The Minister of Communications, Isa Pantami has explained how the ministry intends to address the security implications of unregistered, pre-registered and semi-registered SIM cards in Nigeria.
The minister spoke on Thursday when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Communications in Abuja.
Mr Pantami was only recently appointed as the communications minister. He said upon his resumption in the office, he immediately directed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to look into the implications of crimes being committed in Nigeria as SIM cards were involved either in the process of coordination or execution.
He said one of his goals is to use ICT to promote the security of Nigeria but that ICT “was being used to compromise the security of Nigeria because people planning to make any attack or robbery, usually coordinate using SIM cards.”
He said when Nigerians are kidnapped, people negotiate what to be paid, using SIM cards – an act that should not be tolerated.
“So I ask them immediately to go and begin or conclude audit exercise. Without audit exercise, we will not be able to know the total number of unregistered/pre-registered SIM cards.
“That figure was not available by the time I joined the Ministry and I gave them only one week to conclude that audit exercise. The did so and they came forward with around 9.2million pre-registered, unregistered or partially registered SIMs. With this number, definitely, it was difficult for us to curtail any crime committed in the country.
“So I gave them another two weeks to announce to all Nigerians to come forward and conclude their registration. If it is incomplete, you have two weeks to complete. If it is preregistered, you need to come forward and present your biodata and all the information required to complete it.
“After that period the number was reduced to 2.4million. Then that 2.4million I gave them another one week and I said by 25th of September 2019, you should make sure that there is no unregistered, preregistered or partially registered SIM on our networks in Nigeria. All these 2.4million should either be blocked or deactivated,” he explained.
Whoever comes forward to present the necessary information then you can activate, deactivate or de-block his number, he said.
Mr Pantami said having received a report that there was no unregistered or pre-registered SIM being used in Nigeria, he forwarded a letter directing the NCC and security agencies to inform the ministry whenever a crime is committed, in which SIM is involved.
“I will give you the number used to commit the crime and you have only 60 minutes to produce the details and information with regards to that.
“And if you fail to do that, definitely the operators must be sanctioned. Because this has been the agreement with them. And I will not tolerate that henceforth,” he said.
He said to date, there has been no information contrary to the directives given.
USSD Bank charges
The minister also addressed the plan by mobile operators to tax mobile users for mobile bank transactions.
To this regard, he ordered the NCC to put it on hold because, based on Federal Government directives, any change of major policy needs the approval of the President.
“Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) which was announced by one of the mobile network operators to start charging Nigerians – their network users whenever they partake in checking their accounts.
“One of the directives I have given to all the heads of parastatals under my ministry that whenever you want to come up with any policy, even if you feel the policy is legitimate and legal, there is a need for us to seek the consent of Mr President on that policy.
“And that secondly, certain policies require creating awareness of what is going to happen. But for people to just wake up in the morning and see a new policy where their money is going to be deducted, I think it was a wrong decision,” he said.
He also said as at Wednesday, they announced its cancellation because there was no justification given to him when he contacted the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“If banks are willing to deduct, they may wish to go ahead and do so from the accounts of their customers. But in the situation where you asked mobile operators to do, banks are trying to maintain their own good relationships with their customers while destroying the relationship of a mobile operator.”
The NCC has also been directed to investigate illegal charges by mobile operators.
The minister said protecting the interest of Nigerians will be his priority.