By Okoh Aihe
ONCE we got into Okene in Kogi State, the young man behind me, sitting in the back of the bus who had engaged his colleagues in animated discussions all along, tried to find out our location bearing. When told Okene, he became a psychotic wreck, flew into kindergarten gibberish and very unintelligible to the surprise of those who could hear him.
Two weeks ago, he tried to calm down, his father was kidnapped on that road and those criminals from the hottest part of hell didn’t get in touch with the family until after three days. They demanded for N100m but the family went into a bruising, protracted negotiation and eventually shelled out N10m. The cheek of it all is that the bandits drove all the way to Abuja to collect the money and returned to base before releasing the old man. He still had their contacts in his phone!
Another two weeks, a bus belonging to a popular transporter was taken on the same road with all the passengers. One of the passengers inside told his friend that the kidnappers would make contacts with their phone, put it on speaker so that everybody could hear the conversation or if you want to be more appropriate, negotiations.
This went on for days. For those whose people were not responding well, they killed in very gruesome way. Two of the passengers were killed before their very eyes, to drive the fear home that what was happening was macabre reality and not make-believe. He, an artisan, struggling to eke a manageable life, parted with N1.5m. Apart from the weapons, their phones were their most useful tools.
So, you could imagine how elevated I felt last week when the House of Representatives told the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the regulatory agency, Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, to do something about SIM registration in order to stem the wave of crime in the country.
When you look around you and you see despondency, of people nearly giving up on their country, of a National Assembly – the Upper and Lower, very docile and distant, leaving the people to flagellate themselves about the wrong choices they have made, one should at least cheer one tiny hope of action, even if that action is accidental.
How can there be so much death in the land and the National Assembly does not know the country is careening into a season of frightening overtime and that something should be done very urgently?
At last the speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, spoke and I threw up my hands in momentary celebration. Unfortunately, that fleeting celebration has little grip in reality because nothing will happen except we flip the page and begin to do things differently. The reason being that history does not lie. If you look at history long enough, you can begin to see missteps and begin to think of corrective measures.
This could be one of the reasons those enjoying the transiency of power abrogated history from the school system so that the evils of our leaders, past and present, could be interred with them and never studied to achieve a better future.
But for some of us who enjoy the pleasures of history nobody can remove it from our brains with a magic wand. So, dear readers, let’s take a little journey into a much needed. The Regulations on Registration of Telephone Subscribers was made by the Nigerian Communications Commission on November 3, 2011. It was gazetted on November 11 of the same year.
The Regulations made it mandatory for every phone line in Nigeria to be registered and also stated penalties for contravention. In Part 111, under Registration, the Regulations state as follow: (1) Every Licensee shall register a subscribers’ information as specified under sub-regulation (2) of this regulation.
(2) From the commencement of these Regulations, licensees, independent registration agents and subscriber registration solution providers shall in accordance with registration specifications and at no cost to the Commission or the subscriber capture, register and transmit to the Central Database the – (a) biometrics and other personal information of subscribers who request for the activation of the licensee’s subscription medium;
and (b) in the case of a corporate body or other juristic person, the biometrics and other personal information of the authorized representative of the corporate body or other juristic person and name, address and where applicable, the registration number of the juristic person issued by the Corporate Affairs Commission.
On activation of new subscriptions, the Regulations state under Part 111, Regulation 12 (1): Upon the commencement of these Regulations, licensees shall only provide new subscribers with subscription mediums enabled for limited access to their network services and such limited access shall last for the duration of the activation window. The Regulations were very forward looking and tried to tie down every opportunity for malfeasance.
No operator in the telecommunications industry would claim not to be aware of the details, especially when they have very robust regulatory departments.
On March 28, 2011, Executive Vice Chairman, EVC, of the NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah, launched the Registration programme with lots of excitement and optimism for the following reasons, among others: “First being that this nation has been waiting for the day when all the SIM cards in use in the country are registered, and the identity of the owner of every line is known. This is done in other parts of the world and Nigeria wishes to be like other progressive nations of the world.
“Another significance of this is the achievement of a central data base for mobile phone users in Nigeria. Today, therefore, marks a major step taken by the NCC, to bequeath to our dear nation, an important tool, a pool of data that will assist other agencies of government, especially the security agencies, and the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, etc., in carrying out their jobs in the national interest.”
I must admit that the registration exercise has had its own successes, but vicissitudes would be a more appropriate word. This was largely illustrated by the fine placed on MTN for contravening the regulations, failing to disconnect incompletely registered SIM cards in October 2015. Initial fine was N1.04tn but negotiations dragged up to June 10, 2016, when all the parties agreed to a reduced fine of N330bn to be paid in several tranches.
Even as bludgeoning as that fine may have been, has it solved the SIM registration problems? Not at all. A source within the regulatory Commission told this writer the problems persist, adding that all the relevant stakeholders, including the security arms should get on the table to take very drastic decisions instead of chasing shadows.
There is still a lot of dubious cross-registration, especially by agents appointed by operators, making it very impossible for the registration process to be trimmed into acceptability. Those agents are incentivised on commission, thus putting them under pressure to take short cuts that are hurting the purity of the process.
The source also noted that a number of people in networth positions in government and businesses hardly go personally to register their SIMs; instead they send their reps by way of exploiting such a window provided in the regulation. This explains in a very bizarre way why it may be possible for the regulator to say there are no unregistered SIM cards in Nigeria. Instead, the SIMs are inappropriately registered!
My source was not also happy that some people arrested during enforcement exercises by the regulator were frivolously prosecuted by the Police and let off the hook to the consternation of the regulator.
There has to be more commitment and seriousness from the Police, the source appealed. I want to suggest that the security situation in the country demands desperate measures by relevant stakeholders in order to stop the needless waste of lives.
I am desperately requesting that Regulation 8 should immediately be modified to it make easy for security personnel to have access to subscriber’s data on the networks, especially concerning criminal acts. What is in the Regulation at the moment is nightmare which makes life easy for the wicked.