Mobile Week with GSM

September 7, 2011

Who is afraid of SIM card registration?

Asks Reuben Muoka

It would really be a surprise to see any Nigerian who would not want his SIM card registered in the ongoing SIM card registration exercise across the country. This is simply because the benefits simply outweigh any reason do otherwise.

Now that we can safely assume that Nigerian user of phone services knows about the exercise, the obligation to register before the closing date of September 28, 2011, has mounted. One would imagine that those who are yet to register may be waiting for the habitual last minute rush!

The only person who should be afraid of SIM registration, naturally, is the criminally minded who knows that his days are numbered after all existing SIM Cards are registered.

We may begin to imagine how the criminally minded would be responding to the registration from their then, and probably asking each other about what future holds in a situation that phones may no longer be available for their nefarious activities.

Surprisingly, there are some public commentators, newspaper columnists, and authors of editorial comments who get carried away about their superior sense of reasoning above majority of Nigerians, that they have ended up overreaching their arguments, and in the process, presenting themselves as spokesmen of those who should naturally, be afraid of SIM registration.

One school of thought presented by the pessimists is that the collection of biometrics data for the purpose may well not be permissible in the Nigerian laws.

For the avoidance of doubts, there are three different statutes providing canopy for this exercise. While the fundamental laws are contained in the Nigerian Communication Act 2003, as it relates to management and assignment of frequency spectrum and numbering plan used in the country, another is contained in the regulation already enacted for the purpose of SIM registration and has ample provision to cover all aspects of the exercise.

The third law that backs up the exercise is as implied in the passage of the NCC budget 2011 into law by the National Assembly, and assented to by Mr. President.

The line of argument about the existence of appropriate laws, and the efficacy of biometric data collection for effective crime prevention, resolution and prosecution, may sound very good in the ears of the criminal who may take this as having an escape route.

But even in the most advanced parts of the world, biometric data has become the easiest way to arrest criminals because of its uniqueness to each individual.

Another argument from yet another school of thought questions the role of the regulator in the implementation process as this is a job left to the operators in other jurisdictions.

This argument, in most cases, questions the rationale in the budget provision of N6.1 billion for the implementation of SIM registration which ought to have been a cost to the service providers.

The emotive nature of this argument, especially when the amount involved is mentioned, most times tends to overshadow the logical reasoning behind the involvement of the telecom regulator in the case of Nigeria.

This school of thought pretends that the Commission is unaware about how SIM registration is carried out in other countries. It therefore plays down the critical factor that brought the Commission to the point where it must play some critical roles that underline the success of the exercise in Nigeria.

Apart from the fact that available laws in Nigeria permit the Nigerian regulator to manage SIM registration, the country also presents a unique attention as one without existing citizenship register that contain all the necessary information about all the citizens that the operators would have simply relied upon for such registration.

Another Nigerian law also forbids the telecom regulators to keep the biometric information of Nigerian citizens which inevitably confers on the telecom regulator the responsibility to take control of such data arising from SIM registration for transfer to the appropriate institution permitted by law to hold such sensitive data.

The most compelling involvement of the regulator stems from the urgency demanded by the security agencies in Nigeria for an effective register of all SIM card holders in Nigeria in the face of a submission by the service providers that it will take a little less than four years for such process to be completed if left to them.

A nation in the precipice of security challenges arising from the use of SIM cards cannot afford three and half years to complete SIM registration of existing subscribes in the network.

All the relevant experts in the professionally diverse of fields of SIM registration, including all the relevant stakeholders, including the relevant Committees of the National Assembly, all the stakeholders, including the operators, the media, consumer advocacy groups, the Nigerian Identity Management Commission, NIMC, National Population Commission, all the security agencies and also the consumers were fully involved in the process and decision that led to SIM Card registration in Nigeria.

Let it be known, that the implementation takes into consideration, the security, biometrics, infrastructural, usage, and operational imperatives of the Nigerian market, and less about how it was carried out in other countries of the world.

Reuben Muoka is Head, Media and Public Relations of the NCC.