The Nigerian Communications Commission’s order for telecoms firms to add National Identification Numbers (NIN) to all registered SIM cards within two weeks – that is, by the end if this year – has, perhaps predictably, already faced difficulties.
According to local press reports, the country’s House of Representatives has urged the Nigerian Communication Commission to extend its ultimatum to block phone numbers without NIN by 10 weeks. And major operator MTN, while not explicitly refusing to address the ruling, has said it could be compliant within six months.
MTN executives have said they have acquired licences to verify and issue NINs and were building up infrastructure to complete the task, as well as working closely with Nigerian authorities to assess the viability of the 30 December deadline.
Meanwhile, an online self-service NIN update portal has gone live on the website of operator 9mobile's website. The portal enables subscribers to verify and update their NINs instantly without physically visiting any of the experience centres across the country. In addition Nigeria’s communication minister, Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, has scrapped the 20 Naira (about five US cents) unstructured supplementary service data fee imposed on subscribers for NIN retrieval requests across all mobile network providers.
Whether this will help completely unregistered Nigerians is unlikely. To date, only about 43 million Nigerians have enrolled for their NIN. In addition concerns have been expressed on social media in the country about waiting times, lack of NIN registration offices, lack of resources within those offices, disruption during the festive season and, inevitably, the danger of large crowds outside registration offices spreading coronavirus.
To further complicate matters, one estimate suggests that only 38 percent of Nigerians have any form of identification.
For now, however the federal government seems to be insisting on its original deadline, and that, after the deadline, all SIMs without NINs are to be blocked from networks.