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SIM-NIN linkage: NCC rules out extension, telcos bar 12 million lines

The Nigerian Communications Commission has ruled out an extension of the February 28, 2024 deadline for the linkage of Subscriber Identity Module cards to National Identification Numbers.

As a result, telecommunication companies have been directed to bar 12 million lines which have not been linked to the owners’ NINs after the expiration of the deadline.

The Director of Public Affairs, NCC, Reuben Mouka, confirmed the development to The PUNCH on Wednesday.

Reaffirming the NCC’s stance, Mouka stated, “We already issued a public notice in this regard and all the information. If there was an extension, NCC would have communicated that. But as far as I know, there is no extension.”

In a December 2023 notice, the NCC had asked telcos to bar SIMs that had not been linked to their owners’ NINs by February 28, 2024.

It further asked the Global Satellite Mobile Communications firms to bar those whose NINs have been submitted but not verified by March 29, 2024; and interdict those who have less than five lines linked to an unverified NIN by April 15, 2024.

The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, Gbenga Adebayo, confirmed to The PUNCH that telecom operators would comply with the NCC’s directive.

He said out of the 224 million active lines, about 12m lines risked deactivation.

Adebayo said, “About 12 million SIM cards may not have been linked to NIN. Some of these SIM cards work on modems and mifi devices. According to the regulatory directives, those numbers that are not properly linked to NIN will have services withdrawn  to them by midnight today. We stand by that regulatory directive and we are going to comply,”

The ALTON chairman also dismissed speculations about a possible extension, stating that the deadline ought to have happened last year.

He declared, “No, the regulator has made it clear that there won’t be any further extension. Let us remember that this ought to have happened last year, but it was extended by the regulator till the 28th of February, 2024.”

Since the NCC first ordered the suspension of SIM cards without NIN on December 15, 2020, there had  been a rapid increase in the number of people obtaining their NINs.

Between the period the order was given and the second deadline date, January 19, 2021, Nigerian mobile operators received 47.8m new submissions from active subscribers.

In 2021, about 21 million subscribers were yet to obtain their NIN, even as the deadline for registration approached.

A high-ranking official at MTN Nigeria, who was not authorised to comment publicly on the matter, informed The PUNCH that the company planned to disconnect the defaulting subscribers in compliance with the directive.

According to the official, there has not been any counter-directives from the NCC.

Emphasising that it is a federal issue, the official pointed out that some lines had been disconnected earlier.

“Remember, this is not an issue with the telcos. It’s a Federal Government issue, and before now, some lines were being disconnected. If they wanted to extend the deadline, they would have issued another notice, but they aren’t as I speak to you,” the official stated.

In response to the situation, a Public Relations official at Airtel Nigeria, Sam Adeoye, mentioned that Airtel would release an official statement on the development.

However, Chineze Amanfo, Lead, Public Relations at 9Mobile, did not respond to calls when contacted by our correspondent.

Meanwhile, the Federal High Court in Lagos has restrained telecom operators from deactivating or barring any line or SIM not linked to their NINs.

Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa restrained the telcos while ruling on an application filed by a Lagos-based lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje.

Lewis-Allagoa made the order on February 22, 2024, while ruling on a motion for the restraining orders filed by Ogungbeje.

Ogungbeje, in a suit marked FHC/L/CS/667/23, sued the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, MTN Nigeria Communications Plc, and Airtel Network Nigeria Limited before the court.

He asked the court for an injunction pending appeal, ‘’restraining all the respondents jointly or severally, whether, by themselves, their agents, outlets, agencies, privies, officials, servants, men, parastatals, units, organs, or anybody or person however so called, from taking any step or action capable of enforcing the judgment in anyway and from further outright barring, deactivating and or restricting any SIM cards or his phone Lines, or of any Nigerian Citizen, slated for February 28, 2024, or any other scheduled date, pending the hearing and determination of his appeal at the Court of Appeal, against the court’s judgment delivered on May 8, 2023, by Justice Lewis-Allagoa.’’

When quizzed about the NCC’s reaction to the court injunction, Mouka responded, “We are not aware of any court injunction stopping the NCC from barring lines that have not been linked with NIN.”

Earlier today, at the ongoing 45th Kaduna International Trade, the Executive Vice Chairman, National Communication Commission, Dr. Aminu Maida, insisted that, as a matter of critical national security, telecom consumers must link their NIN to their SIM.

The EVC was represented by Mouka at the forum.

Maida reaffirmed that the February 28th deadline was given to telecom operators to bar subscribers who failed to link their NIN to their SIM stands.

“To this end, the National Communication Commission has directed all telecommunication operators to bar the phone lines of subscribers whose lines are not linked to their NINs on or before February 28, 2024,” he added.

In his reaction to Mouka’s statement that the NCC was not aware of his suit, Ogungbeje said the position of the commission is ‘’most ridiculous and shameful.’’

Ogungbeje stated that the Federal Government of Nigeria and the AGF were part of the suit, stressing that the  NCC as an agency of the Federal Government must obey the court order restraining it from barring SIMs not linked to NINs.

He said, “The order specifically stated that both the Federal Government and its agencies are hereby restrained. A very good instance is the order of the Supreme Court in respect of the Central Bank of Nigeria and Godwin Emefiele’s policy on the new naira notes.

“That position by the NCC is most ridiculous and shameful. The Federal Government of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation are part of the suit.’’

“So in this instant case, the NCC is bound by the order of the court as the court restrained both the Federal Government and it agencies, including the telecom firms.”

 Network glitches

On Wednesday, major operators across the country, including MTN, Airtel, and 9Mobile, grappled with a widespread network connection crisis.

Subscribers were unable to make calls due to glitches attributed to a fibre optic cable cut.

The chairman of ALTON, Adebayo, clarified that the telecom connection failure experienced by subscribers was unconnected to the NIN/SIM link deadline.

He attributed the connectivity issue to the significant fibre cuts made by road contractors employed by the Federal Government.

The ALTON chairman noted, “What you have seen today as difficulty in connection has nothing to do with the NIN/SIM link deadline.

“There have been significant fibre cuts across the country, and this has impacted connectivity today, but efforts are being made by affected telecom operators to rectify this situation.”

He assured the public that efforts were being made to salvage the situation as soon as practicable while emphasising the need to protect telecom infrastructure.

“Appropriate reports would be made to the right quarters. The cuts can be traced to the activities of the Federal Government by contractors doing road work. This is why it is imperative to safeguard telecom infrastructure, going by what we have seen today.

“If we have critical national infrastructure protection, maybe what happened today wouldn’t have happened. We put it on the doorstep of the government to ensure that road contractors do not continue to cause this type of damage.”

The incident left countless residents in communication limbo, sparking a digital uproar across social media platforms.

Users have taken to expressing their frustration, detailing their struggles with the sudden loss of connection on social media.

A WhatsApp user, Emekuku said, “It’s frustrating when network providers in Nigeria cite server or application issues as reasons for service problems, leaving customers unable to resolve their issues.

“It highlights the need for improved infrastructure and communication from the providers to address such issues promptly and transparently.”

Another user, Babatee, noted, ‘’MTN is trying so hard to compete with Glo for the award of the most useless network in Nigeria. Dear MTN, no matter how hard you try, Glo will always be miles ahead of you when it comes to uselessness. So stop playing, fam.’’

MTN network

Another subscriber said, “The poor MTN network knocked me out of an important meeting and kept me incommunicado for several hours.

“Even now, they have only restored data services, but still no call or SMS. Not that they can ever say, ‘Oh, sorry for the network failure, oya take free airtime and data.’ Lai-lai.”

An Airtel user wrote, “It appears that the frustration with network services in Nigeria is widespread. The lack of a reliable network service provider affects many users, and the absence of explanations from the providers regarding disruptions in data and call services raises concerns.

“The situation may not be trending because such issues might be common and not getting enough attention.

In a statement released by MTN, the telecom company acknowledged the existence of a connectivity problem and committed to resolving the issue promptly.

According to the telco, the problem started at about 1.39 on Wednesday, February 28, 2024.

In its reaction via X, MTN Nigeria blamed the network issue on multiple fibre cuts, even as it assured customers that its engineers were working assiduously to restore normal services.

The statement read, “Dear Customer, you have been experiencing challenges connecting to the network due to a major service outage caused by multiple fibre cuts, affecting voice and data services.

“Our engineers are working hard to resolve this, with services gradually being restored in some areas.

“We apologise for the inconvenience and ask for your patience & understanding as the team works to restore full service as soon as possible.”

SourcePUNCH

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