Immediately I read the report on December 15 that the federal government had ordered all telecommunication service providers to instruct their subscribers to link their National Identification Numbers (NIN) with their SIM cards within two weeks or risk blockage of their cards, I laughed.
This was with the conviction that certainly, the development would benefit some corrupt officials.
“Operators to require ALL their subscribers to provide a valid National Identification Number (NIN) to update SIM registration records. The submission of NIN by subscribers to take place within two weeks (from today December 16, 2020 and end by 30 December, 2020). After the deadline, ALL SIMs without NINs are to be blocked from the networks,” part of the resolutions reached at a meeting between the minister of communication, Isa Pantami and concerned parties in the communication industry, read.
The announcement, however, triggered outrage on social media, with many civil society organisations threatening to sue the federal government for ordering the integration of SIM cards with NIN.
While members of the House of Representatives urged the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to extend its ultimatum to block phone numbers without NIN by 10 weeks, the director-general of the National Identity Management Commission, (NIMC), Aliyu Abubakar, told PREMIUM TIMES last Friday there may be no extension for the announced deadline.
“Right now, the way it is, there is no extension. We should not be complaining, rather we should see how it can be done. It is until after 10 to 12 days then we will see how far it has gone before we beg the government for anything,” he said.
The government has since extended the deadline by at least three weeks.
The corrupt practices
Following the announcement, many individuals, who ordinarily would not have taken the enrollment seriously, trooped out to visit nearby NIMC registration centres, to avoid losing their SIM cards.
One of such people is Remi Olokooba, who left his house in Oke Yidi to Ife East Local Government Area office in Modakeke around 7:00 a.m. on December 16, to carry out the registration. She explained to PREMIUM TIMES that upon getting to the office, a NIMC official requested for N100 each from the over 50 people she met at the centre.
The donation, PREMIUM TIMES gathered, was to buy petrol to fuel the generator that will be used for registration at the centre.
“Immediately we got to the centre, an official gave us an A4 paper to write our name in accordance to how we arrived. He also told us that we will pay N100 each to fuel the generator and we all paid,” she narrated.
She told PREMIUM TIMES that after spending five hours at the office, she was able to get her enrollment done and asked to come back for her NIN slip two days after.
Unlike in Modakeke where enrollees paid for petrol, those who visited the enrollment centre at The Polytechnic in Parakin, Ile-Ife, told PREMIUM TIMES that they paid N500 each last Friday to fast track the collection of their slip.
One of them, a lady, who did not want her name disclosed, said that “I ought to have done this thing long ago but haven’t been chanced. So, when I came here last Friday, we were told to pay N100 for fuel, N200 for capturing and also N200 for NIN slip printout.
“I was told to come back today to get the slip and that’s why I am here today. You can see the crowd is too much. The best you can do is to allow me to help you speak with one of the officials who will help you. I think that’s the best thing for you because you look very busy or do you want to stay?”
As the lady bragged about knowing her way, I saw an elderly man in his 60s, who claimed to have visited the NIMC centre three different times but was not attended to. Swiftly the lady intercepted saying: “Baba, you could have spoken with them and pay now.”
With N1000, anybody willing to get captured and get his NIN slip in less than two hours can achieve that. Confirming this to PREMIUM TIMES, Segun Arowolo, who paid before my arrival to the centre, told me he was waiting to get his slip.
“I made N1000 payment for both capturing and NIN slip printout. Even though the government said the enrollment is free, I prefer to pay the money than staying under the sun and then asked to come back again. I will advise you that if you have the money, just pay,” he told me.
My personal experience
Following the accounts I garnered from many enrollees, who alleged corrupt practices, I decided to disguise as one of those seeking to enroll for NIN at Ife East Area office in Modakeke on Monday, and my personal experience showed the corruption in the system.
On getting to the area office, I told one of the young men with a familiar face that I wanted to enroll for NIN and I would want it fast tracked. Upon listening to me, he directed me to meet with an official of NIMC regarded as D’one in the office.
For 15 minutes, I could not see Mr D’one because he was attending to people like me who wanted to bypass the system. By the time he arrived, he came with two men who were appreciating him for his kind gesture. They all smiled.
He looked into my eyes and asked if I would love to see him and responded swiftly saying “Yes Sir”. Mr D’one then took me alongside three other young men behind the building where we started bargaining.
In my presence, I saw he received a N1,000 note from a young man who claimed he wanted to use the NIN in his bank. After explaining my busy schedule to Mr D’one, he agreed to help me at the expense of persons who had long been on the queue.
He said “if you are to write your name down for proper enrollment, you may not be attended to today. It may even be next week because people get to this centre as early as 4:00 a.m. to write their names down.
“I will help you and ensure you have everything ready today. It will cost you N1,000 and I have done for like 12 people today. If you agree to pay, I will take you inside now and you will be captured immediately.”
Since I have acquired my NIN long before now, I had to play smart one on Mr D’one by telling him I needed to visit the ATM to withdraw but I never returned. Before I left, a family of three were given original NIN slips immediately and they ‘appreciated’ Mr D’one for the job well done.
Row over registration
There have been controversies since the federal government made the order as several civil society organisations called on the NCC to stop its plan to block SIM cards of Nigerians who are yet to register for NIN.
Already, Paradigm Initiative and Digital Rights Lawyers Initiative have asked the Federal High Court in Lagos to stop NCC from blocking SIM cards not linked with NINs by network operators.
The groups want a perpetual injunction restraining Mr Pantami and four network operators from implementing the directive on NIN.
The suit, filed on Thursday, according to The Nation newspaper, is marked FHC/LS/CS/1823/2020. They claim the federal government’s action will likely interfere with the right to freedom of expression of citizens.
SERAP has also called on the government not to proceed with the plan as only about 41.5 million Nigerians out of an estimated 198 million active phone subscribers have NIN.
Meanwhile, PREMIUM TIMES‘ efforts to reach the director general of NIMC, Mr Abubakar, on concerns noted, were unsuccessful as he did not respond to repeated calls, neither did he reply the text message sent to him.
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