Telcos may lose N25b over prolonged SIM ‘lockdown’

If the court order demanding two months extension of NIN-SIM registration  stays, it would have been five months of no SI - 9ja Breed

As more Nigerians get NIN
• Stranded customers lament the inability to retrieve lines despite having NIN
• MNOs decry NIMC back-end facilities; employ ‘Pareto Principle on subscribers
• NATCOMS wants court order on extension honoured
• NIN issued may have reached 75m in eight weeks

If the court order demanding two months extension of NIN-SIM registration stays, it would have been five months of no SIM registration and activation in the country.

The implications of this are that mobile network operators (MNOs) would have lost about ₦25 billion to the process as a result of inactive SIM cards, which would have increased by 9.6 million, at an average of 3.2 million lines per month, aside from those previously lost.

Checks by The Guardian revealed that between December 2020 (when the Federal Government gave the directive stopping operators from activating both new and old SIM cards that require re-activation) and February, while relying on the statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), about 7.6 million lines had become inactive, which had resulted in the loss of about N10.8 billion, going by the industry Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) of ₦1,420.

Recall that between December 15, 2020, and January, telcos lost 3.3 million lines. Within that period and February, the number rose to 4.3 million.
The inability of subscribers to reactivate their lost SIMs and activate new ones is not sitting well with them, as more customers have continued to lament this challenge.

Speaking with The Guardian, a subscriber, Joke Aliu, said she lost her phone having two SIM cards on December 30. “Those two lines are majorly for businesses, till now I have not been able to reactivate them. Thank God I have one other line, which is what I have been using, almost three months now.”

Another subscriber, Nduka Okafor, said he was robbed in traffic on Ikorodu road on January 20, “they took my business line. The robbers later took some money from my account. If not that I was faster to block some of the bank accounts linked to that SIM, they would have rendered me bankrupt. I have not been able to reactivate the line. I think the government should look into the matter fast.”
Okafor said after he got his NIN and went to the network operator to reactivate the stolen line, “I was turned down. They said FG has not lifted the ban on SIM reactivation.”

MEANWHILE, findings by The Guardian at the weekend revealed a huge increase in the number of National Identity Number (NIN) that have been allocated to Nigerians. A source close to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) confirmed that the number has increased tremendously in the last four weeks.
The source hinted that the number now ranges between 70 million to 75 million Nigerians with NIN. According to him, as of December 2020, NIN issued by NIMC was around 43 million, “but with the Federal Government’s directive on NIN-SIM and the licensees, the number has increased tremendously.”
Confirming this development, the chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said tremendous progress has been made as more data have been sent to NIMC by telecoms operators.

Adebayo, who said he may not be able to give any specific figure for now, however, said “the intervention of the mobile network operators has helped the entire ecosystem. Operators send data on a daily basis. You can now imagine the number of people that must have been allocated a NIN and subsequently linked it to their SIM cards. The fact is that the entire stakeholders have come together to boost the digital ecosystem. NIMC is equally doing well. We must also commend the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami on this process.

“Having a robust database is crucial to solving so many challenges bedeviling Nigeria, especially insecurity. So, it is crucial that we must get this process right this time around.”
On the April 6 deadline and the court order demanding extension of the exercise by two months, the ALTON Chairman said the deadline for the registration, verification, and linking of NIN to SIMs is still a bit far.     

According to him, the Federal Government will make a statement at the appropriate time concerning the court declaration. He stressed that the task before the MNOs now is to ensure that all the subscribers are linked before the April 6 date.

“It will be nice to see that all subscribers are linked on or before April 6, which is what the service providers are working towards. If this is achieved, then the issue of court-ordered extension may not necessarily be an issue,” he stated.
Adebayo informed that there is still SIM activation suspension, which according to him, is part of the audit currently on-going in the sector. He stressed that until the FG is satisfied, that is when the lifting of the ban can come to effect.

On his part, the President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS) Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo said the court-ordered extension must be adequately obeyed. He said with the extension, “we should be looking at June 6. Before now, NATCOMS had advocated for June 30th extension. The belief is that this will enable more Nigerians, especially those in the rural areas to be fully captured, and subsequently being able to link their SIMs. We hope that FG will obey.”

While in the last three months of the FG’s directive, some 7.6 million lines have become inactive and had resulted in operators losing over N10 billion in the process, the court order may further compound these woes, but Ogunbanjo said: “no sacrifice is too much for the sake of security. The extension is for a short time. It won’t take long before the operators will recoup their money.”

Recall that a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos ordered the extension of the deadline for the NIN registration by two months. Justice M.A. Onyetenu granted the extension while delivering a ruling in a suit filed by human rights lawyer, Monday Ubani, against the Federal Government, Attorney-General of the Federation, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy.

In the suit, Ubani had contended that the initial two weeks ultimatum (now extended to April 6, 2021) given to telecommunications operators to block SIM cards of Nigerians who have not linked their SIM cards with NIN, would infringe on the constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of expression, right to own moveable property and right to life.

He, therefore, prayed to the court for an order halting the said ultimatum and extending the deadline. Other prayers made by Ubani include a declaration that the ultimatum given to telecommunications operators by the first, third, and fourth respondents to block all SIM cards that are not linked with NIN is grossly inadequate and will not only bring severe hardship but will likely infringe on the fundamental rights of the applicant (and millions of other Nigerians) to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Section 39 (1) (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as violate Section 44 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which prohibits the compulsory acquisition of right or interest over the moveable property, among others.
In his ruling, Justice Onyetenu granted all the prayers made by Ubani.

Giving his perspective, the National Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, stressed that the focus should not be on deadline, but in ensuring that Nigerians have their NINs and linked them to their SIM cards.  

Teniola said there have been about four deadlines set by the government in an attempt to ensure the NINs are linked to the SIMs.

According to him, the target of the World Bank in this project is to ensure that NIMC registered about 150 million Nigerians, which appears not realizable by April 6. He said some youth demographics will just be attaining the age of registration, and definitely, they cannot be thrown out because the future of the country rests with the young adults, “so, in essence, I am saying that the registration should be a continuous process. What will assist in getting this done will be to ensure that all the bottlenecks and challenges on the part of NIMC are removed to ensure that more Nigerians are registered without hitches for NIN

MEANWHILE, some of the operators, which spoke with The Guardian on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that MNOs intervention was actually what brought huge progress into the entire process.
According to them, the licenses handed them by the FG helped the registration process to scale by as much as 70 per cent within two months.
While calling for more ecosystem synergy that will ensure the process is delivered adequately and timely, the operators decried that the handshake between MNOs and NIMC facilities remains a huge challenge.
They lamented that it is still difficult to transmit and linking data collected from their end to the NIMC backend, which according to them was due to obsolete equipment on the part of the commission.
One of the operators claimed that most of their subscribers have had their SIMs linked to their NIN, and awaiting further directives from the FG.

Speaking on the court order seeking extension of the registration exercise by two months, the operator said the court order is likely to stand. He revealed that ALTON is lobbying the FG to relax some of the rules so that the entire process can be fair,

On the possible losses that would come from further extension, the operator said they are not bothered about the losses.
He disclosed that operators have deployed and are deploying several measures to block loopholes for losses, stressing that on their part, they have employed ‘Pareto Principle’ to manage the situation.

The Pareto Principle, which is named after esteemed economist Vilfredo Pareto, specifies that 80 per cent of consequences come from 20 per cent of the causes, asserting an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs.

Linking this principle to the situation on the ground, he explained: “We have checked our subscriber base to know where our strength lies. We discovered that some subscribers don’t even recharge more than N200 in a month, while some do as much as N100, 000, N500, 000, and the rest. This means that some 70 per cent of the subscribers appear to be low net worth, doing transactions around N5 million in a month, while the remaining 30 per cent do much as N20 billion, these are high net, worth customers. They were aggressively encouraged to get their NINs, which have been subsequently linked to their SIMs. Now, for the not-so-high customers, we are equally wooing them with incentives.

The fact is, no operator wants to lose any subscriber. A blocked SIM is revenue lost. I can say that as we are speaking, we have virtually linked all our SIM cards to their NIN.”
Another operator also shared the same sentiment. According to her, the challenge has been prioritizing the subscribers. “As much as we don’t want to lose any telecoms user, there have been some constant follow up on some high net worth customers to ensure they get their NINs and linked with their SIMs as fast as possible. For us, about 55 per cent of our SIM cards have been linked to their NIN.”  

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