Director of Public Affairs, NCC, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, said the commission is not enrolling, but the network operators working with NIMC.
There are strong indications the Federal Government, through the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), may not achieve the National Identification Number (NIN)-Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) full linkage of mobile numbers in the country in the less than four weeks remaining to February 9, from now.
Findings by NoRM showed that about 95 per cent of the 173 Agents and 30 state government/public sector institutions licensed by NIMC to conduct enrolment of all persons, including legal residents into the National Identity Database (NIDB) on behalf of the NIMC are yet to put anything in place for the exercise.
This development has further compounded the capacity of NIMC, whose 1000 enrolment centres spread across the country – inadequate to handle the process, and which necessitated the licensing of the agents – continued to witness a large daily turnout of Nigerians, who want to beat the February 9 deadline and avoid being cut off from the telephone networks.
The implication of this is that the deadline date for the completion of linkage of existing NIN with all SIM cards as directed by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami is not going to be feasible.
On December 15, 2020, the NCC, at the instance of the Minister, issued a statement ordering the suspension of the registration of new SIM cards by all Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country while at the same time giving two weeks for persons with SIM cards to link them with the NIN or risk the numbers being suspended. The deadline was later extended by five weeks.
Aside from the challenges of procuring the equipment for enrolment from offshore vendors, which could take several weeks or months due to foreign exchange scarcity, clearance from the ports could pose another potential hurdle. This is in addition to the gaps in workforce training for handlers of the new equipment, among others.
The Director-General/Chief Executive of NIMC, Aliyu Aziz, had last December explained in a statement that the agents were picked after successfully fulfilling all the conditions in the advertised expression of interest (EOI), which was done in 2019 as a first step towards the take-off of the National Digital Identity Ecosystem project.
According to the statement announcing the licensees, a breakdown of the successful licensees shows that 16 state governments were licensed, including Abia, Akwa Ibom, Gombe, Lagos, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Oyo, Ogun, Sokoto, and Zamfara states.
Prominent among the public sector institutions licensed are the NCC, the National Pension Commission, the Central Bank of Nigeria (through the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement Systems Plc), the National Population Commission, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Joint Tax Board and Nigeria Postal Services.
Other public sector organisations issued licences include the Military Pensions Board, Abuja Enterprise Agency, the Corporate Affairs Commission, the National Health Insurance Scheme, the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services and National Commission for Refugees, the Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.
The main mobile network operators in Nigeria, MTN, Airtel, Globacom, and 9mobile are among the 173 private sector organisations licensed while Etranzact, VDT Communications, the Unified Payment Services were also successful.
Findings showed that Nigeria’s digital identity project is World Bank supported. Other international funding agencies supporting the Nigeria Digital Identity Ecosystem Project are the Française de Dévelopement (AFD) and the European Union (EU). The total combined loan facility stands at $433 million.
The project was one of the five approved by the World Bank on February 18, 2020, in Washington DC, the United States.
World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, Shubham Chaudhuri, had said: “The World Bank is ramping up its support to Nigeria in its efforts to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.”
According to the World Bank Statement: “This will enable people in Nigeria, especially marginalised groups, to access welfare-enhancing services. The project will also enhance the ID system’s legal and technical safeguards to protect personal data and privacy.
Around September 2019, there were reports that the World Bank was pouring $433 million (N1.5 trillion) in support into the NIMC to boost the NIN program, to enable the agency to register close to 100 million Nigerians over the next three years.
While NIMC awaits the World Bank facility, the process, The Guardian learned has started with the licensing of the 203 agents.
The ecosystem entails that if any of the agents enroll a person, and successfully generates a NIN from the NIMC backend, and issues, such an agent gets $1 per NIN.
“It is a performance-based system. That is, the more successful NINs, the more money for the agent,” a person familiar with the matter at NIMC disclosed, adding that the loan facility does not sit at NIMC, but with the Federal Ministry of Finance, which in turn will make the payment upon confirmation by NIMC of a successful generation of NIN by a licensed agent.
BUT findings showed that most of the agents, who were meant to ease the pains of Nigerians who have no NIN but desirous to quickly enroll to link their SIM cards, are not really ready for the task four weeks to the deadline.
An official of Globacom, who preferred anonymity said, “Globacom has not started anything.”
Speaking unofficially, a senior MTN staff, said: “The equipment to be used is not just sitting anywhere before now. We will just bring them in from abroad. I can say that none of the 173 firms can say they have started anything. It must also be mentioned that the budget for it was not part of the CAPEX for last year. But to show some seriousness on our part, we have started enrolment at some of our outlets using fixed Windows devices, and you can imagine how the process will be without the real equipment.”
The MTN official also denied claims that operators have started blocking SIMs: “nobody will do that. There is an extension, moreover, blocking of SIM is revenue loss to any operator,” he stated.
Speaking on the issue, the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said there is a need to handle the matter very carefully.
“I feel so because, if the right decision is not made and information is not passed by the government and the government is led to take the wrong decision, it can destroy the good of the industry. So, at our level as a stakeholder, we are working with the government. We are on the Ministerial Committee.
“The advice to the government is, we should continue to thread with caution because telecoms today is the driver of the economy. If you put the subscribers at risk, a significant one for that matter, the risk is on the entire economy,” he stated.
Adebayo believed that such a challenge will also send wrong signals to investors and those, who may be willing to do business in Nigeria.
Of course, Adebayo said Nigeria deserves a reliable and credible national database, and the industry is committed to working with all the stakeholders to get this done.
Giving more insights on the matter, the Nigeria National Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) Olusola Teniola, reminded that the issuance of licences to these companies only happened less than four weeks ago, upon the completion of the long process leading to the issuance.
“We can work it out! When that meeting was held, they gave two weeks. We have passed two weeks, now in the first week of January, if all things being equal and there is no delay, we can consider that the equipment should be at the Port of Lagos, assuming there is a perfect situation in terms of logistic, and we also assumed that they have not been cleared. By the time they are cleared, add another week, by the time they are installed in the offices that the licensees want to use to capture, even the deadline of February 9 is at risk,” Teniola stressed.
According to him, even NIMC that has the equipment is not able to achieve the number it ought to capture in a week, “and we have COVID-19 the second wave happening right now, it reduces the capacity of capturing because you have to abide by COVID-19 guidelines, which means you have reduced a number of people you can actually capture, and with a reduced number of capturing across the country, FG will not achieve that date, logistically; we can capture the required factor, so it becomes the delaying factor. And as a delaying factor and in continuation with the policy that telcos should disconnect SIMs without NIN, there will be a huge impact on the economy. There is no sentiment in this; it is not going to work unless there is an extension.”
Adinde said from the report he gathered, NIMC on a daily basis is opening enrolment centres to fast-track the exercise.
On his part, the Head, Corporate Communications, Nigeria Postal Service (NIPOST), Frank Alao, said he was yet to get the details of the NIN exercise on the part of the organisation.
“I just resumed from leave today (yesterday). NIPOST is one of the NIN enrolment licensees. Let me find out from the Chief Operating Officer, I will get back,” he stated.