Nigeria deactivates 73 million SIM cards

The NCC estimates that there are on average three or four SIMs linked to each NIN in Nigeria. PHOTO/ COURTESY

The Nigerian government has disconnected millions of SIM card lines that have not been re-registered as it finally holds firm on its March deadline to have all SIMs in the country linked to their owners.

The deactivation part of a SIM registration process that has been going on since December 2020. The deadline for the NIN-SIM linkage exercise has been extended on multiple occasions to give Nigerians time to comply with the policy.

The registration deadline was March 31, 2022, and tens of millions of SIMs still remain unregistered.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said in a statement that all telcos need to strictly enforce the policy on all SIMs issued, existing and new, in Nigeria. As of April 4, 2022, outgoing calls will be barred for telephone lines that have not complied with the National Identification Number (NIN) -SIM linkage policy.

So far, 125 million SIMs have been linked and verified during the process. The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has also issued over 78 million unique NINs to date.

The latest data from the NCC estimates that there were about 198 million active mobile lines in Nigeria in February 2022. This leaves about 73 million SIMs that have not been linked to a person’s identity.

However, given the understanding that a single subscriber has more than two lines registered to his/her name, THISDAY deduced that on the average, about 37 million subscribers must have been affected by the order and can no longer make calls.

Some of the subscribers complained bitterly that even after complying with the federal government’s order to register, obtain NIN and link NIN to SIM, they were still affected, because they suddenly discovered that they could no longer make calls with their lines.

Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr Gbenga Adebayo, says telecoms operators began the enforcement to deactivate all unlinked SIM cards, immediately after the order was given to them on Monday this week, by the NCC, as directed by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.

The Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) can confirm that our members have received formal directives from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to bar out-going calls on subscriber lines that are not in compliance with the NIN-SIM linkage Policy requirement that all Subscriber Identification Modules (SIMs) must be linked to a NIN.”

He added that ALTON members were committed to complying with the instructions and called on telecommunication subscribers who have not obtained and/or linked a NIN to their SIMs, to do so at any of the designated centres.

The NCC estimates that there are on average three or four SIMs linked to each NIN in Nigeria.

Having a National Identification Number is now a precondition to have access to services for telecoms, banking, the Nigerian Immigration Service and several other government services.

The regulator said the telecoms deadline had been extended many times but “at this point however, Government has determined that the NIN-SIM Policy implementation can proceed, as machinery has already been put in place to ensure compliance by citizens and legal residents.”

In 2015, Nigerian network operators deactivated 10.7 million SIM cards.

In East Africa, Kenyans have been given up to the middle of this month to register their sim cards afresh as the Communications Authority seesk to clean data held by mobile network operators Safaricom, Telkom and Airtel.

Any SIM card that will be unregistered by April 15, the regulator said, will be deactivated in a move that could see telcos lose millions of subscribers who may not beat the deadline.

Over the past fews days, long queues have been witnessed in most urban centres as Kenyans fears that the looming disconnection will cut them out of the mobile money system which runs the country’s micro-economy.

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