The federal government’s decision to suspend the sales of new SIM cards has left many Nigerians without livelihoods, as it has forced small businesses that worked as agents for big telecom firms to either shut down or scale back on their activities.
Business owners and traders who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES said the decision has affected their revenue badly over the last two months and has made them cut their staff strength.
The federal government had last December ordered the suspension of the sales and activation of new SIM cards across all phone networks in the country as it directed Nigerians to quickly connect their phone lines to their National Identification Numbers (NIN).
The suspension was expected to last till the completion of the NIN registration, initially scheduled for early January. But with the deadlines repeatedly shifted as many Nigerians criticised the government for not making adequate provisions to handle crowds seeking physical registration at a time of a pandemic, small businesses that serve as intermediaries for telecom firms have taken the hit.
Last week, the government extended the deadline for linking the two ID numbers to April. In the meantime, the continued suspension of SIM sales has prevented connect stores and all affiliated retail and trade outlets of telecommunications companies from doing business.
A government spokesperson told PREMIUM TIMES the negative impact on businesses was a “sacrifice” not too big for small businesses to make for the country.
Business owners lament
Kalu Chukwu, the managing director of K.C and Sons International at Wuse market, Abuja, who has been in the business of selling and registering SIM cards for several years, said his revenue fell after the suspension order came into effect in December 2020.
“Before, on a monthly basis, they normally give us some stipend as an incentive for doing that work. At the same time some of the SIM we sell, we make small, small profits from selling those SIMs. Today we are no longer doing it anymore,” Mr Chukwu told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Some of us have 10 to 15 staffs; we just give them the SIM cards they go out to do registration, but at the moment, they are not doing that again, they are at home, they can’t come out; if they come out, what are they coming to do?
“The whole thing came all of a sudden, and they (staff) don’t have any place to go anymore, some of us were kind enough to even extend their stay till January. We were able to pay the December salary.
“Even when we did not do any work in December to keep them going but the whole thing came to a point that we cannot continue and they were laid off,” he said.
Ugo Tochukwu, another agent at Wuse market, narrated his experience.
“Like before I used to make up to N4,000 to N5,000 a day and when you minus your expenses and your staff eat at the end of the day you must hold up to N3,000 but now even N100 I don’t get,” he said.
He urged the government to help remedy the situation.
“We are pleading on them, although they are doing the right thing at the wrong time,” he said. “If they want to do it, they should have given a provision of how to get all those things done and people will still be in business.”
Inosha Endurance, another trader in the same market said, “it has been difficult for me and my family since this suspension order because that’s what I used in feeding my family.
“Since this suspension order, life has not been very easy for me, I don’t know for others. I have nothing now.
“Before I know how much I make daily, I can boldly tell you, I make up to N6,000.
He added: “This stoppage of SIM registration took us unawares; I woke up in the morning and I came out to arrange my table, as usual, all of a sudden I just heard an announcement that we have to stop SIM registration for now and there is no fixed date, no signal, nothing at all and since then I have been out of a job.
“I am also appealing to the government that instead of this suspension, they should find a way to do it so that when we are registering the new SIM cards for customers we can also be helping link the SIM with their NIN so that we can also return to business.”
The manager of MTN office Lugbe connect, Abuja, who gave his name as Mr Kingsley, said it was unfortunate that the decision affected small businesses.
“I think what the government is trying to achieve in terms of the SIM suspension is that they want to take us back to the era of BVN whereby we can use our national ID card to link basically everything in terms of security-wise, tracking any criminal act.
“But as for the business, the truth is that it has affected those small scale businesses, their devices have been retrieved from them so that it can be upgraded.
“The devices will be returned to them but pending the time the upgrade is done and that is when they will return to business,” he added.
David Osunko at Banex Plaza, Wuse II, Abuja, said: “Before now, I usually make like N2,000 to N5,000 a day on SIM registration but now nothing at all.
“We need the government to do something about it, I want them to just help us out, lift this ban so that if somebody wants to buy SIM card the person will come with their national ID cards, we can register the person and link it but stopping us doing our business is affecting us,” he said.
Another agent at the market, Magi Monday, a university graduate, said “Over the month that this has been stopped, surviving is very difficult for me because that’s the only way I earn little money and the way I survive is by when I register SIM I get paid. But ever since they stopped registration feeding is becoming difficult.
“I get paid at the end of the month and in a day I have daily earnings of probably N1500 to N2000; sometimes it depends though.
“I entered into this business for like three years now but since the government stopped the registration, there has been no other source of income again.
“When you accumulate the money I get from other networks I get roughly N30,000 at the end of the month, but ever since the stoppage nothing is coming in,” he lamented.
Also speaking, Idris Abu, another agent, who does SIM registration and installs apps on phones, said before the suspension, he could raise up to N3000 a day but now it is difficult to raise N1000.
“2 million out of jobs”
In December last year, Hassan Yakubu, the president of Arewa Telecom Operators Agents and SIM card Dealers Association, said that about 2 million Nigerian youth have been rendered jobless by the recent suspension of sales, registration and activation of SIM cards.
“We were aware of the federal government’s intention to address security challenges through linkages of National Identity Number (NIN) with mobile numbers and suspension of new SIM cards registration,” he was quoted by The Nation as saying. “Rendering 2 million youth jobless might worsen the security challenges in the country.”
On Tuesday, the publisher of Ovation magazine, Dele Momodu, tweeted on the same subject, expressing his concerns.
“How can a country shut down economic activities for months by banning the sale of new sim cards for voice and data because of a mere NIN registration!! Why are we so unreasonably cruel in a country with an army of unemployed youths….we need deliverance,” he queried.
Reached by PREMIUM TIMES, Ikechukwu Adindu, the spokesperson for the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, said, “You understand that this NIN SIM linking is a major national project, so those of them you just mentioned are not the only ones who have been affected.”
“There are people who also came into the country they desire to have a SIM, there are people who have never had a SIM before, they also desire to have a SIM. All of that is pending until this exercise is over then a framework will be released for new SIM registration,” he said.
“The whole idea is we want to conclude this process and be able to achieve the desired objective, we do not think that is too much of a sacrifice. Some of these sacrifices are important because of how crucial the project is to our national interest.
“It has a deadline, not something that will continue indefinitely. The sacrifices are necessary because of the overriding importance of this SIM registration project,” he added.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...