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Nigeria wants national ID numbers of mobile phone users added to their SIM cards

Change could make biometric records more useful for crime-fighting
Nigeria wants national ID numbers of mobile phone users added to their SIM cards

Nigeria has launched an operation to ensure that the biometrics-backed national identification numbers (NINs) of mobile phone users are integrated into their SIM cards, according to Bloomberg and many Nigerian news outlets.

The decision was communicated on December 15 in a statement issued by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) after an urgent meeting of major stakeholders in the country’s communication industry.

According to the directive, all mobile telephone users are expected, within a fortnight, to submit their national ID numbers to their respective network operators for them to be added to their SIM cards, Bloomberg notes.

Fingerprint biometrics are already collected as a mandatory requirement for SIM registration in Nigeria, and reports have suggested that the number of fingerprints captured will rise from two to ten to integrate the records with the BVN system, as the country attempts to integrate identity data to reduce crime.

The NCC statement, seen by Biometric Update, states that the operation will run from December 16 to 30, 2020, and warns that “violations of this directive shall be met by stiff sanctions, including the possibility of withdrawal of operating license.”

“After the deadlines, all SIMs without NINs are to be blocked from the network. The general public is hereby urged to ensure that their NINs are captured in their SIM registration data,” the statement further cautioned.

The development has been greeted with mixed reactions across Africa’s biggest economy, with many citizens expressing fears that the deadline for compliance with the rule is so tight that millions of mobile telephone lines risk being blocked.

Bloomberg quoted the president of the association of telecommunication companies of Nigeria, Ike Nnamani, as saying they welcomed the idea but there was need for the deadline to be extended. He said it should be done in a way as not to trigger any “…disruptions to the way of life of the citizens.”

Another concern being raised is the fact that not all of the estimated 200 million mobile phone users in the country have ID numbers.

Nigeria is currently pursuing a project to establish a digital ID for all citizens, but just about 41.5 million citizens have enrolled for the ID scheme at the moment, according to statistics attributed to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) – the body overseeing the program.

The latest move by the NCC comes not long after it ordered mobile network operators to suspend the registration of new SIMs, pending an audit into compliance rules.

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