Stakeholders fear deadline for linking biometric ID to SIM cards in Nigeria won’t be met

Stakeholders fear deadline for linking biometric ID to SIM cards in Nigeria won’t be met

One of the major subjects dominating discussions in Nigeria at the moment is the move by the federal government to see mobile telephone users link their national identification numbers (NINs) to their SIM cards.

But stakeholders are arguing that a February 9 deadline given for the completion of the process risks not being met by telephone users, according to a report by Nigeria’s The Guardian.

The directive for mobile phone users in Nigeria to link their NIN to SIM cards was issued by the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) in mid-December with an initial December 30 deadline. This was later extended when it was adjudged that the two-week period was not feasible enough to achieve the goal, this also after vociferous complaints from users and other stakeholders. The federal government then extended the deadline by six weeks to February 9, 2021.

However, many are those who believe that a number of hurdles standing in the way of the NIN digital ID enrollment process will make it practically impossible for all telephone users to meet the obligation within the stipulated time frame.

The Guardian said its findings reveal that just a few weeks to the February 9 deadline, up to 95 percent of the 173 agents licensed for the enrollment process have not started off any serious work, as many say they are still awaiting the requisite equipment from abroad. The licensees include private companies as well as state government and public sector institutions, as enumerated by The Guardian.

The report quotes officials of some of the major mobile telephone operators in the country such MTN, Airtel, Globacom, and 9mobile as well as those of other institutions involved in the process, as saying that they are yet to begin the enrollment exercise in earnest.

A senior staff of one of the operators, MTN, told The Guardian he could vouch that none of the 173 firms can say they have started any serious enrollments. He said although MTN has been enrolling a few subscribers with fixed biometric devices, adding “…you can imagine how the process will be without the real equipment.”

Apart from the unavailability of the equipment needed for the enrollment, other challenges highlighted by The Guardian include questions surrounding the the capacity of personnel expected to operate the machines, issues related to finances, shortage of machines by the NIMC, and constraints imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, among others.

“…There is no sentiment in this; it is not going to work unless there is an extension,” Olusola Teniola, national coordinator of the Alliance for Affordable Internet in Nigeria was quoted in The Guardian write-up.

The report suggests that the financial package to be disbursed by the World Bank for the NIN enrollment process is still being awaited.

The ongoing digital identity enrollment in Nigeria is part of a World Bank co-funded project approved in February 2020. The project, Nigeria’s Digital Identification for Development, is expected to issue digital ID numbers to at least 150 million Nigerians within three years.

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