By Stephen Ubanna
TheFederal government directive to all operators of telecommunication companies in the country to block all subscriber identification modules, SIMs, without Identification Number, NIM, could have suffered a major setback but for the quick intervention of Isa Patami, the minister of Communications and Digital Economy, to resolve the situation.
The workers of the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, had taken advantage of the reluctance of the telecommunication companies to support the government action to embark on an industrial action on Thursday, December 31, 2020, in other to attract the Katsina state born Nigerian President attention to their plight.
Aware that it is only through industrial actions that the Nigeria President listens to workers complaints, Asekohai Lucky, president , Association of Senior staff of Nigeria Civil Servants, NIMC, unit, had mobilised his members to embark on an industrial strike over what they consider as poor allowance and exposure to the Asian country of China emerged coronavirus, popular, COVID 19’’. Not that the government has shifted the goal post several times for the NIN registration to give room for every network subscriber to register , with the last of six weeks extension from December 30, 2020 to February 9, 2021.
Patami, may have known that with the step taken by the NIMC, workers if not properly handled could sabotage the project , which many describe as an anti-fraud measure designed to checkmate internet thieves, corrupt government officials and other category of fraudsters in the other sectors of the government had to seek Presidential approval to dialogue with the workers . He knew that with the NIN, the government would be able to have detailed information about every network subscriber in the country including their residence, meaning no hiding place for the thieves or any wanted person who is on the run.
It was therefore, not very surprising why the Nigerian President did every thin within his powers to ensure that the NIMC, workers to work to continue the process of linking the NIN with the telecommunications subscribers, SIM. Many believe that the minister who has the ear of the Nigerian President may have penetrated the ranks of the workers which may have forced them to play along with him to suspend the strike on Monday, January, 4, 2021. Asekohai, who was Coordinating the NIMC, workers strike, had said that they decided’’ to put the strike on hold after the government agreed that the demands of the employees would be addressed’’.
He may have heaved a sigh of relief with the NIMC workers suspension of the strike action to continue with the enrollment of Nigerians for their NIN, which he considers as one of the legacies of the Buhari Administration. He had said on Friday, January 8, 2021, that ‘’seven SIM Cards can be linked to one NIN, on the NIMC, Mobile App that was launched by the ministry reccently .
The minister, who could not hide his feelings over the NIMC ,workers suspension of the two-day strike, may have been encouraged to speak out on plans by the government on ‘’transforming the NIN enrollment process and the onward linkage to the SIM Cards as required by the Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC’’.
He gave an instance of himself, stressing that he has already downloaded the mobile App and linked some of his numbers to it immediately. A happy Patami , described it as part of the ‘’ditalisation process of the economy’’. Going by the news making the rounds that there may be another lock down amid the second wave of the COVID 19, the minister was said to have sent signals to Nigerians about plans by the ministry, NIMC and the telecommunication operators to review the entire NIN linkage to SIM Cards by network users.
Recall that the government had given the telecommunication Companies subscribers a deadline of January 19, 2021, to link their NIN with their SIM Cards while subscribers without NIN, have until February 9, 2021, to do so. Many believe that it was a mission impossible going by the technical hitches that are involved in the exercise in a backward economy like Nigeria.
Note that as at October 2020, going by the records of the NCC, the total number of mobile network connections in the country were 207.58 million but currently only 43 million people which have NIN were said to have been linked as 164 other network users are at the risk of being deactivated, which would throw the Nigerian economy into a mess for much this year as most transactions are conducted online.
The minister, who may not have known what people are going through at the NIN offices nationwide to get their National Identity Card, let alone process the NIN for those that have it, could come out with such a Statement on Channels Television that ‘’it takes between three to five minutes for each Nigerian to complete the NIN, at any of the NIMC offices, across the country.
Perhaps, to absolve the government of any gross inefficiency in the management of the NIN linkage with network subscribers network, he had said that 95% of applicants who appear at the agency’s office do so without being invited. The question on the lips of most people is: when will they be invited?
Take for instance, a reporter with the Value News , who took the National Identity Card registration in 2014, in Ikeja, Lagos, is yet to get it. The reporter had gone to the Ikeja NIMC office several times with his specimen in order to collect the National Identity Card but no luck. He has repeatedly been informed that he will be invited when it is ready for collection. The invitation remains a pipedream.
There are millions of otherr Nigerians with such a problem but the minister of Communication and Digital Economy, is blaming Nigerians for’’shunning directives over the NIN registration’’. This may have informed why Nigerians believe there would not be any difference between the National Identity Card registration exercise and the NIN linkage to the network subscribers SIM Cards.
The difficulty in Completing the NIN registration process at NIN offices in Lagos and other parts of the country may have informed why Nigerians abroad and foreigners resident in the country or those hoping to visit the country for business transactions or tourism have cried out over the government policy, insisting that there was no basis to block SIM Cards without NIN. They see the NIN project as a drainpipe in a country struggling to survive and which is indebted to foreign multilateral financial institutions to the tune of over N33 trillion.
But despite the criticisms that had trailed the NIN, Patami, the minister, who has the ear of the Nigerian President on the project has made it clear to those that cares to listen that there is no going back on it, urging Nigerians ‘’to stop flouting COVID 19 protocols while participating in the NIN registration nationwide’’ to make the exercise success.