The demand by the Nigerian minister of communications and digital economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, that all of MTN’s 75 million subscribers be registered with national ID numbers might seem like the authorities in the West African country are gunning for it once again.
Although it follows MTN being told to pay $5.2 billion (R75.8 billion) in fines in 2015 – later cut to $3.2 billion – for not properly registering 5.2 million users, the SAbased operator has worked hard at repairing its relationship with the authorities in Nigeria.
This time is also somewhat different, as MTN isn’t the only one in the firing line: mobile operators across the board are affected by the demand that all 200 million mobile subscribers register their national identification number (NIN) with their SIMs by 19 January.
Nigeria extended the deadline for telecoms operators to register mobile phone users, amid concerns that unregistered SIM cards are being used by criminals and insurgents, the government said.
As part of a drive to increase the use of ID cards, the Nigerian Communications Commission announced last week that telecoms operators would be given until 30 December to block subscribers who fail to link their mobile SIM cards with their national identity numbers.
With only about 20% of people in Africa’s most populous nation carrying ID cards, the announcement was met with widespread anger across the country and industry analysts argued that the deadline was too short.
In a statement released on Monday, the ministry of communications and digital economy said the deadline was therefore being extended.
People with a valid national identification number have until 19 January to send the number to mobile operators to register their lines.
And people without a national identification number will have until 9 February to obtain one and link their mobile phones to it.
“The president urges all stakeholders to take advantage of the extension to link their SIM card with their national identification
number,” the statement said.
If MTN, Airtel, Glo Mobile and 9mobile still keep unregistered subscribers on their networks there is a chance they could lose their licences.
The NIN registration process is also extensive. It needs a special device to record all 10 fingerprints, which will then have to be
securely downloaded to the National Identity Management Commission. The process will see only four people registered per hour using one of these devices.
The Nigerian federal government is pushing hard to get control of how militant Islamist group Boko Haram raises funds and coordinates its activities.
More stringent requirements have hampered Boko Haram to such an extent that in a video in February its leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened to kill Pantami because of his efforts to enforce NIN and bank verification numbers.
In the video, Shekau told Boko Haram members to kill the minster if they had the chance.
The Boko Haram leader’s vendetta against the minister can be seen in his taunting of him in the video.
“This video message is specifically released because of one man, who thinks he is knowledgeable. I want him to archive this message and continue referring to it till his death comes. From today onward, you will continue to live in sorrow, because I, Shekau, say so.”
Shekau even mocks Pantami, who, aside from having a PhD in computer science, is also a Jumu’ah Chief Imam, for preaching
MTN should have done more
The issue around Boko Haram and banditry has come to the fore in the past few weeks, after 344 boys were kidnapped from a school in Kankara, in Katsina State.
While the boys were later released, it follows the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in 2014 – of whom about 100 have yet to be
Boko Haram, which has led a widespread campaign of violence in Nigeria’s northern states since 2002, has yet to be brought under control by the Nigerian government, resulting in thousands of deaths.
The issue is so vexing for the state that in 2016 President Muhammadu Buhari told then SA president Jacob Zuma that MTN’s laxness in addressing the improperly registered 5.2 million users helped Boko Haram.
“The concern was basically on the security and not the fine imposed on MTN,” Buhari said.
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.