Disconnected lines may hit 50m as visits overwhelm NIMC, MNOs’ facilities

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Disconnected Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) cards as a result of unverified National Identification Number (NIN) may hit 50 million from the second phase of the disconnection of unlinked SIMs to NIN exercise, which begins today, March 29.

According to checks, mobile network operators (MNOs) are expected to bar subscribers with five SIMs and above, linked to unverified NINs.

In the last disconnection exercise, carried out on February 28, some 40 million lines were barred. A breakdown showed that 17 million SIMs, which have been consistently active for three months but failed to submit NINs were barred. Also, 23 million SIMs, which had not been active in the last year and without NINs were barred completely.

The Chairman of the Association of Licenced Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, in a chat with The Guardian yesterday, said the impact of the second phase of the exercise would be massive, saying cumulatively, about 50 million SIMs may be affected, inclusive of the earlier 40 million already disconnected.

Adebayo said: “I don’t have an outright figure as we speak, but it will be safe to say that by the time we add these numbers to the disconnection bucket, we will go over 40 million, it might be nearing the 50 million mark. The reality is that the disconnection now will have more impact than the first set.

“Don’t forget that those who have been disconnected prior are those without NIN at all. These new categories are those who have submitted NINs but have not been verified. It means that you may have some very active subscribers, who in their way have done what they think is everything they should do but their lines may still be disconnected because NINs have not been verified with their SIM records.”

According to him, the fact is that data submitted by a subscriber during the SIM registration exercise (secondary data) must align with data submitted for the NIN database (Primary data), that is what the authority is saying.

He explained: “If in the SIM register, you have Wale Adekunle but during NIN registration, you put in Adewale Adekunle, such a person would have issues. His information would be flagged and he will need to go and correct that at both the SIM database and NIN registration for us to be sure he’s the same person. So many other instances like that, including those, who sent proxies to register SIMs for them, will be flagged. It is going to be a long thin, but the database needs to be thorough.”

Adebayo, while appealing to NCC for a possible date extension, also begged Nigerians to do the needful by ensuring their data are well captured where and when necessary.

On his part, the President, the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS) Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, also stressed the need for the telecoms regulator to extend the deadline date, saying so many subscribers have submitted their NINs, which have not been verified by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).

According to Ogunbanjo, the Operator’s Consumer Centre stands as the primary location for consumers to complete their registration fully, with data provided there being verifiable.

However, the NATCOMS president noted that telecom agents were bypassing crucial information during the registration process, resulting in incomplete registrations of subscribers.

“For example, during interactions with telecoms representatives, some agents fail to collect all required information from subscribers.

“If a subscriber cannot provide certain details, agents often leave the registration incomplete. Consequently, these incomplete registrations are deemed unverifiable,” he said.

Further, Ogunbanjo noted that NIMC also shares responsibility in this process. He said the challenges often arise when telecom companies attempt to upload collected data on NIMC’s server, owing to network issues.

“These network difficulties, beyond the control of subscribers, hinder the timely completion of the registration process. NIMC’s inadequate network infrastructure exacerbates the problem. While they intend to accept data uploads, technical issues prevent them from doing so effectively.

“We urge the NCC to address NIMC’s shortcomings, improve their services, and acknowledge that meeting the deadline will be challenging given the current issues,” the president added.

Indeed, a visit by The Guardian to NIMC office and centres, including telecoms operators’ outlets showed that their facilities have been overstretched, especially now, due to the massive crowds, which besieged the centres.

It could also be said that the recent Internet outage as a result of subsea cable cuts, has also impacted the verification exercise, leading to queues and crowds at registration centres.

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