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Suspend New SIM Card Registrations; NCC Directs Network Operators

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has directed the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to suspend new Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Card registrations with immediate effect.

A statement by NCC as signed by the Director, Public Affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, said the suspension is to enable the Commission carryout audit of SIM card registrations in the country as directed by the Federal Government.

The statement reads: In line with the Federal Government’s desire to consolidate the achievement of the SIM Card registration exercise of September, 2019, the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), has directed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to embark on another audit of the Subscriber Registration Database again.

“The objective of the audit exercise is to verify and ensure compliance by Mobile Network Operators with the set quality standards and requirements of SIM Card Registration as issued by the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Commission.

“Accordingly, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are hereby directed to immediately suspend the sale, registration and activation of new SIM Cards until the audit exercise is concluded, and Government has conveyed the new direction.

“However, where it is absolutely necessary, exemption may be granted in writing by the Commission following approval from the Federal Government.

“MNOs are to please note that non-compliance with this directive will be met with strict sanctions, including the possibility of withdrawal of operating license.

“As the Minister has earlier directed in January, 2020, all citizens are urged to immediately secure Digital Identification from the National Identity Management Commission and submit it to the Network Operators.

It will be recalled that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, had in September 2019 directed the MNOs through NCC to deactivate 9.2 million Sim Cards lines.

To provide further assurance on the integrity of its SIM registration database, NCC commenced the second phase of the audit of SIM registration data and registration processes across all Mobile Network Operator (MNO) platforms.

The audit was specifically to monitor operators’ strict adherence to the technical and other specifications for the subscriber registration as prescribed by the NCC’s Telephone Subscribers Registration Regulations of 2011 and the Technical Standards and Specifications issued by the Commission in 2011 and subsequently thereafter.

The Commission however stated that the audit is without prejudice to the ongoing “backend verification and scrubbing” of SIM registration data already submitted to the Commission by MNOs such as MTN, Glo, Airtel, 9Mobile and Mtel.

According to the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, “the NCC is very sensitive to the fact that the Subscriber Registration Database is a veritable tool being used by security and law enforcement agencies in the detection and apprehension of criminal elements involved in heinous crimes like kidnapping, financial crimes, armed robberies, banditry, cattle rustling and other crimes which leverage on easy access to the national telecoms network. As such, we are determined to continue to ensure that all SIM cards are traceable to their real owners with the least effort”.

Prof. Danbatta also noted that the verification exercise is a continuation of the NCC’s consistent regulatory interventions to ensure a clean and credible SIM registration database.

This effort started with the enactment of the Subscriber Registration Regulations and registration specifications in 2011.

It was significantly ramped up in August 2015 when the MNOs were given a deadline to disconnect SIMs found not to be fully compliant with registration requirements, with the attendant consequences.

It continued with the setting up of a SIM Registration Task Force in 2017 to further harmonise registration practices across all networks, and it culminated in the recent establishment of a joint Industry Working Group comprising of senior representatives of the NCC, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and MNOs. That Working Group was set up with the singular mandate of harmonizing the subscriber registration process with the National Identity Card Registration Project.

“Currently, verification and scrubbing of SIM Registration data is ongoing. This is to ensure the integrity of data submitted to the Commission by the MNOs, before we feed the cleaned-up data to the central database warehoused by NIMC.

The audit is a natural next step to ensure that not only is the data already submitted fully compliant, but that operators maintain the highest standards of registration practices across all their touch-points so that the subscriber data they are collecting continues to serve the national security and other interests for which subscriber registration was mandated”, Professor Danbatta further stated. “Everything we are doing is in accordance with global best practice – verification and audits are continuous exercises which the Commission has been engaging in since 2011 when subscriber registration formally commenced in Nigeria”.

“Our objectives are to carry out quality assurance on the integrity of all aspects of the subscriber registration process and to demonstrate zero tolerance for any deviation from laid-down processes by any industry player, no matter how seemingly minor. Our expectations are very high indeed, considering the national security and socio-economic implications of the Subscriber Registration Database”. Prof. Danbatta stated.

The EVC used the opportunity to allay the fears of consumers, saying that “during this audit, there will be no disruption of service to law abiding consumers who have genuinely registered their SIMs – we have made sure of that by designing the exercise in such a way that we can gauge compliance at measured intervals using very professional tools and standards”.

He nonetheless stressed that the NCC is determined to aggressively pursue the national interest objectives of delivering a credible database of telecoms subscribers in Nigeria: “this is why we are working with NIMC and other stakeholders to tighten all loose ends. We are determined to deliver one single, credible national citizens identity database which is sorely required to fast-track the attainment of the Federal Government’s national security and reform agenda”, he stated.

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