The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has ordered the suspension of sale and activation of new SIM cards by telecom operators in the country.
This is coming two days after Daily Trust did a comprehensive report on dangers of ‘Recycled’ SIM Cards which have flooded the streets and markets.
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The report raised concerns about the possibility of the already registered SIM cards being used by kidnappers and other criminal elements to commit crimes.
In response to the report, NCC in a statement on Wednesday, said the suspension was to allow an audit of the Subscriber Registration Database.
The Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, who issued the statement, added that it was absolutely necessary for operators to comply until the audit exercise had been concluded.
Adinde said the suspension was ordered by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami.
According to him, Pantami directed the commission to embark on an audit of the Subscriber Registration Database to fish out those whose registrations were not properly done.
But he said an exemption might be granted following approval from the Federal Government through the commission.
He warned that non-compliance with the directive would be met with strict sanctions, including the possibility of withdrawal of operating license.
Adinde said the audit would help to consolidate the achievement of the SIM Card registration exercise.
The director explained that the objective of the audit exercise was to ensure compliance to set quality standards and requirements by mobile network operators.
The suspension, he said, became necessary in view of the preponderance of pre-registered SIMs with the attendant security implications associated with the use of same to facilitate criminal activities.
Daily Trust investigation had found out that SIM cards purchased by the roadside from alleged accredited vendors of the telecommunications companies are being described as “recycled lines” by customers who bought them.
Our correspondents saw many infractions after surveying mobile phone and SIM card vending hubs on the streets of Abuja city centre and some neighbourhoods; as well as in Nasarawa, Kano, Kaduna and Lagos states.
At the offices of Glo and MTN in Wuse 2 in Abuja and those of 9Mobile and Airtel within the same axis, vendors were seen discouraging people from going into the main telecoms offices, saying they could do the same job of issuing and registering SIM cards for them.
Many unsuspecting customers get lines through the process and later discover that it is either not well registered or the line belonged to someone else.
Musa Usman said he bought a SIM card for his brother by proxy, an act that is against the rule.
“I was asked to provide an ID card, but I told the vendor that it was for my brother and he registered it after I parted with extra N200.
“However, he told me that they were not allowed to register by proxy,” Usman said.
Glory Akor complained of how she kept receiving calls from strange people through her newly ‘registered’ MTN and Airtel lines, claiming the lines belonged to people they knew.
“I became disturbed when someone from the South kept calling through the Airtel line and addressing me as ‘Bolaji’ whom he claimed owned the SIM card.
“I was accused of stealing the line and I had to drop it,” she said.
‘Unregistered SIM cards threat to national security’
The National Expert, Governance, Peace and Security Unit, UNDP Nigeria, Chukwuma Ume, described as ‘dangerous’, using unregistered SIM cards or the ones that were not properly registered.
He equally advised Nigerians to stop buying second-hand digital devices to avoid being linked to crimes they did not commit.
“There are great security implications for people buying or using unregistered SIM cards.
“Ordinarily, your SIM card should be traceable to you.
“It should have some form of identity about user or owner because in this time of terrorism, kidnapping, adversary frauds and other cybercrimes, one of the ways to checkmate that is to ensure that SIM card users are registered.
“We have had cases of people falling victims after buying SIM cards by the roadside, which had been previously used by people with criminal tendencies,” he said.
The Chief Corporate Services Officer at MTN Nigeria, Mr Tobechukwu Okigbo, had said the company works with entities duly licensed by the NCC in their registration activities.
He also said the company has zero tolerance for non-compliance, adding that it continually conduct checks across its operations to enforce compliance with regulatory prescriptions.
Regarding the issue of recycling of SIMs, MTN said numbers (lines) belong to the federal government of Nigeria and are managed by the NCC.
“Thus, operators are only assigned numbers for their operations on a lease basis.
“Consequently, to ensure efficient use of the numbering resource, the NCC Quality of Service Regulations permit operators to recycle numbers [that is, make the line available to another customer] where subscribers do not use their lines for a stipulated cumulative period of 365 days,” Okigbo said.
9mobile’s spokesperson, Chineze Amanfo, said the company accords the utmost priority to subscriber data management right from the point of registration, “which is why we only provide SIM card registration services in controlled environments in line with strict regulatory standards.
“It is a general industry practice for lines that remain dormant for an extended period to get reissued with the new subscriber details assigned accordingly,” she said.
“9mobile provides subscription-based SIM card Validity Extension service for its customers who may have reasons for prolonged non-use of their lines,” she said.
The Director, Corporate Communications and CSR at Airtel Nigeria, Emeka Oparah, said the company also work with NCC to keep to the required guidelines for SIM registration.
“Airtel captures biometrics before activating any line.
“We validate each of the biometrics to find out whether they followed the regulations laid out by NCC. It is only after we have extracted this assurance that we activate any SIM,” he noted.
The Airtel official also confirmed SIMs could be banned.
“If a customer has not made a valid usage in 48hours, we bar the customer.
“This is because we believe that a genuine customer must start using the SIM straight away.
“That is why such lines stop working after two days and this is in line with NCC guidelines to prevent pre-registered SIMs.”
He said they also monitor vendors.
“Airtel security team in collaboration with NCC carries out a random market sweep to ensure that the guidelines are followed.
“We also make sure every KYC kit is mapped to a registered agent in a fixed location and we blacklist any kit that is found wanting.”