‘Security implication of improperly registered lines too grave to ignore’
About 9.2 million telephone lines discovered to have been improperly registered are going to be deactivated by service providers in the country.The Minister of Communications, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, yesterday in Abuja, ordered the telecommunications operators (MTN, Airtel, Globacom and 9Mobile) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to ensure that the Subscribers Identification Numbers (SIM) cards are removed from the country’s telecommunications radar until the owners present themselves for proper documentation.
An industry source told The Guardian that Pantami gave the directive while hosting the executive councils of both the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) and the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN), who paid a congratulatory visit to him in his office.According to the source, who was privy to the meeting, SIMs that were improperly registered will be deactivated. He quoted Pantami as saying that the ministry gave the order towards bridging the gap in the country’s security apparatus, and most importantly curtail the growing influence of kidnappers in the country who have been using different SIM cards to perpetrate abductions and killings of innocent Nigerians.
According to him, Pantami claimed that the National Security Adviser is interested in the matter “and ordered that the minister should act urgently before the kidnappers take over the country.”It was learnt that during the monthly SIM audit, which the operators usually submit to the NCC, more than nine million cards were discovered to have been improperly registered. “Some were registered without proper biometrics, no picture, no address, among others, and as such there should be urgent update on the lines.” Confirming the order in a statement, Uwa Suleiman, the spokesperson to the minister, said Pantami gave the directive to all the agencies and parastatals under his purview.
He said the NCC had submitted its baseline short-term performance targets report.“The report signed by the executive vice chairman of the commission contained precise figures of improperly registered SIM cards in use around the country. The commission in its report disclosed that an estimated 9.2 million SIM cards did not comply with the proper procedures of SIM registration. The investigation which was carried out at the behest of the minister, has exposed for the first time in the telecoms history of Nigeria, in precise detail, the magnitude of defaulters,” he stated.
Reacting to the report, the minister expressed concern over the security implication of the discovery and further directed that the telecoms regulator should, with immediate effect, ensure that all improperly registered numbers are duly re-registered. According to him, to ensure maximum compliance, Pantami has directed the NCC to ensure that all mobile network operators block all SIM cards that do not meet proper registration standards until users comply with the proper reregistration procedures.
“The security implication of this irregularity is too grave to be ignored and the Federal Ministry of Communications will not tolerate any actions or inactions that will compromise the nation’s security,” the statement reads.Already, before the directive, some of the operators had called out their subscribers to go and re-register their SIMs, while others had suspended services to some lines whose owners had failed to show up for regularisation of their SIMs.
The Guardian had reported in August that the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) were to go through another compliance audit of all SIM databases, which was going to be monitored strictly by the NCC. The specifications are prescribed in the Telephone Subscribers Registration Regulations and the Technical Standards and Specifications issued by the commission in 2011.
NCC had said that the SIM audit was without prejudice to the ongoing “backend verification and scrubbing” of SIM registration data already submitted to the commission by telecoms operators.
The Director, Public Affairs, NCC, Dr. Henry Nkemadu, told The Guardian in August that the commission had actually started SIM update of data with it.“The subscriber registration database is a veritable tool being used by security and law enforcement agencies in the detection and apprehension of criminal elements involved in heinous crimes like kidnapping, financial crimes, armed robberies, banditry and cattle rustling”.
According to Nkemadu, the first phase of the audit was carried out in 2011. “The security operatives can leverage easy access to the national telecoms network. As such, we (NCC) are determined to continue to ensure that all SIM cards are traceable to their real owners with the least effort.”Recalled that in 2015, about 10 million lines were also deactivated for the same offence, which eventually led to the fine of N1.04 trillion slammed on MTN for being in possession of huge defective SIM cards in the country.