Tied But Banned: A Walk In The Shoes Of Nigerians Unable To Make Phone Calls
It’s two o’clock twelve o’clock and Samson had written “agitated” on his face. He too was visibly upset. As he paced the vicinity of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) in Ikeja, looking for a pen, beads of sweat ran down his dark skin.
Samson had come to find a solution to a problem that was about to crash his business and strain his relationships. But at that time, the main obstacle in her path was the lack of a pen needed to fill out a form.
“I can’t make calls,” he said. “It really affects me because I can’t reach my people in case something happens.”
In 2021, the federal government launched the NIN-SIM Linking Policy, which requires subscribers to link their SIM cards to their National Identity Numbers (NIN). The government had said the benefits included improving national security and reducing identity fraud and other online crimes.
Following the multiple extension of deadlines for NIN-SIM backhaul, implementation began on April 4, 2022 – and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ordered all telecom operators to ban outgoing calls on the unrelated lines.
As expected, the impact was immediate as millions of Nigerians were barred from making phone calls and texting, including Samson.
SAVED, LINKED BUT BLOCKED
He said he had previously linked his NIN to his Globacom and MTN lines, but recently discovered that the linking process had failed for the former.
“I was using an MTN line and connected the line to the NIN before my phone was stolen. Since then I have been using Glo, and it was Glo that was blocked. I had got my NIN and I just to find out there was no connection,” the 37-year-old marketer said.
“It affects both business and my relationship with people, especially family. I’m in marketing and I can’t call my customers.”
Samuel Wisdom, another subscriber, told TheCable that he got his NIN last year and complied with the government’s NIN-SIM bonding directive.
But, according to him, his line was blocked on April 7, three days after the policy began to be implemented.
Wisdom said his network provider, Airtel, said his NIN had not been verified and was then directed to NIMC’s office for a solution.
“I went there and they told me it wasn’t registered and I had to fill out another form to register again,” he said.
“I am not happy with the situation. It’s like I’m just stuck. You can’t call anyone – even if you’re in a tough spot where you need help – and that’s bad.
Recounting his experience, Tobi Tobe, said that three days before the government decided to implement the policy, he tried to link his line through MTN’s USSD code, but found that it had not been verified. by NIMC.
Tobe said he had obtained the NIN since last year and hoped the bond would go smoothly. This was not the case.
A media professional, Jerry Agada, said he lost around N1million due to being banned despite the links.
“I tied,” retorted Agada when asked why he didn’t. “It was the pre-requisite for purchasing the sim card at the Glo office. You can imagine my shock when I found out my line was blocked.
Similarly, Abiola Akindele, a fashion designer, complained about losing her clients, while Adanna Lemchi expressed fears about the negative impact the issue is having on her startup.
In conversations with affected individuals and agents, TheCable has learned that “NIN not verified” is the most common issue faced by subscribers.
For example, Asuquo Etukudo, who took to social media to talk about the situation, said he received his NIN in 2014, but when he tried to link it to his Airtel line, he was told that the number had failed NIMC verification.
The line was therefore crossed out.
The first photo shows my NIN, which I got in 2014. The second shows a message from Airtel that the number could not be verified from your office. Therefore, my line has been crossed out. What’s going on, please. pic.twitter.com/NWqspVIuao
— Asuquo Etukudo (@akpama_mi) May 12, 2022
“I used this same number to link MTN, and to date I have no problems with this network provider”, Etukudo TheCable.
BUSINESS LINE/ BANK GENERATED NIN
Some subscribers, who were barred from making calls after failed attempts to link their lines, said they discovered their lines were either “corporate lines” or the NIN was generated by the bank.
For example, a six-year-old Globacom line user said the company told her the line was a “corporate line” after it was banned.
“When they said ‘link your NIN’, I linked my Glo only so they would always block my line,” she explained.
“I went to Glo’s office and they said my line is a corporate line, which I don’t understand. They checked my file and saw that I had registered the line in my name. How did a line I registered in my own name become a company line? »
Similarly, a broadcaster, who spoke anonymously, said he learned his NIN was generated by a bank.
When asked why he did not comply with government policy, he replied, “I linked it, but it didn’t work because of the problem generated by the bank. It affected my business in many ways.
TELCOS FEELING THE BLOW
Prior to the implementation of the policy, the telecommunications sector had been faltering since 2020. The sector recorded sluggish growth in 2021 largely due to various political decisions made by the government.
National Bureau of Statistics data (SNB) showed a drop in Internet users of 7.99% to 141.9 million at the end of the fourth quarter of 2021 compared to 150.8 million in January 2021.
By implication, mobile carriers lost around nine million data subscribers in 2021.
The cable had reported that MTN lost around 5.1 million subscribers from 63.9 million to 58.8 million between January and December 2021. Additionally, Airtel Nigeria lost 2.5 million subscribers between January and December 2021, while 9mobile lost 1.13 million subscribers over the same period.
Globacom, on the other hand, lost about 470,000 subscribers over the same period, according to data from NCC’s website.
Ajibola Olude, executive secretary of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), said the directive, which affected about 70 million subscribers, signaled a loss of revenue for telecom operators.
“Our members weren’t happy because at the end of the day, [it] is going to have a negative effect on their profitability, which may result in them not meeting their revenue forecast for the year,” he said.
He said the NIMC needed to increase its capabilities, especially in the “storage area”, so that the reported issues could be addressed.
“UNFAIR BALANCE OF POWERS”
Boye Adegoke, Senior Program Manager, Paradigm Initiative (PIN), described the restriction of outgoing calls from unrelated lines as an unfair expression of the balance of power.
He said the question was whether the NIN should be a prerequisite to be able to own a SIM card in Nigeria.
He said the government had not done enough to provide the required regulatory framework to guide the collection or issuance of TINs.
“We don’t have a data protection law. The government is not upholding its end of the bargain, but it is using state power to compel people to uphold their own end of the bargain,” Adegoke said.
“It’s an unfair expression of the balance of power. While citizens have little to no options to get the government to do what it is supposed to do to ensure that there is a data protection law in Nigeria, it forces citizens to [do] whatever it wants citizens to do and going so far as to use punitive enforcement to achieve it by banning calls from those who haven’t signed up.
“And it’s even worse when you now consider the fact that there are people who want to sign up but couldn’t do it through no fault of their own.
“Sometimes logistical challenge on NIMC’s part, sometimes infrastructure issues, sometimes due to the nature of their work, and that’s what makes it even more shameful.”
Adegoke added that the NIN should not be the prerequisite for accessing basic and essential services.
At the time of filing this report, Kayode Adegoke, Corporate Communications Manager, NIMC, did not respond to requests for comment on the issues raised.