Telecommunications and Communications Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PTECSSAN, weekend rejected the two-week deadline given by the Federal Government to telecommunications operators to block subscribers’ lines that failed to link them up with the National Identification Number, NIN.

This came as Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, asked President Muhammadu Buhari, to stop NCC directives on NIN and the threat to block SIM cards that failed to meet the deadline, describing directives as “burdensome, unjustified, unnecessary.”

Similarly, a former second Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr Monday Ubani, asked a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos to stop the Nigerian government and NCC from blocking SIM cards not linked to the NIN.

PTECSSAN in a statement by its President and General Secretary, Opeyemi Tomori and Okonu Abdullahi, respectively, said that on December 15, 2020, the Federal Government through the NCC directed that GSM operators should require their subscribers to link up their NIN to their SIMs within two weeks and failure to do so the operators should block the lines of the concerned subscribers.

The union noted that the NCC statement went further to threaten the operators with sanctions which include withdrawal of their licenses if they fail to effect the blockade.

Among others, PTECSSAN contented that it was impossible to achieve the deadline, saying “to register about one hundred and seventy million Nigerians that are yet to be registered within two weeks is a tall order that can never be met with the present encumbrances in the present approach of registering people.”

The union asked the Federal Government not to punish Nigerians for its ineptitude, lamenting that “we are disturbed by the insensitiveness of the Federal Government in the statement. We are forced to believe that, as usual, the government wants to punish Nigerians for its own ineptitude. At this point in time that there is pervasive hardship in the land brought about by banditry, terrorism, thuggery and increasing high cost of living occasioned by the government’s hike in electricity tariff and fuel pump price, we do not expect the government to impose a new and avoidable hardship on Nigerians through this directive.

“Rather than issue deadlines and threats on linking up the NIN to SIMs, what we believe the government should do is to address the bottlenecks encountered by Nigerians in the process of registration which have prevented majority of them from obtaining their NIN. Is government aware that it is only about 43million Nigerians that have been able to obtain NIN since its introduction over seven years ago? To expect Nigerians to register and obtain NIN in order to link it up with their SIMs within two weeks, what they could not obtain for this number of years beat our imagination.

“Nigerians have suffered immensely trying to obtain the NIN to no avail. Stories told by those that have registered are not pleasant. Some were leaving their homes for the registration centres as early as 4am daily for weeks before they could register. While those that could not withstand the rigour part with monies to hasten things up for them.

“We implore the government to withdraw the directive because it was not well thought-out and is highly unachievable. To register about 170 million Nigerians that are yet to be registered within two weeks is a tall order that can never be met with the present encumbrances in the present approach of registering the people.

“By giving two weeks to Nigerians that have not registered to do so will surely add more hardship on them. The government is practically telling them to abandon their businesses and whatever they are doing that bring income for them within that long period of time.

“Also, with the second wave of COVID-19 in the country, Nigerians will not be able to storm the registration centres without contracting the virus.

“Furthermore, we are in the Yuletide period during which a lot of Nigerians travel across the country to celebrate with their families. To ask them to register at this time is as good as putting paid to their festivities.

“In the light of the above, we implore the government to rather shift its focus to getting more Nigerians register seamlessly. Registration centres should be brought closer to the people. By this we are suggesting that there should be at least two registration centres in each of the wards throughout the federation.

“If and when all remaining Nigerians have been able to register and obtain their NIN, they need not be bothered to link their NINs with their operators; the government through the National Identification Management Commission, NIMC, and NCC, should liaise with the telecoms operators to synchronize the NIN with the subscribers’ SIMs. Afterall, the operators still rely on NIMC to authenticate NINs provided by subscribers before they can link them up to their SIMS.

“We understand the importance of having a comprehensive database for the country and at the same time having NINs linked with SIMs. We implore government to adopt the best of approaches in putting them in place. All these can be done without necessarily causing hardship to Nigerians.”

SERAP writes Buhari

On its part, SERAP urged President Buhari to instruct the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Mr Isa Pantami, and Director-General of NIMC, Mr Aliyu Abubakar to withdraw the directives.