By ADEDEJI FAKOREDE
THE directive by the Nigerian Communications Commission on the deactivation of mobile phone SIMs is causing disruptions for subscribers and operators even though it is for the common good.
When the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) first conceived the idea to issue a directive to all telecoms operators to deactivate all SIM cards on their networks that were either pre-registered, improperly registered, or did not undergo complete registration, it probably did not envisage the enormous pains and distractions it would bring to subscribers and operators.
Although the intent and purpose of the NCC’s directive were based on matters of national security and structure, the aftermath appears too weighty on subscribers and the operators who are now going through pains in order to comply with the directive.
NCC had recently directed all telecoms operators to commence deactivation of pre-registered SIM cards, improperly registered SIM cards, incomplete registered SIM cards, and gave them seven days to do so or face sanction. The directive, it was gathered, was the fallout of a meeting between office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Department of State Service (DSS), the network operators and the NCC
The meeting attributed crimes committed against members of the public either by kidnappers, terrorists, robbers and threats to lives, to the use of pre-registered SIM cards, improperly registered SIM cards and incomplete SIM card registration across all networks.
The meeting resolved that going forward; all registrations must conform to the data dictionary, technical specifications on finger prints and facial images and the business rule agreed by all stakeholders. All registration records must be validated before sending to the Commission, thus eliminating all invalid records that do not conform to new registrations and indicate same in the monthly reports sent to the Commission.
The meeting also resolved that operators would be held liable for cases of pre-registered SIMs. According to NCC, at the completion of the SIM card registration, which started in 2010, more than 120 million SIM cards were registered and transmitted to the central database by the operators. However, the NCC lamented that out of the number, 45 per cent of the SIM cards, amounting to 54 million SIM cards, were deemed invalid for reasons of invalid portrait image, invalid fingerprints, and incorrect/inaccurate demographic data such as name, address, among others.
At the expiration of the seven days ultimatum given to all telecoms operators to deactivate defaulting SIM cards on their networks, which ended August 11, 2015, NCC commenced monitoring for compliance, and warned that any operator found wanting, shall be sanctioned. In keeping to its words, the monitoring, enforcement and compliance team of NCC, led by Mr. Efosa Idehen, monitored all networks, without further notice to the operators and found all the four GSM operators, wanting.
According to Idehen, the monitoring team discovered 37 pre-registered SIM cards on the Globacom network, 35 pre-registered SIM cards on the Etisalat network, 19 per-registered SIM cards on the Airtel network, and 109 pre-registered SIM cards on the MTN network. It also discovered additional 402 incomplete and improperly registered SIM cards on the MTN network.
The situation has become more frustrating and hectic for subscribers because they have to wait in long queues to re-register their SIM cards that they had hitherto registered under pains of long wait. Subscribers were told at that time, that the registration was okay, only for them to be asked recently, to re-register the same SIM, after it was barred by the network operators.
The most worrisome of it is that Nigeria is a multi-SIM country, where a single subscriber has more than one registered SIM card for voice communication alone. Some even have up to three registered SIM cards for voice calls only, and several other registered SIM cards for data communication. It therefore becomes a major challenge for an individual to go to all the operators’ customer care centres and experience centres, to face the same challenge of SIM card registration.
Some subscribers have even threatened to challenge telecoms operators in court over the untold hardships they are facing to re-register their SIM cards, which had hitherto been registered. They complained that it’s all waste of time and a big stress on their part to queue for another round of SIM registration, for a fault they said is not theirs.
Some subscribers said they would rather stick to the SIM card that was not barred by the telecoms operators, rather than going to face the stress of retrieving the SIM cards that were deactivated. The implication of this, according to telecoms operators, is that they will lose some of their high value customers who may not want to stress themselves to validate their SIM cards, especially those who still have one or two of their multiple SIMs, still active on the operators’ network. Such fear of loss of subscribers may be highly noticeable with the MTN network, which is the largest network in the country, having over 61 million subscribers, out of the combined 150 million subscribers on the MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat networks.
For instance, the recent combined fine of N120.4 million imposed on telecoms operators by NCC, for failure to deactivate SIM cards that were pre-registered, improperly registered and with incomplete registration, MTN alone was fined N102.2 million.
Apart from the fear of losing subscribers across networks, the operators are also battling to address the unprecedented crowd of people that throng to their centres on a daily basis, since the mass deactivation exercise was carried out by the telecoms operators, in line with the NCC’s directive.