Lifting Ban On New SIM Card Sales

TECH DIGEST – Nigeria has a large population of telecoms subscribers, which reached over 200 million as at January 2021, with a teledensity of 104.89 per cent.

The figure, which keeps rising on a weekly basis, has placed Nigeria as the country with the fastest growing telecoms market in Africa and the entire world.

However, one unique feature about Nigerian subscribers is that each adult Nigerian has a minimum of two mobile phones with four SIM cards, because each mobile phone built for the African market, comes with two SIM slots. So on the average, an adult Nigerian has four lines (SIM Cards) from different telecoms service providers.

Citing insecurity in the Nigerian telecoms space, where kidnappers use unregistered SIM cards to contact the families of their victims for ransom, the federal government, in December last year, placed a ban on the sale and activation of new SIM cards, and mandated the telecoms industry regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to enforce SIM registration and linkage with the National Identification Number (NIN).

The ban placed untold hardships on telecoms subscribers, who suddenly became incommunicado after losing their mobile phones and SIM cards to pocket pickers and armed robbers.

As a result of the ban, those who lost their phones and SIM cards could not do SIM swap activation and could not buy and activate new SIMs. They became incommunicado until last month, when the federal government approved the establishment of SIM swap centres, which allowed subscribers to do SIM swap for only old SIMs that were lost. Then last week, the ban on the sale and activation of new SIM cards, was lifted.

Subscribers’ Bitter experience

Nigerian subscribers have a unique culture of replacing their old SIM card with a new SIM card whenever they lose their old SIM card. The reason being that they either may have lost the SIM pack of the old SIM and cannot do SIM swap without the old SIM pack, or they do not have the patience to queue for SIM swap replacement in order to retain their former mobile phone number. They would rather buy a new SIM and activate it immediately for use.

That culture of buying a new SIM card each time they lose the old SIM card, automatically changed immediately the ban was placed on the sale and activation of new SIM card in December last year.

The ban, according to most telecoms subscribers who lost their SIM cards between December last year and last week, brought so much hardships on them because they became incommunicado and in the process, lost communication with their business customers, friends and family relatives. They however said the lifting of the ban last week, would ease communication between them and their businesses customers, friends and relatives.

Following the better experience encountered during the period when they could not communicate, subscribers under the aegis of the National Telecoms Subscribers Association of Nigeria (NATCOMS) had called on the federal government to re-direct the NCC to quickly lift the suspension order on the sale and activation of new SIM cards across networks. Some had even gone to court to challenge the federal government and the NCC over the ban.

According to them, the suspension order has made many Nigerians incommunicado, having lost their SIM cards to hoodlums and robbery attacks and could not do a ‘welcome back pack’ to retrieve their mobile lines.

National Chairman of NATCOMS, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, narrated the ordeals of his members while the ban lasted. He said most of his members lost businesses worth millions of Naira because their customers could not reach them on phone as usual.

“Most of our members who owned and run their businesses, and have lost their mobile phones within the period of ban, could not communicate and their customers could not reach them on phone for business transactions,” Ogunbanjo said.

Shortly after the ban was introduced in December last year, the NCC announced that the suspension order, which was at the instance of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, would last till the completion of the audit of the Subscriber Registration Database, which seeks to achieve global standards and quality in the issuance of SIM Cards.

The Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, who announced the suspension in a statement issued by the commission, said the action became necessary in line with the federal government desire to consolidate the achievement of the SIM Card registration exercise of September 2019. NCC therefore advised all telecoms operators to stop all sales and activation of new SIM cards on their networks.

Few days after the suspension order was given, the Association of Lisensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), through its Chairman, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, issued a statement, informing all telecoms subscribers that the implementation of the suspension order had begun and pleaded with subscribers to bear the inconveniences it might cause them.

SIM Swap Extension

The federal government, through the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, in March 3, 2021, approved the establishment of SIM swap centres by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in all local government areas of the 36 states in the country.

The essence, according to government, was to ensure the ease of SIM swap for telecoms subscribers who may have lost their old SIMs and needed SIM swap replacement and activation.

Despite the approval of SIM swap in March, the suspension of new SIM card was still enforced until last week, when the federal government lifted the ban. But even at that, government kept shifting the initial deadline for NIN-SIM linkage update and has extended it five times since December, the recent extension being May 6, 2021.

The federal government also extended the period of those licensed to carry out SIM enrolment and linkage from one year to five years period.

Lifting Ban On New SIM Cards

However, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Pantami, last week, lifted the ban on the sale and activation of new SIM cards, by approving the activation of new Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards.

The Minister, in agreement with industry stakeholders, also revised the National Digital Identity Policy for SIM card registration.

According to the minister, the activation of new SIM card, which was banned in December last year, would begin on Monday April 19, 2021.

Pantami therefore directed the NCC and National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to ensure the provisions of the policy were strictly followed by all operators and subscribers.

The Minister said the implementation of the policy and issuance of new SIMs and other suspended activities would resume on the same date of April 19, 2021, provided that verification had been completed and the guidelines fully adhered to.

According to a statement signed by the Technical Assistant (Information Technology) to the Minister, Dr. Femi Adeluyi, an earlier policy was approved on February 4, 2020, while the revised policy was developed in early March 2021. The policy was further improved and endorsed for implementation by President Muhammadu Buhari, on March 26, 2021.

“The final amendments to the revised policy, based on the directives of President Muhammadu Buhari to make the use of National Identification Number (NIN) mandatory for all SIM registration, were completed April, 14, 2021,” the statement further said.

With the lifting of the ban on the sale and activation of new SIM cards, telecoms subscribers have commended the decision of government to lift the ban, saying it will ease communication among person to person and business to business.