The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) says it is about to begin another compliance audit of all Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) registration database of all Mobile Network Operator (MNO) platforms in the country.
The Commission said it would be the second phase of its ongoing audit of SIM registration data and registration processes across all the mobile platforms which began in 2011.
The mobile network operators in the country include MTN Nigeria Communications Plc, Airtel Nigeria, Globacom Nigeria Plc, 9Mobile, and Mtel.
According to the NCC, the audit was initiated specifically to monitor operators’ strict adherence to the technical and other specifications for subscribers’ registration.
The specifications are prescribed in the Telephone Subscribers Registration Regulations and the Technical Standards and Specifications issued by the Commission in 2011.
The Commission, however, said the audit was without prejudice to the ongoing “backend verification and scrubbing” of SIM registration data already submitted to the Commission by telecom operators
A sensitive exercise
The Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Umar Danbatta, said in a statement on Tuesday in Abuja that the NCC considers the latest audit as “very sensitive”, in view of the importance of the information to security and law enforcement in the country.
“The Subscriber Registration Database is a veritable tool being used by Security and Law Enforcement Agencies in the detection and apprehension of criminal elements involved in heinous crimes like kidnapping, financial crimes, armed robberies, banditry, cattle rustling and other crimes,” the NCC boss said.
“The security operatives can leverage on easy access to the national telecoms network. As such, we (NCC) are determined to continue to ensure all SIM cards are traceable to their real owners with the least effort,” he added.
Also, the EVC said the verification exercise is a continuation of the NCC’s regulatory interventions to ensure a clean and credible SIM registration database.
According to him, the exercise began with the enactment of the Subscriber Registration Regulations and registration specifications in 2011.
Following the initial audit, all telecom operators found to have issues with the SIMs on their networks were in 2013 directed to disconnect them or face regulatory sanctions.
At the end of the August 2015 extension deadline approved for the operators to ensure full compliance, the MTN was found to have failed to disconnect over 5,000 SIMs considered not fully compliant with registration requirements.
The company was sanctioned and fined N1.04trillion for regulatory violations. The fine was however reduced to N330billon following the intervention of the Presidency.
SIM Registration Task Force
Since 2015, the NCC continued with the exercise with the setting up of a SIM Registration Task Force in 2017 to further harmonize registration practices across all networks.
The registration led to the recent establishment of a joint Industry Working Group, comprising of senior representatives of the NCC, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), and MNOs.
That working group was mandated to harmonise the subscriber registration process with the National Identity Card Registration Project.
At the moment, the NCC said the verification and scrubbing of SIM Registration data are ongoing. SIM scrubbing refers to the process of verifying biometric and personal information submitted by all operators in respect of each of their subscribers.
The exercise is to ensure the integrity of data submitted to the NIMC by the telecom operators, before feeding the cleaned-up data to the central database warehoused by the national identity agency.
“The audit is a natural next step to ensure that not only is the data already submitted fully compliant but that operators maintain the highest standards of registration practices across all their touch-points so that the subscriber data they are collecting continues to serve the national security and other interests for which subscriber registration was mandated”, Mr Danbatta said.
“Our objectives are to carry our quality assurance on the integrity of all aspects of the subscriber registration process and to demonstrate zero tolerance for any deviation from laid-down processes by any industry player, no matter how seemingly minor.
“Our expectations are very high indeed, considering the national security and socio-economic implications of the Subscriber Registration Database,” the EVC said.
He said the verification and audits are in line with global best practice, assuring that during the audit, there would be no disruption of service to law-abiding consumers who have duly registered their SIMs.
Mr Danbatta stressed that the NCC was determined to pursue the national interest objectives of delivering a credible database of telecoms subscribers in Nigeria.