NIN-SIM linkage and the Nigeria we desire

Rights and responsibilities are the twin words that best describe the inception and the increasing impact of digital technology, a major strand of which is the dynamic contemporary telecommunication services.  Even before the imminent (?) internet of things , IOT, a lot is playing out  for human civilisational process throwing up existential challenges for citizens and duly requiring governmental interventions to cope with. 

If only to safeguard innocent citizens from the antics of criminals, government is often quick at fashioning laws and penalties for violations. The most far reaching legal intervention in this context is the Cybercrimes Prohibitions Act of 2015 with its most significant component being the Cybercrime Advisory Council.  Incidentally, this Council is considered rather exclusionary by media and allied rights advocates.

The said deficit of the Cybercrime Advisory Council is a pointer to the fact that in climes such as ours, not much attention is often given by government tosocial needs, specifically in this case, Media and Information Literacy, MIL, already over hyped by the informed stakeholders. Unfortunately, some undiscerning members of the society keep falling victim of related laws.

Please follow this pathetic story, the audio of which I keep till date: Muhammad is a private school principal at Nyanya, an Abuja, suburb. As a side hustle, he runs a Point of Service, POS, business for payment.  Then came a criminal one day who had just robbed and killed his victim. Using his victim’s card, he requested two transfers of N500K each. The criminal made several other purchases and also went to some other operators of POS.  Eventually he was found out and law enforcers had to track all transactions he had carried out with the victim’s card. Muhammad of Nyanya thus became a suspect and was promptly arrested.  Thus began endless investigations… Muhammed ended up being detained for months in a prison.

You can imagine the psychological torture not only for Muhammad but his immediate family, employers and others who love him.  He learnt his lesson in the bitterest way yet his ordeals could have been averted by sufficient exposure to basics of MIL.But life goes on.  Indeed, it must be business as usual.

Otherwise how do we explain the cacophony playing out after the expiration of the deadline of March 29, 2024 for NIN-SIM linkage? The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has confirmed that it would not be reviewing its deadline to bar owners of more than four SIM cards whose SIM registration data failed to match their National Identity Number (NIN) data.

The Commission explained that its position was hinged on its objective to clean the country’s SIM ownership database, and ensure that criminals could not take advantage of having multiple unlinked SIMs to carry out their nefarious activities.  The Commission’s resolve is hinged on the need to close in on the chaos of untoward ownership of multiple SIM cards with unverified NIN details.

According to the Commission “we have instances where a single individual has over 10,000 lines linked to his NIN. In some cases, we have seen a single person with 1,000 lines, some 3,000 plus lines. What are they doing with these lines?

The NCC has also provided Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) an extension till July 31st 2024 within which they are expected to verify all NINs submitted by subscribers with four (4) or less SIMs, as well as bar those whose NIN fail verification with NIMC. 

The Chairman of Association of Licenced Telecommunication Operators, Gbenga Adebayo, further confirmed that members of his association would comply.

However, just the next day or so after the deadline expired, yours sincerely sighted no fewer than three reports announcing the extension of the deadline, one of them stating specifically to July 31, referring to some reliable inside source.

What’s all the fuss about really? This NIN-SIM linkage is a simple exercise that only requires a subscriber to submit his or her NIN to the service provider to enable the service provider match details of the subscriber taken at the time of initial SIM registration process.  This could be done through assorted windows including physically by visiting designated points. For techno-literate persons, they are merely expected to use short, universal codes for both submission and retrieval for those who may want to verify their own compliance as the media kept repeating deadlines.

The reality today is that barely literate persons and even illiterates now use telephones given its increasing centrality to a lot of human activities.  This is the basis of this writer’s advocacy for an earlier generalist nomenclatural label suggestion of “Digital Culture” in place of “Digital Economy” preferred by Minister Ali Pantami when he chose to rename the ministry he was asked to superintend over (https://www.thecable.ng/digital-culture-or-digital-economy).

Telecommunication industry players have been unequivocal about the key benefit of NIN-SIM linkage being the protection of subscribers and prevention of crimes such as exemplified above. For instance, on account of the huge amount involved, the POS operators may have documented details of whatever identity provided by the criminal.  As a matter of fact, the truth may have been readily revealed in the course of such documentation. But the information literacy knowledge could only have been deployed based on certain pre-existing conditions such as NIN-SIM linkage offers an example.

Still on crime, another major advantage that may derive from the NIN-SIM linkage is the ease with which law enforcers may trace and tackle criminals through their registered lines.  After all no one may be allowed to own any line except you are ready to play by the set rules.

Furthermore, this linkage thing will automatically ease economic transactions electronically since identities will be easily verifiable for concerned parties such as it pans out with regards to debit cards and similar devices.  NIN-SIM linkage is therefore the way to go and the exercise has to run with a good measure of discipline especially with existing spectacular anomalies of thousands SIM s connected to some individual.

At this stage, the campaigns executed so far need be audited to make for genuine inclusivity with regards to social, geographical and other possible lines.  For instance, this task now requires a well designed stakeholder mapping.  The mapping must ultimately reveal spots of irregularities and areas as well as interests deserving more attention.

Given that all media genres had been previously deployed perhaps for conventional announcements, how about aligning subsequent dissemination more enriched via regular media contents? How about being more scientific, relativizing media use depending on audience preference and possible perception? In reality this could translate to devolving dissemination more to the grassroots by enlisting the emerging broadcasters namely, community broadcasters and campus broadcasters.

Beyond liberalising the media to be used, campaigns must also be made to align with credible programmes with obvious trendy touch of management such as may ensure their global reach and enduring availability as may be made possible by platforms like Youtube and Spotify.

With affiliation to champions of multi stakeholder philosophy like the UN’s annual Internet Governance Forum, IGF, for the management of telecommunication facilities, need NCC be reminded of the importance of democratized governance culture?

It is most certain that the involvement of the relatively cheaper (not necessarily technologically inferior) community and campus broadcasters will help to boost the NIN-SIM linkage campaigns and indeed others that may arise in future.

It will as not be out of place for NCC to support the campaigns for the popularization of Media and Information Literacy. This certainly will help to resolve a lot of digital divide inspired issues.

With the concern demonstrated on this exercise so far, NCC has demonstrated that it now has an improved corporate governance culture as advocated by IGF (https://punchng.com/nigerias-communication-governance-indifference/). It can however do better and even excel.

Akanni is an associate professor of media and development at the Lagos State University. 

Follow him on X via @AkintundeAkanni