The Federal Government’s policy on the Replacement of Subscriber Identification Modules and the deadline given for linking SIMs with valid National Identity Numbers are economically risky, stakeholders have said.
Also, they noted that the deadline given by government for the linking of SIMs with NINs would not be met going by the recent happenings in the sector and the crowds at the offices of the National Identity Management Commission.
On January 2, the government released a policy for the replacement of SIMs belonging to subscribers whose SIMs had been lost, stolen, misplaced or damaged.
It listed conditions for replacement of SIMs to include presentation of NIN by a subscriber and an effective verification of the NIN carried out by NIMC.
It added that ‘relevant guidelines and regulations of the National Communications Commission concerning SIM replacement are fully adhered to’.
The government had earlier declared on December 15, 2020 that after December 30, 2020, all SIMs that were not registered with valid NINs on the network of telecommunications companies would be blocked.
It later extended the December 30, 2020 deadline following widespread opposition against the earlier announcement and gave three-week extension for subscribers with NIN from December 30, 2020 to January 19, 2021.
It also gave six-week extension for subscribers without NINs from December 30, 2020 to February 9, 2021.
But operators in the telecoms space see the recent policy of the government as one capable of increasing the country’s risk exposure economically.
The National Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet, Olusola Teniola, said implementing the policies would impact negatively on Nigeria’s fragile economy.
He said the telecoms sector was contributing about 14.6 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product of Nigeria, stressing that the country had more registered active SIMs that were not linked with NINs.
Teniola, a former President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, said, “Now, let’s say an average Nigerian has two SIMs, then automatically you have an active database of individuals that amounts to about 100 million Nigerians. But the update we have from NIMC is that we have 43 million persons who have NINs.
“So when you take 43 million away from 100 million, you can see that about 57 million Nigerians might be disconnected from using services that they rely on not only to connect their loved ones but also to transact businesses.
“The challenge really is that we have an economic risk here and if it plays out, it will have a potential negative impact on the contribution of the telecoms sector to the GDP
“Also, you will have investors who are expecting returns on investments shying away from investing because there will be loss of confidence.”
The AAI coordinator noted that the challenge was now how one could quickly get the NIN, as the delay in getting the NIN would obviously determine the outcome of the industry going forward.
He advised the government to review its decision, as it was not feasible to meet the set deadlines going by the recent happenings in sector.
Teniola said, “It is clear to me that the dates that we are trying to achieve are not going to be met. And the simple reasons include the challenge of logistics.
“Also, other agents outside from NIMC have not started capturing data and have not been able to produce NIN at the speed that is required to ensure that the economy is not impacted.”
He added, “So my advice to the government is that it should consider all the variables and ensure that this programme goes on for six months or one year because of the size of the country.
“The minister should listen to people who have the expertise because the process is currently not going on as smoothly as required.”
On his part, the current President of ATCON, Ikechukwu Nnamani, said the present challenge was the time required for everyone to get their NINs.
He said, “The issue now is how long will it take for everybody to have their NINs? As you know, the registration process is currently ongoing. So if fortunately, we are able to get everybody registered, then it will be okay.
“But the challenge is that between now and when everybody registers, if you lose you SIM and don’t have a NIN, it will be tough for you to replace the SIM.”
The President, Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, NIMC Unit, Asekokhai Lucky, stated that it would be tough to meet the deadline.
According to him, there are a lot of issues to sort out between NIMC workers and the government.
He also expressed worry over the sudden rush to have everyone registered, stressing that the process was being carried out at a time when the country was faced with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Lucky urged the government to tread cautiously in order not to further worsen the economic fortunes of Nigeria, as it strives to link the SIMs of citizens with their various NINs.