NCC, SIM Registration and misinformation

by Gbenga Kayode

Though belated, the recently concluded Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards registration exercise directed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Abuja, is certainly a welcome development, just as Dr. Eugene Juwah, Executive Vice-Chairman, NCC, was reported to have reiterated, that “the SIM registration process is a major phase in the development of the telecoms” in the country.

The fundamental objective of embarking on an all-inclusive SIM registration, according to the Commission, is supposedly to certify that nobody is ruled out from the exercise, as the “data collected will later be used to build a national identity management database by the National Identity Management Commission.”

However, despite the recent flurry of encomiums poured on Commission’s 10 years of regulating mobile telephony operations in Nigeria, a recent discovery in respect of the original intent and purposes cum concomitant misinformation emanating from it portends that the exercise may become just another wasteful project characteristic of previous data-gathering efforts in the annals of the country in the end, if care is not taken.

Last year, it will be recalled that NCC’s request for N6.1billion sparked a heated debate and row in the House of Representatives of the sixth National Assembly (NASS) over the propriety or otherwise of the seemingly scandalous financial demand. Many of the Federal legislators had expressly dismissed the budget as mere wastefulness of the Nigerian tax payers’ money.

Similarly, many other Nigerians have contended severally if the continual endeavour ought to be the business of the Federal Government and its communications regulatory agency, NCC, in the first place, or that of the telecom companies operating in Nigeria, or both as recommended by the NCC?

Unfortunately, months into the purportedly “successful end” (quoting Dave Imoko, Director, Public Affairs, NCC) of SIM cards registration, and continued unwarranted, unrelenting threat to Nigerians over a possible mass SIM card deactivation, and peradventure to confirm the earlier submission of the NASS members regarding their expressed doubt about the seriousness of the exercise, a latest phone call from one of the leading telecom companies with its Headquarters on Victoria Island, Lagos, actually pooh-poohed the NCC’s puerile claim of self-commendation for doing an apparently inconclusive job of mobilising Nigerians and registering their SIM cards in the last few months.

Of course, there has been a litany of complaints of double registration, defective data-capturing approach and needless SIM deactivation cases after due registration by telecom service subscribers among others.

In connection with this writer’s personal experience, a customer service lady from the telecom company called his personal mobile phone number Saturday, October 8, 2011, to urge him to register his SIM card immediately. At first, I dismissed her ostensibly huge joke at once, assuming she was only pulling my legs. I instantaneously responded, that I had already registered all my numbers, both personal and official, with my biometrics captured by an NCC SIM registration agent at a designated locale over three months ago.

Not satisfied with my clear explanation, she politely said: “I am sorry sir; you have to re-register now, as there is data showing that you’ve once registered based on the record I have before me here. More so, the NCC registration is invalid. Please, you need to register your SIM cards again.”

All through our four-minute conversation on phone, she would not budge one bit. The lady rather, pleaded with me once more, and insisted that I must re-register my SIM cards to avoid deactivation soon. Then, one begins to wonder whose responsibility it really is to do a required SIM registration between the NCC and telecom companies in the country.

Thus, the registration of existing and new SIM cards by both NCC-appointed agent/consultants and mobile network operators simultaneously, though ordinarily expected to enhance the quest for a genuine, robust identity register of most Nigerian citizens, the identified challenges, including disinformation by the NCC, especially via its confusing published advertorials and pronouncements in the mass media, the exercise may result in wasteful exercise on the part of the former (NCC) at the end of the day. Why?

Mr. Anthony Eze, Chief Executive Officer, Vivendi Communications, who like many other affected Nigerians, for instance, said in a recent media report that he as well had registered his SIM cards, but one of them had been deactivated, observed a critical factor why much of the data the NCC agents are apparently capturing may turn out a ruse in the end.

“When they say that it’s fraudulent to give false information to SIM registration agents, I wonder how they are going to enforce that because it’s a third party thing. The agents can input information contrary to the ones supplied by the subscribers. I think the best thing for anybody who is registering is to look and be sure they get their details correctly. I have seen cases of people saying they registered them as male or vice-versa when they are not,” Eze declared.

Consequently, the NCC actually needs to answer the following questions in respect of where it really stands in the whole SIM card registration project: What’s the NCC’s understanding of the concept of Know Your Customer (KYC) in business? Does the NCC know the individual subscribers as the telecom companies do? Who have been producing the SIM cards, recharge cards, related accessories, selling same to subscribers and activating the SIM cards over time? Who is in a better position to collate and harmonise the needed accurate data from millions of subscribers using telecom services over the last decade?

It should, therefore, be noted that the NCC truly has caused the pervasive confusion and challenges currently besetting the SIM cards registration. So, instead of turning itself into a national identity management database “officer”, a milestone which even the trio of National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), National Population Commission (NPC) and National Bureau of Statistics regrettably, have all been unable to accomplish for the real socio-economic and political advancement of our dear country since 1963, the NCC rather, should concentrate on its statutory mandate of “regulating” the activities of the telecom companies operating in Nigeria.

In order to stop the continued wastage of N6.1billion of tax payers’ money allegedly budgeted for the SIM registration exercise, the NCC right away needs to extend the duration of the registration, allow and support the telecom companies to do a thorough, accurate and complete job of collating, verifying and harmonising their subscribers’ biometrics before turning them in to the Commission for use. Any continued and unjustifiable threat of deactivation of unregistered SIM cards will only frustrate the realisation of the objective of the project.

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