Friday, January 01, 2010

Nigeria - opinions on mandatory SIM-card registration

[daily trust] The decision of the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) to order the telecoms operators in the country to, with effect from March1, 2010, begin the registration of all new SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards, did not come to many as a surprise. This is because many industry experts have long been clamouring for the scheme, which they said would help prevent phone related crimes in the country.

NCC, in a statement signed by its Head, Media and Public Relations, Mr. Reuben Mouka, directed all telecom operating companies to put all necessary arrangements in place for the smooth take off of the SIM registration, which is aimed at improving security in the country.

He said valid identification documents like E- Passports, corporate/company or work place identity cards that has Pension Identification /Tax Numbers, student ID cards from recognized institutions as well as drivers license issued by the Federal Road Safety Commission, (FRSC) and E-Tax cards, would be required for those seeking registration of their SIM cards.

The NCC statement reads in part: "With effect from March 1, 2010, all new SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) Cards in Nigeria must be registered before activation. The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, in exercise of its regulatory functions as provided for by the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003, wishes to inform the general public and all the relevant stakeholders that arrangements have been concluded for the commencement of registration of all SIM Card Holders in Nigeria.

"The registration process will include the capture of the photograph and biometrics of the subscriber. Proxy registration shall be restricted to the direct families of persons seeking registration. The Commission has directed all telecom operating companies to put all necessary arrangements in place for the smooth take off of the exercise."

What this means is that all prepay SIM cards would be mandated to have their ownership details registered with the network operators as from next year March. The registration process, according to NCC, will last six months, giving users enough time to fill out the paperwork. After the period ends, non-registered SIM cards will be shut out.

NCC said: "The SIM card registration is in line with complaints that the commission had gotten that mobile phones are used to aid crimes and government has instructed the commission to adopt a mode to help stop crime.

"Nigeria does not have an effective database and that is why we think six months is enough to cover the six geo-political zones in the country and even get to the local government areas."

According the telecoms regulator, the process will require subscribers to produce their National Identity card. Biometrics will also be taken, to curb fraud, during the process of registration

But the SIM-card registration is already raising eyebrows in the country as some subscribers fear that the new measure may be misused by the security agents to encroach on the right of the citizenry in the name of surveillance.

Also, subscribers and the telecoms operators are pessimistic about whether the process will be well conducted. While some are saying the country is not ripe for that, many other believe the scheme may be marred by corruption.

They say public officials may see the new scheme as an avenue to pilfer government funds. Telecoms operators believe the scheme will reduce their revenue as the sales of SIM cards will now be regulated.

Speaking to Daily Trust on the development, the president of the National Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, said the NCC's directive is a welcome development but the regulator should sensitize Nigerian subscribers on the scheme. He said NCC should have allowed the operators to be selling their SIMs anyhow because it is done anywhere like that.

"It is a welcome development, it is something we have been clamouring for and happy the NCC finally approved it," he said.

However, a consumer advocacy group, Consumers Advocacy Forum of Nigeria (CAFON) said it would amount to cheating if NCC or the telecoms operators charge subscribers for the service. The group's president, Sola Salako, said the group would resist any attempt to charge subscribers for the registration process other the normal charges being charged them before the registration.

A spokesman of one the telecoms operators, told our correspondent that the operators would have to meet on the NCC's directive before they tell how to go about the scheme. The spokesman, who pleaded anonymity, said though the new process of acquiring a SIM card seems cumbersome; it would not in any way reduce revenue of operators.

He said that the sim-card registration, which is in tandem with international best practices, has been intended purposely to track down criminals bent on using cell phones to commit crimes.

The process will provide a greater database of market information of mobile phones technology in the country, thus ending dispute around the market leader. He also said it will help combat cell phone theft because it will be easier to trace the SIM-card and the phone.

This is true. Nigeria's total mobile subscribers' base is over 70 million and every day the operators and the police receive hundreds of reports of stolen handsets. At operators customers-care centres, 6 to 8 out of every 10 subscribers attended to, are victims of mobile phone theft. The police estimates say that mobile phones are involved in 80 per cent of robbery cases in Nigeria today.

Speaking recently on SIM registration, NCC's Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Ernest Ndukwe, said registering SIM cards was necessary to prevent the harassment many Nigerians have undergone in recent years due to individuals who use mobile phones to perpetrate crime.

"It is my opinion that there should be public awareness through aggressive promotions in all media (especially mass media) by both the Nigerian regulatory body and all the GSM mobile operators to make the subscribers know the importance of the SIM card registration from now till the end of the registration period.

NCC should also work hand- in- hand with the National Identity Card Management Commission to ensure the success of this programme since it is widely known that there is absence of an authentic identity data in Nigeria. The success of the SIM registration process will, one way or the other, assist in the proposed implementation of Mobile Number Portability which is under way," the EVC said.

According to him, the major hurdle on the way of the project is the lack of an effective Identity Management System, adding that arrangement has been made to support the process of registration, making it possible for the registration of SIM to be implemented even in the rural areas.

Time will definitely tell whether the SIM registration would be a success or not.

Sim Card Registration - What Citizens Say

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