure to provide suitable centres like schools, worship centres, among others, for the registration exercise, particularly in remote areas where people encounter a lot of difficulties during the process.
On December 30, 2020 NIMC issued the first deadline on linkage of SIM to NIN by all subscribers, and a new year ushered in January 19 as the second deadline. There were extension of deadlines on February 9, April 6, May 9, June 30, July 26, and October 31. And now, the deadline has further been extended until December 31, 2021. Will the Federal Government keep extending the deadline?
Available statistics shows that a substantial percentage of Nigeria’s population is yet to be captured by NIMC for the SIM to NIN registration exercise. But the truth is, even though the deadline extension allows many Nigerians more time to link their SIM to NIN, government will do a lot of Nigerians good by creating more environment-friendly centres that will facilitate smooth registration process.
In January 2021 NIMC offices across the country were under lock and key following an industrial strike, leaving many people who had besieged the commission for the registration stranded. The educational sector also had its fair share of the problems associated with linkage of SIM to NIN because the code provided by the Joint Matriculation and Examinations Board (JAMB) for authenticating applicants’ NIN responded with an error, implying that the applicants’ NIN was invalid. This hitch in the registration exercise caused unnecessary tension for millions of candidates who applied for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME).
In spite of COVID-19 safety protocols on social and physical distancing, Nigerian citizens stormed NIMC’s offices and centres across the federation to beat the registration deadline. Yet, there were no adequate arrangements in place to mitigate the pain associated with the process for registration, as the hopes of many who left their homes as early as 6:00 a.m for the registration centres were dashed.
Desperate Nigerians, particularly at the peak periods of the process, are compelled to part with their hard-earned money allegedly to officials of the commission in order to become registered before expiration a deadline fixed by the Federal Government. And some people, too, have narrated pitiable stories about passing the night at some registration centres for linkage of their SIM to NIN. A good number of Nigerians, however, believe that with a Bank Verification Number (BVN), one should be able to link a SIM to NIN on a smartphone without problems.
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With the prevalence of different variants of COVID-19, government should consider the safety of staff of NIMC as well as Nigerians who are putting their lives on the line to participate in the registration exercise. The staff of NIMC should be insured as many of them stand the risk of contracting COVID-19, given the number of people that visit the centres for SIM to NIN linkage It is said that “health is wealth.”
Telecommunication companies have been empowered by the Federal Government to register applicants for their NINs, in order to reduce the large crowd that besiege NIMC offices all over the federation, and flouting social distancing protocols amidst the prevalence of COVID-19.
It is easier for telecommunication companies to generate numbers by using existing information in their databases, and with millions of subscribers, telecommunication giants like MTN, GLOBACOM, Airtel and Etisalat can reach out to all their subscribers for the registration of their SIM and linkage with NIN without wasting time.
Numerous efforts have been made by telecommunication companies to make the SIM to NIN registration a less stressful exercise, and some have even launched portals, while some have created USSD codes to make linkage easier for their subscribers.
So far, telecommunication companies have been adhering to the directives of the Federal Government, by creation of awareness via electronic medium, aimed at sensitizing subscribers to the necessity to link their SIM to their NIN before the expiration of a deadline. Indeed, it can be called a “Digital Intervention.”
And since telecommunication companies are now actively involved in the SIM to NIN registration exercise, it is about time the Federal Government also evaluate the progress so far made since the commencement of the exercise, and then think up measures to be put in place to achieve the overall objectives of the exercise.