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Hundreds of subscribers beseige NIMC office as SIM blockage enters eighth day

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HUNDREDS of the global system for mobile communications (GSM) subscribers in Nigeria today flocked the office of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), at Ikeja, Lagos, in their effort to obtain national identity numbers (NIN) they would link to their subscriber identification modules (SIM), as directed by the Federal Government.

The government, through the Ministry of Communications and the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) had in December 2020 directed SIM subscribers to link their national identity numbers to their SIM cards, with a warning that subscribers who failed to do so by January 19, 2021 would have their SIMs blocked.

Appeals from bodies like the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) and civil societies for deadline extension, however, got a listening ear from the government, which extended the deadline multiple times, from the initial January 19, 2021 deadline to February 9, 2021; April 6, 2021; May 6, 2021; June 30, 2021; October 31, 2021 and, finally, March 31, 2022.


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That would be the last straw. A joint statement on April 4, 2022 by the Director, Public Affairs of the NCC, Ikechukwu Adinde, and Head, Corporate Communications, of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Kayode Adegoke, announced that the federal government had directed all mobile phone network providers to block all outgoing SIM calls not linked to NIN, with effect from April 4, 2022.

Some subscribers, however, told The ICIR that they had been unable to make calls since April 1, 2022, the day following the March 31, 2022 deadline.

About 119 million lines might have been deactivated. Available statistics from the NCC in February showed there were 303,636,267 connected GSM mobile lines in the country, out of which 197,768,482 were active.

Out of the 197.7 million active subscribers, 78 million had, so far, been linked.

The ICIR paid a visit to the Lagos NIMC office on Friday, April 8, 2022 and saw a crowd of over 400 subscribers seeking to link their NINs to their SIMs. The number included a few school children. An affected subscriber on the queue told our reporter the crowd had been beseiging the office since Monday, April 4, 2022.

There were two queues for the verification and collection of the NINs, and it was rough and rowdy moments, with people shouting on the top of their voices. The two queues thinned to one at a partially opened window to interact with an NIMC officer seated in an office.

A tent and plastic chairs were provided for subscribers, for both those who were there to register newly and others who had registered but were there to validate their numbers and collect the temporary white paper NIN certificate.

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To maintain order, the seated subscribers were each given numbers they had obtained at a window. A staff of the NIMC would come to them every now and then calling them by their numbers 10 persons at a time to file out on three queues – two for the validation and collection, and one for registration.

The people came for different issues bordering on the NIN from various parts of Lagos. Some had never applied for the identity number until now. Some applied but only had tracking numbers with which they could get their NIN.

Others complained that they could not use their NIN on more than a SIM card. Some others claimed their NIN could not be linked to their lines.

NIMC Lagos Alausa
Worried faces at the NIMC office, awaiting their turn. Credit: Joseph Olaoluwa_The_ICIR

This morning, they braved the heavy morning downpour to arrive early at the NIMC office, only to be kept waiting at the main gate by officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), which shares the same premises with the NIMC at Alausa, Ikeja.

Most of the subscribers said they they came as early as 6am, waiting at the gate to be allowed entry by the NSCDC men, who would not agree until well after 7am.

An electrical apprentice, Jamiu Hassan, told The ICIR that he was at the gate as early as 7am but was delayed there by the NSCDC officials. Hassan said some of the subscribers with him there had to start calling some NIMC officials they knew, and who then interacted with the NSCDC men for the civil defence men to allow them into the premises. He noted that they scrambled to collect number tags at the gate to enter the premises, and another scramble to collect numbers outside the offices of the NIMC through a small window to join queues before they were attended to.

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The process was time-wasting, according to Hassan.

He added that he had been to the NIMC office yesterday but left due to the massive crowd there, and had to come again today.

He lamented that after the loss of his main MTN line two weeks ago, he could not use the new one, so he had to come on MTN’s advice to get his NIN as he had not been able to call nor receive calls for over four days.

 

NIMC Lagos Alausa
Nigerians scramble to submit the filled NIN form. Credit: Joseph Olaoluwa_The_ICIR

An aluminium seller, Sheriff Fashola, described his experience at the NIMC office as “harrowing.”

Fashola said, “My lines have been barred for four days, that is Airtel and MTN. Getting here has been so stressful, right from the gate. Before we got to the NMIC office this morning, they (NSCDC) threatened us with guns at the gate. I want to verify my NIN before collection. I have done it before, but since I have been coming to check for my NIN, they have been saying it was not ready. So now, I came for verification and collection. They will verify before I collect the card.”

A furniture maker, Donatus George, confessed that the blockage of his lines had affected his business. He explained that his lines had been barred since November 2021 and it has been a problem for him. He said that he had been frequenting the Alausa NIMC office from Abule Egba, incurring N1000 on transportation on a daily basis.

George said, “As a furniture maker, I have lost many business opportunities as a result of this barred line. Since November, the network would come and would disappear. First, it lasted a month; now, I can’t remember the last time I got the MTN network. They said I should do my NIN. I have done it. Then they said my NIN was not linked and I should link it. First, I went to Iyana Ipaja, then Allen Street before deciding to be frequenting here.”

NIMC Lagos Alausa
Jamiu Hassan and Donatus George look on while on the queue. Credit: Joseph Olaoluwa_The_ICIR

Meanwhile, the NIMC has disclosed that it has over 15,000 centres across the 36 states of the Federation and the FCT for continuous enrolment of eligible Nigerians and legal residents for the NIN.

In a statement, the Commission said over 150 centres in 40 countries in the Diaspora exist and urged interested enrollees to click on the Commission’s link to check the NIN enrolment centre closer to them.

In a related development, Airtel Africa, in a notification to the Nigerian Exchange Group (NGX) on April 5, 2022, revealed that it had collated NIN information for 73 per cent of its active customer base, which it said accounted for about 79 per cent of Nigeria’s revenue. It added that the impact of the act for it, in terms of customer numbers and revenues, was uncertain.

Similarly, MTN, on the same date, stated that it had successfully linked 47 million subscribers to their NINs by March 31, 2022. It said that the number represented 67 per cent of its subscriber base and 76 per cent of its revenue.

An electronic national identity card. Photo credit: NIMC

Airtel again warned in another statement on the NGX on April 7, 2022 that “all SIMs that have not been linked to NIN will have only their outgoing voice calls barred with immediate effect.”

Data from the NIMC portal highlighted that enrolment for NIN had fallen by 45.21 per cent in three months.

The report stated that from September 30, 2021 to January 1, 2022, the NIMC recorded 8.03 million new NIN registrations, while from January 1, 2022 to March 21, 2022, the Commission recorded only 4.4 million new NIN registrations. This figure represented a 45.21 per cent decline in enrolment.

Author profile

Experienced Business reporter seeking the truth and upholding justice. Covered capital markets, aviation, maritime, road and rail, as well as economy. Email tips to jolaoluwa@icirnigeria.org. Follow on Twitter @theminentmuyiwa and on Instagram @Hollumuyiwah.

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