Last week, a review of the policy by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on SIM card registration as ordered by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, gave network operators a December 2020 ultimatum to ensure proper registration of all SIM cards. The order also specified that subscribers must register with their National Identification Numbers (NINs).
Following this, it is suspected that the four major network providers in Nigeria -- MTN, Airtel, Glo, and 9Mobile -- would have to conduct yet another nationwide registration exercise before the year runs out. Even so, they have to do the whole procedure without the help of unaccredited partners to avoid a flawed outcome or recurring cases of pre-registered SIM cards.
For now, while some network service centres have received directives from their headquarters about this development, others haven't.
"We got a mail last week about that. But we're still carrying out registration the usual way. But since it's the government's issue, if they want to implement it, they will," an Airtel service centre official says.
Now, if telcos' are ready for the procedure, are Nigerians also primed to meet the requirements considering the number of bottlenecks that have restricted them in the past?
Is there a centralised subscribers' database with the NCC?
During Techpoint Africa's visit to an MTN service centre in Lagos, we gathered that this directive has probably not received the needed publicity across board as far as telcos are concerned.
However, a customer representative raised the salient point of a non-existing centralised database that could confirm citizen's information and quickly detect a case of duplicated details.
“For instance, I used different middle names when I registered my voter's card and driver's license. What if I use both to register different SIM cards, I think it might be difficult to trace these identities to the same person in this present Nigeria."
Also expressing his doubts, a customer explained how he registered three SIM cards of different networks with different biodata. “I used a different first name and middle name for the three. How will they find out?”
All attempts to get the NCC’s take on this proved futile. However, we found an assurance by Pantami to find a lasting solution to issues that may result from not having a synchronised database for subscribers' records in due time.
Also, in the statement requesting this policy review, the minister revealed that the move was intended to block the loopholes in the current policy.
As it stands, it appears subscribers’ information from the telcos is yet to have a central database with the NCC that would be enough to verify the actual identity of each subscriber.
Furthermore, taking a cue from NCC's subscriber data, it was noticed that subscribers from each operator are considered separately which gives room for miscalculation in the actual total number of network users in the country.
It is therefore not clear how operators would be able to know if a subscriber has reached the SIM card limit during a registration process.
What about the government?
Apparently, the enforcement of NIN use by Nigerians in the conduct of certain transactions has been in the works. In 2015, there was a mandate that the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) should ensure the harmonisation of NIN with all Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs). These MDAs include, but are not limited to, CBN, FRSC, FIRS, INEC, NHIS, and PenCom.
At the time, it turned out to be an unsuccessful effort and, thus, had to be postponed to the following year. Even up until mid-2019, it appeared complete adoption was still five years away.
How far has NIMC gone?
Perhaps, the question of how long it takes to get a NIN in Nigeria is no longer the subject of debates. According to the FAQs page on the commission’s official website, "it usually takes between 1-5 working days for your NIN to be ready after registration."
Some respondents that spoke with Techpoint affirmed that they got the NIN in less than a week after registering.
But considering the coverage, NIMC has only enrolled about 36 million Nigerians even though the process started in 2012. And this number is a far cry from the over 180 million network subscribers recorded by NCC. This is said to have resulted from the few centres and partners available.
Nigerians share their thoughts
A user explained why anyone would want to have more than a SIM card in the first place.
"If all the networks have reliable coverage everywhere, it won't be necessary to have more than one SIM card. Especially for people traveling to their village and want to remain connected, they will have to use a network that is good in that area."
Having a contrary opinion, another user who claims to have only one SIM card says, "having more than three SIM cards sometimes spells the person has a shady deal. I think this is a nice step because it will curb corruption."
It, however, turned out to be a different story with the other requirement. Techpoint gathered that on average, only two of ten people have the NIN.
"I don't have it because the process was frustrating when I tried to get it," one user reacts.
"I don't know if I will go there again because I've wasted many days trying to without getting it."
"My friend had to tip one of the officials before she could get it done after spending a whole day at the centre."
Regardless, most of the subscribers are willing to get the NIN if the process is hassle-free, but some won't mind having their SIM cards blocked if it continues to be difficult.
"I'll do it before the year ends but I just wish there is a way to avoid the crowd at the centres."
"As it is, it seems they have pushed me to the wall. Since it's going to affect my basic needs, then I have to find a way to get it."
"If I can't find a way to get it, then let them block the SIM. I will find an alternative."
A recommendation common to all respondents is for the concerned agency to have more registration centres which will make the process easier.
In a nutshell, full compliance may be hard to achieve if users can't be held responsible during the registration process. There has to be a structure through which any anomaly can be detected. Similarly, a directive of this magnitude may not be easily enforced if subscribers continue to find a basic prerequisite -- NIN registration -- difficult to access.
Nonetheless, we will all be on the lookout for how this will pan out since the deadline is still ten months away.