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Lifting of the ban on new Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) registration will not happen any time soon. The Federal Government announced this, stating that it was for security reasons just as it disclosed that SIM registrations carried out in the past had been compromised.
The Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, stated this at the sixth edition of the ministerial briefing by the Presidential Media Team at Aso Villa, Abuja.
Explained Panami: “The ban on new SIMs remains in place for security reasons. We know this ban is painful but 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 SIMs with NINs; this has become necessary for security purposes,.
“The ban may affect our economy, but when addressing the issue of security, the economy takes back stage. People used the biometrics of one person to register about 100 SIMs after people are given money; this is even as some SIMs were improperly registered.
“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 put the number of SIM card subscribers linked to NINs at over 150 million, adding, however, that enrollment of NINs was 51 million as at March 31.
He explained that while 150 million had completed registration, the remainder had problems of improper registration, warning that those yet to obtain their NINs risk imprisonment from seven to 14 years as stipulated by the Nigerian Constitution.
According to him, while obtaining a SIM card may be optional, a NIN is mandatory, citing section 27 of the NIMC Act of 2007, and noting that it was a criminal offense in Nigeria to carry out business activities without first acquiring a NIN number.
Said he: “The NIMC Act clause 27 states that you need the NIN number for opening bank account, for insurance, land transactions, voters registration, drivers licenses.
“So, it is an offense to transact any business activity without first having your NIN”.
Pantami indicated that the number of enrollment centres had doubled whilst number of computers used for the process had tripled, explaining further that NINs would determine the total number of Nigerians that had registered because of the unique number.
Pantami further noted that the cost of data provided by telecommunication companies had been halved since last year from about N1,200 per gigabyte to less than N500 today.
He blamed some state governors for the high cost of data production by inflating the charges telecommunication firms pay state governments for right-of-way in installing their cables.
Noted he: “Some states charge as high as N60,000 per linear meter, whereas it should not ordinarily be more than N145”.
Pantami said he had engaged the governors through the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and pleaded with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to intervene in the matter; stressing that if the anomaly was corrected fully, the GSM and telecom firms would provide even cheaper data.
Speaking on the performance of the ministry in 2020, the minister said, but for the ICT sector, Nigeria would not have been able to exit the recession occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic.
He stated that within the period under review, the ICT sector grew more than 0.9% of the economy, suggesting that the growth in the sector was key to the successes recorded in the economy as a whole.