It is worrisome that people are still selling pre-registered SIM cards across the country
Registration of Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards by individuals is a legally binding obligation. Besides helping the service providers to know their clients, registration provides credible biometric database for the country. It also acts as national security back –up as it assists law enforcement agencies to identify the mobile phone SIM card owner and to track criminals who use phones for illegal activities. But one year after the expiration of the initial six months target for registration by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the exercise is yet to be concluded.
Even more worrisome, pre-registered SIM cards are still being hawked and sold across the country, thus endangering those persons whose vital information are in such SIM memory. For, as it has been demonstrated clearly, the cell phone has not only revolutionised communication in our country, shaping and easing our social and business transactions, it is also increasingly becoming a tool for committing all manner of crimes, ranging from kidnapping, money laundering to other telecommunication frauds, including inciting violence.
But it is unclear how NCC and indeed the network operators are committed to ensuring that the problem is contained. Even though the head of the NCC enforcement unit, Mr. Efosa Idehen who led a recent operation against illegal vendors of pre-registered cards in Abuja had asserted that there was no proxy registration as SIM cards must be inserted on phones, or unsealed from the pack before being registered, many still take delight in breaking the rule. For instance, last July many vendors with bags of pre-registered SIM were caught in Markudi, Benue State and Lokoja, the Kogi State capital. But the highest figure of the illegal peddlers during that raid embarked upon by the NCC enforcement team was reserved for Minna, Niger State. Many of the suspects caught said they were not aware that it was illegal to sell pre-registered cards while others accused some authorised distributors of telecom operators as those behind the racket.
However, that exercise did not seem to act as a restraining force to many of the criminals as indeed others before it. It was not even clear the sanctions applied as deterrent against such actions. Thus, only recently, the NCC arrested three persons and sealed three offices belonging to mobile phone users in the capital city, Abuja, few kilometres away from the headquarters of the regulating NCC, over alleged fraudulent sales and use of pre-registered SIM cards. Some of the persons arrested were accused of fabricating and printing fake SIM cards with fictitious identities. “The arrest is in continuation of the campaign to rid the streets of pre-registered SIM cards,” said Reuben Muoka, NCC spokesman. He added: “We have been able to arrest quite a number across the country. The Commission has decided to get to the root: from those who are selling to the dealers who are activating the SIM cards because we are aware that those in the streets are not the ones registering it.”
Indeed, if the NCC is going to win the war against the syndicate it must be prepared to do more than what it is at present offering. Pre-registered SIM card, often referred to as “active SIM card” is a boon to criminals because they can commit crimes, any crimes, hiding under its anonymity or more appropriate, with someone else’s identity. And it is lucrative to those behind the syndicate because they can ask for a pound of flesh. That is why we urge the NCC to ensure that those caught selling pre-registered cards face the full weight of the law. Besides, it should embark on enlightenment campaigns detailing the dangers involved in perpetuating such crimes. It is increasingly clear that there is no hiding place for such shady characters as the suspected killers of Cynthia Osokogu discovered to their chagrin.