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Over 40m SIMs blocked by MTN, Airtel, others

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Telecommunication operators barred more than 40 million SIM lines over the weekend after the Nigerian Communications Commission’s February 28, 2024, deadline for telecom consumers to link the Subscriber Identity Module to their National Identity Numbers (NIN) expired.

This marks a 28 million increase over the 12 million telephone lines that were initially planned to be deactivated by telecoms in response to the NCC mandate.

In a December 2023 notice, the NCC requested that telecoms block SIMs that had not been linked to their owners’ NINs by February 28, 2024.

On Thursday, NCC Director of Public Affairs Reuben Mouka ruled out an extension of the deadline, warning that carriers who failed to comply would face sanctions.

Gbenga Adebayo, Chairman of the Association of Licenced Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, told newsmen that the decision will cause telcos to block 12 million connections.

However, on Sunday, the ALTON chair announced that the number of banned lines had increased to 40 million, noting that SIMs without NIN were included in the figure.

In a chat with The Punch, Adebayo said, “I can tell you that over 40 million lines have been blocked, and the affected customers are those who didn’t submit their NIN at all. Some people have not presented any NINs to operators.

“They haven’t registered their SIMs or participated in the harmonization program. They simply haven’t made any presentation of the NIN number to their operators, and those were the persons blocked.

“So why is the number so alarming despite repeated warnings? It shows many people still communicate but are not registered.”

In its December 2023 notification, the NCC further requested that Global Satellite Mobile Communications carriers prohibit SIM card holders whose NINs had been filed but not confirmed by March 29, 2024, and interdict those with fewer than five lines linked to an unverified NIN by April 15, 2024.

On December 16, 2020, the federal government launched the SIM-NIN synchronization program, which aims to help security services track down criminals.

To ensure accurate subscriber identification, the NIN is validated with the National Identity Management Commission and then matched with the SIM registration information (verification).

However, Nigerians have questioned why security authorities have not used the SIM-NIN linkage to track down criminals, particularly bandits and kidnappers, who frequently use mobile phone lines to communicate with victims’ families during ransom negotiations.

According to data published on the NCC’s website, the country now has 224.7 million active mobile telephone lines.

On Sunday, the ALTON chairman did not provide a breakdown of the subscribers or SIMs canceled by telcos over the weekend.

He said, “No, we currently don’t have the breakdown of disconnected lines per network right now, but I know over 40 million lines have been deactivated.”

Adebayo further intimated that another round of disconnections might be conducted by the end of the month or mid-April.

Adebayo said, “The second tier of disconnections that will happen are those who have provided NIN but have more than five Mobile Subscription Identification Numbers associated with their NIN, and these have not been verified.

“This is because some have differences in the order of their names, and some have differences in their date of birth.

“The information provided to the operator when they did the SIM registration is different from what they provided to NIMC when they did their NIN. Some subscribers also have some differences in other records that are very critical to their verification process.

“So these people who have more than five MSINs attached to their NIN and haven’t been verified will be disconnected effective March 30, 2024. So we may have more disconnections by the end of this month.

“If somebody has given a name that has not been verified and has been receiving text messages to verify and they haven’t done that, by March 30th, those people will be disconnected, and the figures will further increase.”

He explained, “There are two sources of data—primary and secondary. During the first registration process, the customer’s information is on-boarded to a server when everyone does the SIM registration, but the secondary record is for details given during NIN.

“Hence, your primary record has to be uniform with the secondary data across the platforms before you can be verified.

“Furthermore, for those who have less than five MSINs, by April 15th, they will be disconnected if they don’t harmonize their records before then. So we are going to go through a series of disconnections or service suspensions over the next two months if people don’t follow the laid-down regulations.”

Adeolu Ogunbanjo, President of the National Association of Telecom Subscribers, responded by stating that if the deadline is not extended, the organization will seek redress in court on Thursday.

Adeolu, who revealed that the number of blocked subscribers exceeded the previously stated 12 million, urged the NCC to respect the misery of users and give a 31-day extension.

In an interview on Sunday, he said, “We have appealed to the Nigerian Communication Commission to extend the deadline till March 31st. But if this is not done, we will observe the situation for the next three days, that is, Monday to Wednesday, and if this is not granted, we will have to file a case in court on Thursday.

“We have and are still appealing that this deadline be extended. We understand their position concerning security issues, but a 31-day extension would not harm anyone, and that is why we didn’t ask for three months.

“The NCC boss should please give us this gift as a resumption gift and not punish subscribers.”

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