• Monday, April 15, 2024
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BusinessDay

Uncertainty over SIM-NIN linkage as deadline nears

SIM-NIN deadline: Why your telephone line may stop working after July 31

The fate of many telecommunication subscribers hangs in the balance following a court ruling restraining telecom providers from implementing a directive by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that mandated them to bar telephone lines without National Identity Numbers (NIN) on or before February 28.

In the ruling by Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa of the Federal High Court in Lagos, telecom operators were restrained from deactivating or barring any line or SIM not linked to their NINs following an application filed by a Lagos-based lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje.

Ogungbeje filed a suit against MTN Nigeria when his SIMs were barred in April 2022, and the court, at the time, dismissed his suit for lack of merit. He later filed an appeal, pending at the court of appeal.

Ogungbeje has now asked the court for an injunction pending his appeal to restrain all the respondents (Federal Government of Nigeria, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; MTN Nigeria Communications Plc and Airtel Networks Nigeria Limited) from further outright barring, deactivating and or restricting any SIM cards or phone lines on Feb. 28, 2024, or any other scheduled date, pending the hearing and determination of his appeal at the Court of Appeal of Nigeria.

Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa granted the lawyer’s request and restrained the telecommunications companies (telcos). The justice also ruled that his order subsists till the hearing and determination of the appeal filed by the lawyer.

This ruling has cast a shadow over the NCC’s directive, particularly for MTN and Airtel subscribers. The NCC, in a December 2023 notice, asked telcos to bar SIMs that have not submitted their NINs by February 28, 2024, bar those whose NINs have been submitted but not verified by March 29, 2024, and bar those who have less than five lines linked to an unverified NIN by April 15, 2024.

According to Reuben Mouka, director of public affairs at NCC, the commission is not one of the parties to the case. He also noted that once the court has restrained an operator, there is nothing the regulator can do.

“Nonetheless, if a law court restrains an operator, what can we do…There may be an official position from us soon. Our management will look at this, and we may say something,” he said.

Sources in MTN and Airtel said the telcos would obey the court order. One source, however, said the ruling does not cover every subscriber, as some might still get blocked. On Monday, telecom subscribers asked the Federal Government for an extension for SIM-NIN linkage.

Adeolu Ogunbanjo, president of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers, disclosed to BusinessDay that a one-month extension will ensure more people can get their NINs and link their SIMs before the deadline.

“We want them to extend the deadline to March 31. There are still queues at NIMC centres. These centres are trying, but they can’t attend to everyone,” he said.

If the deadline stands, millions of subscribers will be affected.

The NCC’s directive to restrict outgoing calls in April 2022 affected over 72.77 million active mobile subscriptions. About 125 million lines had been linked to NINs out of a total of 197.77 million active lines. Also, there were over 78 million unique NINs then.

Since then, the National Identity Management Commission has not updated the number of SIMs linked to a NIN. The number of unique NINs grew to over 104 million as of December 2023, and total active lines rose to 224.41 million as of the same period.