Nigeria: Calls from SIMs unlinked to NIN barred from this week

By 'Tofe Ayeni

Posted on Wednesday, 6 April 2022 17:55
Nigeria's Minister of Communications and Digital Economy Isa Ali Pantami is speaks during the auction of Nigeria 3.5 frequency spectrum for 5G telephone network in Abuja, Nigeria December 13, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Some 16 months after the first order, the federal government has finally barred all outgoing calls from SIM cards not linked to National Identification Numbers (NIN) with immediate effect, in part to stop untraceable ransom calls by kidnappers.

The federal government initially gave a deadline to citizens and local residents for them to link their SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) cards to their national identity number (NIN) by 31 December 2020.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said in May 2021 that because citizens would access state services through their mobile phones, linking the two will “significantly enhance the safety and security of Nigerians.” In particular, it is hoped the measure will tackle untraceable ransom requests.

The deadline had been pushed back nine times.

But from Monday 4 April the federal government barred all outgoing calls from SIM cards not linked to NIN numbers.

Minister of Communications and the Digital Economy Pantami said in a statement that, of Nigeria’s 198 million phone connections, “As of date, over 125 million SIMs have had their NINs submitted for immediate linkage, verification and authentication. Similarly, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has issued over 78 million unique NINs to date … the Federal Government has directed all Telcos to strictly enforce the policy on all SIMs issued (existing and new) in Nigeria.”

Significance of timing?

There has been an increase in terrorist activity and kidnappings in the nation, with kidnappers contacting victims’ families via phone to demand large ransom sums. They often call with unregistered SIM cards that authorities are unable to trace. There are currently about 75 million phone lines not linked to an NIN, and those are the ones that have been barred from making outgoing calls this week.

However, some are sceptical about the potential for success of this tactic. The chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, says it was difficult to trace the kidnappers of March’s Abuja-Kaduna railway attacks as kidnappers used victims’ phones for ransom calls.

Following the federal government’s latest directive to all telcos, Adebayo says: “I need to make it clear to Nigerians that there are no known unregistered SIM cards that are still on the network of any of telecoms service provider because all networks have been cleaned up and all unregistered and improperly registered SIM cards have been deactivated from networks.”

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