Since the suspension of new Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card sales and registration by telecom operators on December 9, 2021, the country has been recording its negative impact on socio-economic activities as over N45 billion might have so far been lost.
Beyond the mobile network operators (MNOs) losing about N25 billion to the process as a result of inactive SIM cards and the standing order against sale of new SIM cards, there are indications that the impact of the order on many businesses and financial transactions may have cost the country about N20 billion in three months.
Some businesses are struggling for survival because of the inability of subscribers to reactivate their lost SIMs and activate new ones. This challenge has been impacting the socio-economic lives of the people who have continued to lament.
Speaking with newsmen, Deolu Ogunbanjo, President, National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS), said the country’s economy is losing seriously as a result of SIM/National Identification Number (NIN) registration and linkage, as well as the suspension of new SIM cards.
According to him, “The reality is that the economy is suffering partly because of these policies around SIM cards in the country.
“First, the deadline for SIM/NIN registration and linkage issued by the Federal Government is putting pressure on the subscribers who are, by extension, the drivers of the economy.
“I have visited some of the centres, particularly the network operators’ centres. I noticed that only about five or six people are registered in a day.
“You can imagine how long it would take to register the millions of people who had yet to do so.
“You know, time is money. You can’t quantify the value of the time being expended on this exercise.”
Speaking further, Ogunbanjo said there would soon be more confusion as JAMB candidates have been directed to begin registration with their NIN.
“I wonder why the Federal Government cannot obey court orders.
“The court ordered the extension of the SIM/NIN registration, but the government decided to fix May 6, 2021.
“NATCOMS has called on the government to extend the SIM/NIN registration to December 21,” he said.
In a statement issued at the weekend, the government approved the extension of the period of the NIN-SIM linkage to May 6, 2021.
This was the decision taken during the meeting between the Ministerial Task Force on NIN-SIM data linkage and key stakeholders.
The statement noted that over 51 million people now have their NINs with a significant increase in the monthly enrolment.
Also speaking on the development, the chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said tremendous progress had been made as more data had been sent to the NIMC by telecom operators.
He confirmed that 51 million subscribers had so far been registered, with an average of three SIM cards per subscriber.
Despite the dilemma being confronted by many Nigerians, the Federal Government, early this week, insisted that the current ban on the registration of SIM cards would stay in place for a while longer.
The lingering N42 billion debt settlement between telecom operators and banks has taken a toll on the customers of the two critical industries.
In recent days, there has been a show of supremacy between MTN, the leading network operator, and banks.
Within a few hours, customers were left stranded and subjected to a disruption in their socio-economic activities as banks cut off MTN Nigeria from their banking platforms, making it impossible for millions of customers to buy credit for their phones.
Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, during the weekly ministerial briefing organised by the Presidential Media Team, said the Federal Government took the decision with the intention of protecting Nigerians and making the country safe from insecurity.
According to him, “When it comes to addressing the issue of security, the economy takes back stage,” insisting that SIM registration carried out in the past compromised the system.
He added: “The ban on new SIMs remains in place for security reasons. We know this ban is painful, but it is very necessary.
“In the past, SIM registration processes were compromised; most of the SIMs were improperly registered, hence we have most of the SIMs used to commit crimes in the country.
“So, what we are doing now is matching all the SIM cards with NIN. This has become necessary for security purposes.
“The ban may affect our economy, but when addressing the issue of security, the economy takes a back stage.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions I have taken as a minister. It is a very painful decision, but we had to take it.”
Pantami said people used the biometrics of one person to register about 100 SIMs, after people were given money; this is even as some SIMs were improperly registered.
He said about 189 million SIMs have been registered in the country, explaining that 150 million, out of this number, have completed registration while the remainder have problems of improper registration.
In a related development, reliable sources said the telecom companies are contemplating reducing their workforce, even as some workers were reportedly relieved of their duties by a leading operator.
The Federal Government’s decision to suspend the sale of new SIM cards has left many Nigerians without livelihoods, as it has forced small businesses that worked as agents for big telecom firms to either shut down or scale down on their activities.
The continued suspension of SIM sales has prevented connect stores and all affiliated retail and trade outlets of telecommunications companies from doing business.
Also, the phone market has been recording low sales. This can be as a result of the ban on new SIM sale and activation.
From time to time, especially during festive seasons, people buy phones and SIM cards as gifts for their family members and friends, but the trend is fast fading as phones require SIM cards to function.
There is a surge in the theft of phones by robbers. And in most cases, the thieves throw away the SIM cards in the stolen phones.
This has been increasing the inactive number of subscribers as the retrieval process of stolen or damaged SIM cards has been very cumbersome and, most times, without hope of retrieval.