The latest on the National Identification Number is that the Federal Government has extended the deadline for the registration, verification and linkage of the National Identity Number (NIN) to Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) cards by another one month.
The deadline was to be two days ago – Tuesday, April 6, 2021. The implication of the latest extension is that Nigerians, who are yet to complete the NIN-SIM registration, now have up till May 6 to carry out so; failure to carry out the linkage may mean the SIM card will be blocked.
This is not the first time the government is extending the deadline. In fact, if there is any project you can hazard an extension to, it is NIN registration and linkage with SIM. It has been an ‘on and off’ matter.
In fact, it is getting more and more confusing because before the one-month extension by the Federal Government, a Federal High Court in Lagos had ordered the same government to extend the deadline for the compulsory registration of telephone subscribers for NIN by two months.
So which is which? Is the government disobeying the court order? Or were they already thinking of an extension before the court came into the fray?
On Friday in a joint statement signed by the Director of Public Affairs at the National Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde and the Head of Corporate Communications, National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Mr. Kayode Adegoke, the government confirmed that more than 51 million Nigerians have been assigned NINs.
And from the updates of the NIN-registration process, many more people have enrolled and are in the process of being assigned NINs. With each person possessing an average of three to four SIMs, the total number of SIMs tied to NINs would be close to the total number of registered SIMs in the country.
Currently, the monthly number of enrollments has increased significantly to about 2.6 million. The government agencies also said they have increased the number of enrolment centres across the country, with about 3,800 centres now available for enrollment and more centres are due to open to increase the enrolment capacity.
A week before the government announced the one-month extension, Justice Maureen Onyetenu of the Federal High Court in Lagos had ordered that the deadline for the compulsory registration of telephone subscribers for the National Identity Number (NIN) be extended by two months.
Justice Onyetenu gave the directive while delivering judgment in a suit filed by a lawyer, Mr. Monday Ubani, against the federal government, the Attorney General of the Federation, Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC and the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy.
Mr. Ubani had requested the court for the order, arguing that the initial two weeks ultimatum (now extended to April 6, 2021) given to telecommunication operators to block SIM Cards of Nigerians who have not registered their SIM Card with NIN, if allowed, will infringe on his constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression, right to own moveable property and right to life.
He also asked the court for an order halting the said ultimatum and extending the deadline, praying the court for a declaration that the ultimatum given to telecommunications operators by the 1st 3rd and 4th Respondents to block all SIM cards that are not registered with NIN, is grossly inadequate and will not only work severe hardship, but will likely infringe on the fundamental rights of the Applicant (and millions of other Nigerians) to freedom of expression as guaranteed by section 39(1)(2) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as violate section 44(1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which prohibits the compulsory acquisition of right or interest over moveable property.
The suit also sought a declaration that in view of the Covid-19 pandemic and the rising cases in Nigeria presently, the deadline given by the 1st, 3rd and 4th Respondents to the Applicant and over 200 million Nigerians to register their SIM Cards with NIN, will lead to a rush, thereby resulting to clustering of the Applicant and other Nigerian citizens in a NIN registration centre, subjecting them to the possibility of easily contracting the COVID-19, and such will amount to a violation of their fundamental right to life as protected by section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
In her judgment, Justice Onyetenu granted all the applications as prayed. This judgment seems to extend the deadline to June while the government’s extension ends on 6th May. So, there is some confusion there already.
Meanwhile, these extensions also carry along with them the ban on telecommunications companies from selling or even swapping SIMs, replacing lost or stolen SIMs.
This means that you are still on your own if your phone is stolen or you have purchased a latest model phone that requires you to change the SIM, e.g. from Micro to Nano SIM. I am still waiting to perform a SIM swap to a new phone and have been waiting since January. What about foreigners or Nigerians who are visiting and did not have a SIM card before now? My nephew who fell into this category had to first use his foreign phone number when he arrived, until someone borrowed him a spare SIM.
In the midst of all this is also the inability of some Telcos to link some NINs to SIMS. While one of my SIMS has been linked, two other networks say they cannot link. I have told them I will only keep the SIM which has been linked and throw away the other two after deadline day, unless they perform their duties and do whatever is necessary to link the other two SIMS. I am sure there are many other subscribers in this boat, so wait, we wait!
Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.