Nigeria’s Communication Minister Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami on Friday scrapped the 20 Naira (0.053 United States dollar) Unstructured Supplementary Service Data fee imposed on subscribers for National Identity Number (NIN) retrieval requests across all mobile network providers in a bid to make the process smooth and affordable.

Pantami gave the directive after meeting representatives of mobile network operators and agreed that subscribers and applicants can access the drive using the *346# code for their NIN retrieval at no charge for the duration of the NIN or SIM Card integration exercise. 

This comes after the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on the 7th of December 2020 ordered all mobile network operators to suspend the sale, registration and activation of new SIM cards.

The idea was to curb anomalies in the selling, registration and activation of new SIM cards in the West Africa nation.

On the 14th of December 2020, Pantami met with the Chief Executive Officers and Management of the NCC, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), as well as the CEOs and Management staff of all service providers in the industry.

It was agreed that providing a NIN in form of National Identity Card, Voters’ Card, International Passport or Driver’s Licence shall be mandatory when registering or activating a new SIM card within a period of two weeks.

“To this end, the following decisions were taken for immediate implementation by all mobile network operators: operators to require all their subscribers to provide valid NIN to update SIM registration records and the submission of NIN by subscribers to take place within two weeks [that is between] December 16, 2020 and end by 30 December, 2020,” reads a statement signed by NCC Public Affairs director Ikechukwu Adinde.

“After the deadline, all SIMs without NINs are to be blocked from the networks.”

Millions of subscribers risk being switched off in a nation with a population of nearly 200 million and it is estimated that they have over 198 million active mobile lines.

As of May 2020, only 41.5 million Nigerians, less than a quarter of the country’s population, have registered for identity cards.

For Nigerians to be registered with identity cards is going to be a huge challenge as in June 2020, the director-general of the NIMC, Aliyu Aziz revealed that only 38% of Nigerians have any form of identification. 

Mobile network operators in Nigeria have already complied with the recent directive.

“MTN Group and its subsidiary, MTN Nigeria embrace and support the government’s push to broaden NIN enrolment and we are complying with the directive,” MTN Group spokesperson told Biztech Africa.

“We will continue to engage with relevant authorities on the matter to establish the implementation process and timelines for execution. We will endeavour to ensure a seamless process to the benefit of our 75 million customers in Nigeria. We remain committed to contributing to Nigerian economy.”

According to the MTN Group investor teleconference script: industry-wide SIM registration audit in Nigeria on the 17th of December 2020 seen by Biztech Africa MTN Nigeria had ordered 14 000 devices for the NIN capturing exercise.

“We are already upgrading systems and placed orders for about 14 thousand devices that are enabled to enroll and capture NIN’s. These are expected to arrive in the coming two weeks,” reads part of the script.

“The 14 thousand devices we have ordered can complete about four NIN registrations per hour, per device. So, in a working day of 8 hours, the 14 thousand devices can process about 448 thousand NINs per day.”

The script revealed that the deadline is likely to be extended as two weeks is not enough to capture all NINs in a populous nation like Nigeria.

“The other important point made by Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria and Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria is that the likely surge in crowds and activity with people looking to register poses Covid-19 related risks and the prospect of another wave of infections,” reads the script.

“They have assured customers of a seamless exercise but are also motivating strongly for an extension of at least six months. There is also a bit of support for this from the House of Representatives in Abuja, which passed a resolution that the deadline should be extended.”

The NCC has been conducting card registration database audits since January 2019.

In May 2019, the NCC launched a second phase of the SIM card registration exercise and in September millions of MTN Nigeria subscribers were ordered to re-register their SIM cards due to irregularities.

According to the regulator, to date they have deactivated over 2 million improperly registered sim cards following the September 2019 registration.

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