In spite of calls and appeals from several individuals and groups, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has continued to maintain that its January 19th and February 9th, 2021 deadlines for all mobile phone subscribers to integrate their SIMs with their National Identification Numbers (NIN) or have their phone lines blocked, will not be changed. The federal government had extended the deadline from December 30, 2020 to the current dates. The extension to January 19th was for those who had NIN already and February 9th for those who do not have. However, you and I know that there is no way these deadlines can be met; unless, of course they don’t want to achieve the goal they set out to meet in the beginning of the brain wave.
This is because the NIN enrolment process has been anything but smooth or properly organized. In fact, it has been sloppy, disorganized and showed lack of preparedness. I succeeded in registering for NIN in 2019, after two false attempts the previous year, one of which they said their system did not upload the data they captured of all of us who filed out that day! That arrangement was made by my church in Maryland, Lagos and the registering team called us back some time later but it was not also successful for reasons I cannot remember.
So the shoddy registration process did not start today. I, like others, basically lost interest, until I saw an advert by one of my banks inviting members of the public to register at their branches. I went boldly to the branch closest to me, only to be told that NIN registration was done only in selected branches and they gave me the address of the centre in one of their Ojuelegba, Surulere branches. It was not a song to register because unknown to people who also went there, anyone who came to register was expected to have an account with the bank or one will be opened for him or her before they are qualified to register. Luckily, I had an account with the bank, still do, but there was a queue and the security guard was hoarding the form.
Luckily again, a lady in the livery of the bank approached me to ask what the problem was, and introduced herself as an attendee in a course I had facilitated a couple of years earlier. It turned out she was a senior person in the branch and the ‘carpet’ was virtually rolled out to usher me to register. I got my slip and number on the day, with a charge that I needed to pick the National ID Card from the government at the Local Government office close to my residence. That proved a herculean task because the LG officials told me when I went there that I needed to go to Alausa Secretariat to pick it up. A friend promised to assist but nothing has happened in two years. But the number has served me on occasions when I needed to use it, including with the Pension Commission, tax office and to link it with my SIMs.
I also knew I would need it to renew, when they expired, my driver’s license and international passport and had repeatedly harassed my family members to follow suit. Obviously, not many people were performing renewal of passports and driver’s license to encourage them to register and present NIN, hence the government decided to ‘force’ mobile phone users to have NIN to be able to use their phones because almost all Nigerians have phones and have need of telephony. So, in comes the National Communications Commission and network providers. But as with most government policies, this one seems not properly thought out so the implementation has been what it is.
First, the original deadline was ridiculously not enough for over 100 million Nigerians to register and there also did not seem to be facilities and staff to perform the task nationwide. The spike in COVID-19 figures following the second wave meant the government’s decision to register people for NIN was at variance with COVID-19 protocols of social distancing and crowded places. There have been reports of huge crowds besieging Nigerian Identity Management Commission centres for registration at a time when the government and the whole world have been stressing physical and social distancing.
Calls on the government to suspend the NIN registration exercise or make it a continuous exercise seem to have fallen on deaf ears. At some point, NIMC even threatened to go on strike because they were afraid of being infected with coronavirus from the teeming crowds at the registration centres, among other reasons. So, today, Tuesday is 19th of January. Will the government extend or will the networks be directed to start blocking our lines? Or will reason prevail in view of COVID-19 spike and the need to prevent people being exposed to coronavirus infection?