By Prince Osuagwu
*164 million phones connected, 119m active
If you are reading this and you have not registered your phone line(s), it may just be almost late. In fact, you need not wonder why you may neither receive nor complete any calls from today.
This is because the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, says the collation, harmonisation and authentication of the subscriber’s identification modules, SIMs card registration it embarked upon in conjunction with all the telecom operators in Nigeria, since 2011, ends today, and those whose numbers were not captured will be disconnected.
For the past two years, the industry regulator (NCC) has embarked on a massive campaign, sensitizing telephone subscribers on the need to register their phones to enable a proper record of subscribers in the country, effective monitoring of telecommunications activities and cut down on phone-related crimes.
However, following the panic, tension and anxiety as the exercise came to an end, the Commission allowed a grace period by asking people who had not registered to go to their operators to do so while it was collating, harmonising and authenticating the data already gathered.
The harmonisation and authentication exercise have taken over one year and the NCC, a few months back, declared that on June 30, 2013, all unregistered lines would be deactivated.
Tension in the industry is at its height. This also reflects the growing nature of Nigerian telecom industry and the intrigues which heralded the exercise, March 2011 when it was flagged off.
As at Thursday, about 27 million SIMs out of the 164 million connected lines and 119 million active were said to be still unregistered. MTN Nigeria, according to figures from the NCC has 52 million subscribers; Globacom, 24.3 million; Airtel, 24.1 million; and Etisalat, 15.1 million.
How it all beganIn the wake of unending security challenges facing the country, it became expedient that measures needed to be taken. In 2009, the then Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Engr Ernest Ndukwe, opted for SIM registration as one of the measures.
SIM registration is a standard practice in almost all economies of the world for its ability to check phone crimes and, in Nigeria, such crimes, including death threats via text messages and kidnappings, were becoming common.
A meeting between the regulator, operators and other stakeholders were held where government mandated the operators to start registering subscribers.
However, it was learnt that the operators expressed inability to do a good job in less than three years, prompting the agreement that they should register new entrants while the regulator finds way of registering existing subscribers. The operators later went on registration of both the new and old subscribers. The action infuriated the regulator.
Then the regulator under the current EVC, Dr Eugene Juwah, presented a budget of N6.1 billion for the exercise. The budget caused some stir at the National Assembly and the telecom sector and created different camps that engaged in claims of whether the bill was justified or not. Eventually, on February 14, 2011, the exercise began.
Subscribers initially were reluctant to adapt to the new directive and it became clear that something needed to lure them into the exercise. The operators introduced different packages.
Globacom for instance offered reward packages including a guaranteed 30 minutes free airtime (10) minutes per month for 3 months, all expense-paid trip to Manchester or Dubai to 60 registered customers (20 per month for 3 months) and N20,000 airtime to 300 lucky winners(100 per month for 3 months). Meanwhile the company has made over 17 millionaires in the N1m category of the promo.
Etisalat Nigeria introduced 9ja Free Credit Promo, designed to reward new and existing subscribers who register or have registered their SIM cards. The promo gives a 30 per cent bonus credit to call any network. With consistent text messages ardio jingles and TV commercials, Airtel lured subscribers to register their SIM cards and win a gift. Other operators like Visafone opted for the direct marketing strategy including road shows. MTN Nigeria embarked on the billionaire promo tagged the BIG Reward programme.
Confirming improved turnout of customers at the SIM registration centres since the launch of the Big Reward, MTN General Manager, Consumer Marketing, Kola Oyeyemi, said,. “That is the overriding objective of the BIG Reward programme; getting subscribers to register so that we can have a credible database of telephone users for our country. When we have such a database, government can better plan the economy and the people will be the better for it.”
Subscribers ask for extension Meanwhile, the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS) has reportedly appealed to the NCC to extend the deadline by another three months to give every subscriber a fair consideration. The body said several factors have all conspired to prevent many subscribers from complying adequately to the deadline.
In a letter to NCC, entitled, “Appeal to NCC for 3-Month One-Way Final Warning on SIM Registration”, NATCOMS alleged that several agents carrying out the SIM registration process employed some sharp practices that discouraged subscribers from registering.
According to part of the letter,: “In the last two to three weeks, reports, issues and concerns reaching us are as follows:
1. During the SIM registration exercise, some umbrella SIM registration agents were not collecting the full details needed because of the rush by the agents to register as many subscribers so as get paid big.
2. Some umbrella SIM registration agents, during the active registration period and even now are asking subscribers to pay N100; a situation that discouraged subscribers.
3. Some umbrella SIM registration agents, even when they are agents of a particular network operator, collect other operators SIM cards for registration in order to shore up the number of SIM cards they register daily.”
4. Some umbrella SIM registration agents copy their daily registered subscribers and give to their colleagues in business as some form of ‘help’
In view of the submissions above, a lot of subscribers will be locked out due to no fault of theirs as they think they have registered their SIM cards.
Against the backdrop of the above and in order to ensure that every subscriber is given fair consideration, we are appealing to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to give subscribers a 3-Month One-Way final warning extension on SIM cards registration. (i.e. subscribers to be able to receive calls).
But Director, Public Affairs, NCC, Mr Tony Ojobo, at the weekend, stated that “there will be no extension after this deadline”. He added: “SIM registration has been on for two years now and, on June 30, all unregistered SIMs will be disconnected”.