How Pressure from Telecoms Operators Forced FG to Shift NIN-SIM Verification Deadline to March 31

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Emma Okonji

The recent shift in the deadline for the National Identification Number (NIN)-Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) data verification, from December 31, 2021 to March 31, 2022, was as a result of persistent pressure on the federal government by the telecoms operators, THISDAY has learnt.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, had on December 30, 2021, conveyed the approval of the federal government to further extend the deadline for the NIN-SIM data verification, from December 31, 2021 to March 31, 2022.

Pantami, in a statement jointly signed by the Director, Public Affairs, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde and the Head, Corporate Communications, National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Mr. Kayode Adegoke, said the extension became necessary, following the request by stakeholders, including citizens, legal residents and Nigerians in the diaspora, to extend the date in order to give Nigerians ample time to register their NINs.

But in a letter written by the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), to the Director General of the National Identity Management Commission, (NIMC), Aliyu Abubakar Aziz, dated December 29, 2021, seen by THISDAY showed how ALTON, the umbrella body of licensed telecoms operators in the country, asserted a lot of pressure on the federal government through letters, to shift the deadline, with well articulated reasons.

The extension of the December 31, 2021 deadline, as a result of the pressure from Telcos, made it the tenth time that the federal government has extended the deadline since the first directive on NIN-SIM verification and linkage was issued in December 2020.

Telecoms operators had complained that the situation affected the growth of telecoms subscribers in 2021. As at mid 2021, MTN had only 72 million subscribers with a market share of 39.01 per cent, while Globacom had 51 million subscribers with a market share of 27.28 per cent. Airtel had 50 million subscribers with a market share of 26.83 per cent, while 9mobile had 12 million subscribers with a market share of 6.89 per cent. The figures however improved slightly at the end of the 2021, after telecoms operators started using generated virtual NIN to register and activate new SIMs, as directed by NIMC.

THISDAY gathered that the Telcos needed to put pressure on the federal government to shift the deadline by another three months because of the difficulties being experienced by telecoms subscribers in registering their SIM cards following the ultimatum from the federal government, compelling subscribers to register SIM cards and link same with their NINS, or risk deactivation of their SIM cards.

Since the directive was given in December 2020, all sales of New SIMS, activation of new SIMS and SIM Swap, were put on hold, a situation that not only slowed down SIM card registration, but also compounded NIN registration and linkage.

In order to address the challenges, NIMC in November last year, introduced Tokenized NIN, where by Telcos and other NIMC agents, could generate virtual NIN that will enable Telcos carry out temporal verification exercise that will enable them to register subscribers for sales of new SIMs, SIM activation and SIM swap.

Worried by the enormous challenges faced by telecoms subscribers coupled with the difficulties faced by Telcos in NIN registration, ALTON had to write NIMC, seeking for the extension of deadline for NIN-SIM verification exercise.

Part of the ALTON letter to NIMC, read: “The Association of Licensed Telecommunications of Nigeria (“ALTON”) hereby refers to the letter dated November 15, 2021 in respect of the above subject wherein the National Identity Management Commission (“NIMC” / “Commission”) informed our members that they are required to integrate their respective services and operations with NIMC’s in respect of the NIN Tokenization solution on or before November 30, 2021.”

The letter further said: “It is pertinent to state that our members have been collaborating extensively with NIMC towards the successful integration and earliest implementation of the NIN Tokenization solution, which is however constrained by the challenges highlighted in the foregoing. We therefore crave the indulgence of NIMC to reconsider the deadline for implementation of the Tokenization solution from December 31, 2021, to March 31, 2022. This will provide sufficient time to mutually address the above issues, conclude final integration by all our members, allow for robust testing and full implementation of tokenization along with necessary public sensitisation of the change from the present NIN to virtual NIN (vNIN) regime.”