NIN-SIM Registration Aggravating the Pandemic

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

A sign that dictatorship or authoritarianism has berthed in any nation State, is when the President or the head of government formulates and implements public policies with scant regard to the public good.

Senator Shehu Sani’s Book

In his book “Civilian Dictators of Africa,” a civil Rights campaigner in Nigeria, Shehu Sani, puts it succinctly thus: “The concept of authoritarianism is used in this book to denote all those forms of government or social control which are characterised by strict obedience to the authority of a State or organisation, often maintained through the use of coercive measures and which are strongly hierarchical”.

Shehu Sani who was the Senator that represented Kaduna Central in the eight session of the Senate, said further: “In addition, citizens are subject to State authority in many aspect of their lives, to the extent their civil liberties and freedom are eroded. Usually an authoritarian government is undemocratic, and has the power to govern without the consent of those governed”.

He said that though authoritarianism is in degrees, and even very democratic States may have elements of authoritarianism, the concept is employed in this book to broadly denote democratic governments or which major types include: Absolutism, Aristocracy, Autocracy, Despotism, Dictatorship, Kleptocracy, Monarchism, Oligarchy, Plutocracy, Theocracy, Totalitarianism, and Tyranny.

Sani said it should be noted however that, these government types are not private mutually exclusive, and most times, overlap.

His words: “Absolutism is a political system in which there is no legal, customary, or moral limit on the government’s power. The term is generally applied to political systems ruled by single dictators, but can also be applied to seemingly democratic systems that grant sweeping powers to the legislative or executive”.

“The major elements of absolutism, according to Encarta (2006) are: centralisation of power, close control of social groups, and absence of competing political parties. This reference however, notes that beginning with the 20th century, many absolute regimes which were openly dictatorial began to put up appearances or popular representation, which was largely a mere façade.”

R.K.Sapru’s Book

A renowned intellectual, R.K. Sapru writing on the concept of forces in the policy-making process which is a chapter in his scholarly book titled: “Public Policy: Formulation, Implementation and Evaluation”, expertly asserts that carrying the people along in policy making process by government is a categorical imperative (if I can borrow a term developed by Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher and a central figure of the enlightenment school of thought).

R. K. Sapru then explained in greater detail in the following notes: “The subject of this chapter is how policy –makers take decisions. It is thus, concerned with power, since policy-making is essentially a manifestation of power. It is therefore, important to understand exactly how power is exercised in the policy-making process”.

“Power is described as, the ability to bring about some change in the behaviour of other people. In a social context it is defined as “the capacity of an individual or groups, in the manner which he desires”.

Further, the researcher said: “In terms of public policy, power may relate to the choice of individual, or groups, or holders of public offices to determine policy decision. Such decisions may relate to the choice of individuals for political offices, and also to the selection of different purposive courses of action”.

“In policy-making, power is exercised by different individuals and groups: the members of the Council of Ministers, members of parliament, bureaucrats, leaders of organised interest, individual citizen, for example. Each set of forces exercises certain influences which, taken together, make up policy-making process. This is to say that there is a ‘process’ through which public policy is made. The process consists of the complex interrelationships of the decisions made under the influence of powerful individual and groups.”

The author of this award winning book on public policy spoke further: “The sources of power which effect change in other people’ behaviour are many. It is easier to identify the source of an individual’s power, than to determine which individuals have power in the sense of bringing about a crucial change at a significant moment. The problem becomes complicated by the fact that in politics, groups rather than individuals, affect the way the policy is made. Policy-making is thus “an extremely complex analytical and political progress to which there is no beginning or end, and the boundaries of which are most uncertain”.

Unconstitutionality of Government’s Directive

Flowing from the above is a quick reminder that, the policy introduced by Minister of Telecommunications and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Pantami towards the end of last year compelling nearly 100 million telecom subscribers in Nigeria who have not yet been enrolled in the National Identity data base of the National Identity Management Commission, to so obtain the National Identity Number within two weeks or lose their telephone lines, is one such dictatorial and draconian decision that is totally unconstitutional and illegal.

Besides, this directive is a direct breach of the relevant sections enshrined in Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution, because if the users of telecommunication services are arbitrarily denied access to their means of communication only because of an extraneous requirement that was not in existence when the lines were obtained, then government has violated all known fundamental freedoms as contained in Chapter 4 of the Constitution, and most especially, the right to freedom of information. It amounts also to an egregious breach of contractual obligations.

Also, the timing of this directive and the short deadline coming amidst the rampaging second wave of Coronavirus Pandemic in Nigeria, is a breach of the Constitutional provision of 33(1) of the constitution which is right to life.

This is so because, compelling people in their huge numbers to embark on stampede just so they get the NIN even at the risk of contracting Covid-19, is an attempt to deny citizens of their right to life. It has also made government the SUPER SPREADER OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC IN NIGERIA.

As stated earlier, the conception, implementation and timing of this public policy is directly offensive to Civility, rule of law, and is a manifestation of the authoritarian tendency which is diametrically opposed to constitutional democracy, which stresses that the primary duty of government is the promotion of the welfare and security of the citizens.

Out of the blue, the Nigerian Government ordered all telecommunication service providers to ask all subscribers to provide their National Identification Numbers (NIN). Subscribers who fail to do so within two weeks are to be blocked from using their SIM cards. This was the resolution reached at a meeting between the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, and stakeholders in the Communication industry on Monday. The resolution was disclosed by the spokesperson of the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) in a statement. Nigerians were never consulted.

The major telephone networks in Nigeria are Globacom, MTN, Airtel and Etisalat. The meeting affirmed the earlier directive to totally suspend the registration of new SIM cards by all operators.

“Operators to require ALL their subscribers to provide valid National Identification Number (NIN) to update SIM registration records.

“The submission of NIN by subscribers to take place within two weeks (from today December 16, 2020 and end by 30 December, 2020).

“After the deadline, ALL SIMs without NINs are to be blocked from the networks.

“A Ministerial Task Force comprising the Minister and all the CEOs (among others) as members is to monitor compliance by all networks. Violations of this directive will be met by stiff sanctions, including the possibility of withdrawal of operating licence.

“The general public is hereby, urged to ensure that their NINs are captured in their SIM registration data. All inconveniences which might be occasioned by this directive, are deeply regretted.”

At the meeting, the need to consolidate the achievements of last year’s SIM registration audit and improve the performance and sanity of the sector was discussed, and all stakeholders agreed that urgent drastic measures have now become inevitable to improve the integrity and transparency of the SIM registration process, the NCC said.

When it became clear that the deadline could not be humanly met, the government that has so far failed to listen to the voices of reason, extended the deadline briefly, but millions of people continued to surge forward to obtain the NIN to synchronise their telephone lines, so as not to lose these essential services. Many would have contracted the Covid-19 disease, which is spreading with virulent force.

Notwithstanding the danger inherent in going ahead with this toxic policy, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced the extension of the period of the registration of SIMs with National Identification Number (NIN), as well as the cancellation of USSD and Verification Fees.

This announcement was made in a press statement issued and signed by Engr. Aliyu Aziz, Director-General, NIMC, after the meeting held by the National Task Force on NIN and SIM Registration.

It is important to note that, the information conveyed in the press statement include resolutions made at the meeting chaired by the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, with major stakeholders in the sector including Chairman-NCC, EVC-NCC, DG-NITDA, DG-NIMC, ECTS/ECSM-NCC, Chairman ALTON, CEOs of MTN, Airtel, Ntel, Glo, Smile, and 9Mobile in attendance.

At the meeting, after reviewing the recent developments at hand and the mounting issues which unravelled today owing to logistics and infrastructural hiccups experienced at the NIMC offices today, the National Task Force made a resolution that three weeks extension should be granted for subscribers with NIN, from 30th December, 2020 to 19th January, 2021. The National Task Force also granted six weeks extension to subscribers without NIN, starting from 30th December, 2020 to 9th February, 2021.

Government claimed that based on the endorsement of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the National Task Force disclosed that: NIMC has provided strategies to enable citizens to attend the registration in full compliance with Covid-19 protocols – particularly the use of face masks which remains mandatory, and maintenance of social distancing.

Also, the Ministry said the President appreciates Nigerians for their patience and commitment to update their identities; while he thanked all stakeholders for their compliance with the directives.

His words: “Mr. President also commended the efforts of the Task Force, and urged all stakeholders to take advantage of the extension to link their SIM card with their NIN”.

Citizen Feedback

However, this policy shows that this Government does not believe in its social contractual role of listening to the people, before implementation of public policies.

Some researchers who clearly may be attempting to understudy the essential elements of responsive leadership asked in their research thus: “Why should Government ask for feedback from citizens?” They answered that well, quite apart from anything else, getting feedback on your policies and approaches, and really listening to what citizens think, care about and find important (and then doing something about it!) can help prevent nasty surprises. (Is it too early to mention Brexit!).

They argued that it is important that Government doesn’t just get feedback in a market research type sense – i.e. ‘wadaya think about X’, but engages in a constructive and thoughtful way with society, and responds constructively to issues and concerns.

Research, they affirmed, shows that involving citizens in a collaborative way can not only help prevent nasty surprises, but can save money, and brings with it a range of benefits and outcomes beyond just narrow cost-focused gains.

The cost of not engaging also has to be taken into consideration too – for example legal challenges to ill thought through policies, can be vastly more expensive than thoughtful collaborative approaches with citizens to get to mutually agreeable solutions, they affirmed.

A brilliant resource, with case studies, for anyone in government wanting to engage with citizens is a ‘toolkit’ called ‘Making the Case for Public Involvement’. It has been developed specifically for policy makers by the UK’s leading public participation charity, Involve. It is a very practical tool which helps define the purpose, potential benefits, costs and measurement of success and ‘how to’s’ on delivery with real examples.

Citing Aidan Muller Digital Strategy Director ‘We are Flint (UK)’, the researchers said there is a mechanism through which governments know whether they are succeeding or not: elections.

“However, democracy is about more than just elections. It is also about day-to-day participation in civic life. At the grassroots level through community initiatives, and at governmental level through a strong civil society.”

“There is a wealth of expertise and experience within the population, that a healthy democratic society needs to be able to call upon. This is what public consultations, for example, were intended for. But, the old model is flawed because consultations are not properly marketed to citizens; and when they are, consultation documents are not in a format which allows the population to engage with the issues (read impenetrable). Consultations have become little more than weak efforts to pay lip-service to participation, falling far short of the ideal behind their creation.”

Also, they said that the Social media now allows multiple people to engage with an issue in a public forum. Well thought-out digital content, allows the complex to be made comprehensible. Now the technology exists, if democracies don’t leverage it to listen to people who want to contribute to the public debate in the way that consultations were intended, citizens will become frustrated and disenchanted.

We are already seeing the symptoms. This frustration has undoubtedly contributed to the malaise which we see in many western democracies, they concluded (Gabriella Capone, a consultant, public engagement).

Shapiro’s Report

Still exploring the dangers of carrying through public policies without consultation, we will look at a report of a two-year investigation. Pennsylvania Attorney-General, Josh Shapiro, released the findings of the Statewide Investigating Grand Jury looking into misconduct by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The report found that the DEP “did not do enough to properly protect the health, safety and welfare of the thousands of Pennsylvania citizens who were affected by this industry” and outlined a number of recommendations, including increasing the minimum distance between fracking and homes, and closing the revolving door between DEP and the industry. All of these recommendations are made in good faith, but they miss the point. People were ignored, gaslit and sent home, with no hope that their government will protect them. Our democracy is crumbling, and communities are paying the price. No bullet points or action items, can fix that.

This report in USA validates the experiences of families living along fracking’s front lines who have been ignored and dismissed for more than a decade. It echoes what we have said all along: polluters are exploiting communities throughout our region and flouting the most basic health protections, while elected officials on both sides of the aisle and agencies sworn to protect us, turn a blind eye. This isn’t about the environment, it is about basic human rights. It is about access to justice. It is about democracy.

Shapiro shared stories of children with uncontrollable bleeding and rashes caused by contaminated bathwater, stories that are unfortunately all too common for those living alongside petrochemical infrastructure. He explained that when people called the DEP for protection, they were threatened for filing a false complaint. They were told they were crazy, and they were abandoned when they needed help most.

Those in power, the report concludes must now be held accountable for the failures outlined in this report, and must take action to rebuild the democracy they have destroyed.

“To restore our commonwealth, we need more than politics as usual. We need our leaders to listen to the people, who they have ignored. They deserve more than a political stunt, and a pivot to a new direction of safe fracking. The people need to have a say in what happens next.”

Conclusion

There is no better way to conclude this reflection, than to borrow the aforementioned conclusion of the report by that Environmental Lawyer in USA, by asking President Muhammadu Buhari to stop spreading Covid-19 disease through compulsory NIN registration. Call off this NIN insanity now.

Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)