By Okoh Aihe
NOTHING could have made it more expedient than the lives that would be involved. And there are so many. Looking at the images on television now, looking at pictures in the newspapers, of thousands of people swirling in desperation to do a comprehensive registration of their phones by syncing the numbers with NIN, troubling questions pour in.
What amount of stakeholder engagement was done? Apart from discussions with telecommunications operators and other interloping agencies, was there ever a stakeholder mapping to paint a picture of what would happen when the actual programme begins? There used to be something called environmental impact analysis, did it ever enjoy any consideration on this matter? Did anybody ever think that COVID-19 was going to be waved away with a magic wand for Nigeria to carry out an indeterminate project?
Questions and more questions. Lots of materials, including editorials, have been written on this matter. Some writers are outraged while a few others are cautionary and conciliatory. But whatever your position, what we have before us, fueled by human desperation and a government importunate policy, is a tragic monstrosity whose scope may be difficult to sketch.
Since the announcement was made mid-December last year for operators to require all their subscribers to provide valid National Identification Number, NIN, to update SIM registration records, chaos has been the supervening picture of the telecommunications industry, even forcing government to begin to repel the fire it has ignited with gasoline.
As a friend would explain to me, most Nigerians who are already down to nothing, not wanting to lose their only prized asset, have tossed caution and fear in the air, and have been waking up at NIMC centres across the country. Wherever you turn, the story is the same: grim, chaotic and very foreboding.
Perhaps also troubled by these pictures, government has been acting on-the-go, changing some decisions midway; and of course deracinating the two-week window it has given as ultimatum, while giving an extension to a time in January and February, depending upon the window that is most commodious. This has done very little to assuage the feeling or the pain.
But who woke up one day in a season of pandemic with the nightmare that what is best for us is the fusion of phone and NIN for subscribers to live in peace ever after? Mercifully, the operators have been on maximum overdrive, giving out short codes to the subscribers who would want to start the process online. For the time being industry figures stand above 207m subscribers; experts have argued that such figure couldn’t be processed and treated within two weeks without creating absolute chaos.
Meanwhile the second wave of COVID-19 is here as in most parts of the world. A new strain of the virus has been detected in some countries, leading to worries whether that strain is already in Nigeria. Deaths from COVID-19 are increasing in the country and so is the case load. For me, what seems to conceal the ruinous harvest are the deaths from several other sources – banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram, ritual killings, cultism and even road accidents, especially from bad roads all over the country. Wherever you go in Nigeria, death stalks you. Only those in government believe things are normal, very normal according to their gospel.
At a briefing on Monday, the Presidential Task Force, PTF, raised the alarm that Nigeria have crossed the grim number of 100, 000 mark of confirmed cases while also observing that the number could be more as the tests are coming from some states, adding there is no state in the country without COVID-19. Last week alone over 9,000 cases were recorded, meaning that Nigeria is recording over a 1,000 daily.
The spike was blamed on increased travel, business activities, including social-related ones, nightlife, religious programmes and reopening of schools without strict compliance with protocols. The foregoing observation is true but not the whole truth. It is disingenuous, if not totally dishonest, to exclude the intimidating introduction and intrusion of the SIM/NIN registration which, across the states of the federation, daily assails us with images of phone users nearly crushing each other to salvage the use of their phones from a government which has little to offer but wind and promises.
Make no mistake we need to have the statistics of our people and their activities. One reason behind this is that it can help resolve a lot of security issues. This is why the exercise enjoys the cooperation of critical stakeholders, especially the operators.
But the fact that the ominous effects of such policy in these troubled times could be overlooked fuels the conspiracy theory that some people are whispering about, to effect that there is more to the registration than what we see, and the forcefulness and intensity in execution is not only a pointer to such remote possibility, but actually quite superfluous, very bewildering and perplexing.
All said, this is a time to put a hold on our pomposity and braggadocio in forcing down policies that are obnoxious and detrimental to the people. The stories coming out of the isolation and treatment centres are very unnerving. People are in pains. But those are the lucking ones. Others have died and are dying. We know those with names – those in business, academia and government, among others.
But you also have those without a name – the Anonymous, for whom there will be no grave stone or well-minted epitaph. Their death enjoys no whisper. They don’t go with the wind. They are simply driven into the dark of the night. And that is eternal!
There are indications now that school resumption date earlier fixed for January 18, 2021, will be moved again because of rising COVID-19 cases. No. Please. We need our education sector to formally open. The schools should be mandated to put all protocol practices in place to provide a safe environment for learning.
My appeal is for government to suspend the SIM/NIN registration and then use the intervening period to plan for the exercise. A major purpose for telecommunications is to help save life and ease pain for humanity. Let it never be said that ours served the ignoble contribution of taking lives because of a government policy that has no dated significance.
For Nuhu Hamman’Gabdo
The self-effacing guy with an undiminishing smile on his face. Friendly but very self-assured. Diligent in his ways and clinical in executing assigned tasks. The end came very suddenly, with most of your loved ones, leaving us in total wrench and distraught. The end comes for everyone, someday. But yours is a blow without provision for healing. May your journey in the other side provide eternal healing to your souls, and may your memory be a blessing to your families, including the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC.