EVERYDAY, Nigerians are inundated with reports of kidnapping and other crimes. It has been established that the use of cellular phones aid these crimes. It has also been agreed that if phone users register their personal details with the service provider, it would be easier to track those who use their phones for criminal purposes.
These are good reasons to support the registration of SIM cards, the chirps that record transactions on each userâ€™s phone. Each service provider has facilities to store the data which can help security agencies during investigations.
Decisions that would enhance security are too urgent to be lost in the wrangling over the budget for registration. How would the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, use the proposed N6 billion SIM registration budget? The National Assembly should consider that rather than discarding the request.
More publicity is also needed to ensure the success of the registration exercise. At the moment, most of the registration is in the urban centres with minimal considerations for millions of residents of rural Nigeria, who use phones.
Attention to the rural areas is important as some of the crimes, especially kidnapping, find havens in the remoteness of the areas.
Some roadside kiosks offering telephone services are putting up notices claiming they register SIM cards. Should such sensitive exercise with all its security implications be entrusted to just anyone?
Why is the sale of new SIM cards going on without registration? This exercise is too serious to be conducted in a haphazard manner. There are interests who would not want registration of SIM cards, some of them have agenda different from protecting the nation from criminal use of telephone services.
The comparisons about the duration of the exercise in Ghana, with a smaller phone user population should be of little concern to Nigerians. Ghana does not suffer from the types of crimes that have become popular in Nigeria with mass access to GSM phones.
How much are we willing to pay to stop crimes? How much does each crime cost us? These imperatives weigh against any hesitations on registration of SIM cards. Instead of the wholesale rejection of the N6 billion NCC says it requires for the registration, the National Assembly should invest more interest in this exercise for its security implications. It can trim the budget, but the exercise deserves a lot of support from the National Assembly.
One area that the National Assembly should move quickly is the enactment of a law on access to the information being generated, its storage, and penalties for abusing it. Personal information of this magnitude should not be left in the hands of telecommunications companies â€“ most of them foreign â€“ without a thought spared for the security implications.
Criminals would not relent, but the law and security agencies have to be steps ahead of them. If we are registering SIM cards to minimise crimes, we cannot at the same time leave vital information unprotected and available to the same criminals.
Government and its agencies have to be more relentless in the battle against crimes. SIM card registration is a great opportunity in this direction â€“ we should use it effectively.