President Muhammadu Buhari first gave the directive to integrate the National Identification Number (NIN) and the Subscribers’ Identification Module (SIM) way back in December 2020. The security situation then, though at levels that were considered unacceptable, is not as horrifying as it is today. The linkage policy was part of the desperate measures put in place to check the spates of insecurity in the country. The deadline for compliance had been extended a number of times partly because of the sheer volume of the subscriber base in the country. At that time, most subscribers responded to and complied with notifications by service providers that the exercise could be carried out online, real time.
The present deadline of April 4, by the President, which empowered the service providers to restrict outgoing calls on unlinked mobile lines, has revealed the incompetence of the service providers which may explain why, in spite of government’s efforts, the intendment of the exercise which is to track and neutralise terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other criminal elements is yet to make any reasonable impact.
A visit to the offices of the service providers revealed that, all along, they have not made any effort, no matter how feeble, to implement the directive, that is to say, link the SIMs to the NIN of most subscribers who diligently complied with the directive when it was earlier issued.
These subscribers who had relaxed believing that their online linkage was effective found out to their embarrassment that there was no record of such exercise in the books of these subscribers. They had to go through that process again. Even then, the offices of one of the service providers visited by our team of reporters, also exposed this deliberate act to sabotage the exercise by these providers. The excuse has been and still is, that their system is down making it inevitable for subscribers to bear the inconvenience of going to their offices in person when attempts to do it online failed. That is not the only worry, for those who were attended to, more than 24 hours later, have not been able to reconnect their lines.
Previously on this page, we had argued that most of the criminals harassing the daylight out of hapless Nigerians do so with their phones and other telecommunication gadgets that can easily be traced if they were actually registered and or linked. We recall that the government had to, at a point, penalise some service providers who wantonly allowed unregistered SIMs to be used on their platforms.
As a newspaper, we condemn this indiscipline on the part of these service providers who knowingly flout government directives because they know that they can get away with it. It is even worse that the government has to, on a number of occasions, succumb to this obvious act of blackmail by shifting the deadline until the recent dastardly acts of terrorism in Kaduna and elsewhere that elicited justified outcry from Nigerians who feel so distraught by the dare-devilry of the criminals.
We join other Nigerians in pointing out that terrorism has become a multi-billion Naira industry in the country with powerfully connected persons who are spread across the social and military strata leading the charge. The authorities, themselves have, on several occasions, informed Nigerians that they know those behind the crimes and their locations. Still, these enemies of decent society manage to escape the long arm of the law because of who they pretend to be and the leverage they claim to have on the society which unfortunately makes them believe that they can get away with their malfeasance. And they are getting away with them. The perception by experts is that the criminals have the resources to infiltrate the telecommunication service providers and make it near impossible to track those criminal elements down.
It is for this reason that we are compelled to call on government to also monitor these service providers who may, even if unofficially, yield to the allure of easy money as is available to the criminals and their sponsors.
The state of insecurity in the country presently demands that no proverbial stone ought to be left unturned in the effort to cleanse the society of undesirable elements and give the average citizen the peace of mind they crave for. We must not forget that some of the service providers have huge foreign investment portfolios from countries that may have reasons not to wish Nigeria well.
It is from this perspective that we consider it pertinent that the security agencies should see the need to monitor the flow of resources within these telecommunication companies. More importantly, who the promoters are and their political and international connections that are capable of being injurious to the overall interest of Nigeria. These, we insist, are desperate times that require desperate measures including stepping on sensitive toes even if they have diplomatic implications.