Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, has urged Nigerians to download the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC app) recently launched and be able to link up to seven SIM cards to their National Identification Number (NIN).
Pantami said this on Friday while featuring on Channels Television’s Politics Today.
He said that Ministry and NIMC are working on transforming the NIN enrolment process and the onward linkage to SIM cards as required by the Nigerian Communication Commission.
He also said the ministry, NIMC, and telecommunication operators would review the entire NIN linkage to SIM cards by network users should the Federal Government impose a fresh lockdown amid the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Federal Government had said telcos subscribers with NIN have January 19 as the deadline to link their NIN with their SIM cards while subscribers without NIN have until February 9 to do so.
As of October 2020, the total number of mobile network connections was 207.58 million, but currently, only 43 million Nigerians have NIN, thus 164 million telephone users are at the risk of being deactivated.
Speaking on the increased number of Nigerians who gather at NIMC registrations centres following the deadline for NIN registration, the Minister said:
“Thanks for asking this question, But a point of correction. The earlier deadline was quoted by many national dailies without making reference to the initial one. You can Google the date. It was announced 4th February, 2020; that was the first time the policy was announced and it was transmitted to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC). However, at that time, NIMC was not under our supervision.
“So, it was announced that every citizen who owns a SIM Card and the National Identification Number (NIN) should submit same to the mobile operators for integration. The number of SIM cards then were put at maximum three lines which have been reviewed now to about seven considering that we need data, artificial intelligence, etc. “But the challenge was the debate on why three SIMS; why not four. The argument was back and forth. The truth is that it was announced that this should be done. So, the citizens had February 2020 till December 2020 to obtain NIN and submit to their mobile network operator for integration. Government’s role is to announce the policy direction like we did while the parastatals were mandated to keep in touch with the citizens as part of their strategies for implementation and in collaboration with the mobile operators.
“Therefore, saying that the deadline was two weeks is wrong. The deadline or earlier directive of February was still valid. So, you must comply.
Asked if he is not worried that majority of the people may not meet up with the February 19, 2020 deadline due to lack of equipment by NIMC,
Pantami said that NIMC has not complained of lack of equipment to deliver on the project.
In his words, “First, if they lack equipment, they are expected to officially notify the government. NIMC’s staff union have never reached out or written to the Ministry (even once) that they require certain facilities to discharge their functions. It has also never come to my attention that NIMC wrote a letter requesting for equipment”.
Asked if he has carried out a tour of the facilities to ascertain how adequate they are to meet the deadline, the Minister insisted that the deadline was announced in February 2020 and was expected to have closed by end of December 2020.
“Within ten months, nobody has ever approached me that they needed facilities. I granted audience to the union two months ago, in my office; we spent about an hour. They complained to them about their salary. I told them that even before their coming I had written to the Minister of Finance and other institutions to see how to review their remunerations. The Minister of Finance has endorsed the letter.
The anchor further asked the Minister if he had visited NIMC’s facilities to confirm they had the way-withal to pursue the NIN enrolment course. The anchor also reminded the Minister that NIMC disclosed, in February 2020, that they had 1000 centres to carry out the NIN enrolment exercise which was a time the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) has wanted to leverage on NIN for students’ UMTE registrations.
“I can tell you that within one week that NIMC was transferred to the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMOC&DE) for supervision, I visited NIMC, toured their infrastructure at the headquarters and engaged the management staff on a discussion for over two hours about all their complaints.
“Secondly, I asked NIMC to conduct the assessment of their facilities and what they need immediately. Their response then was the need for a world-class data centre which will enable them built multiple data centres as backups. That has been approved by the government. A memo was presented at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) which has been approved.
The Minister was also asked why the Ministry was remained adamant despite by calls for adjustment of the process following large crowds that converge at NIMC registration centre. Recall that the PTF has hinted on possible second lockdown considering the surge in number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
In his response, the Minister referred the anchor to NIMC Act 2007 section 18. He said that the law approved about 13 years ago stipulates thus:
“each citizen was given 60 days to obtain National Identification Number (NIN). From that time till now why didn’t people comply with the law? This is more than 10 years. Even a child; as long as the person has been given birth to, within 60 days you are supposed to have NIN”.
Interjecting, the anchor said the law, probably, didn’t take into cognizance of pandemic like the world is facing currently.
However, the Pantami share a different perspective.
He said, “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. What I am saying that this pandemic started only around January 2020 and was reported in Nigeria around February or March; so, why did we fail to comply with the law for over ten years ago?
“Secondly, for you to say the Ministry is adamant on this is a height of injustice. Why? I mentioned to you about the statement made on December 2020 signed by NCC and NIMC. They said that every registrant must comply with the Federal Government’s directives – the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19. It was clearly stated. More so, I went to the registration centre last week. I was interviewed by ChannelsTV’s reporter and you can infer from the video that PTF’s guidelines were followed. We even interviewed Nigerians there: ‘do you have any complaint?’ The answer was No. They were asked ‘if money was extorted from them’. They said No. The video is there. Nobody complained.
“It is also important to note that we are not the law enforcement agencies that will compel citizens to comply with directives of this nature. Our role is to constantly remind people the need to do that. Visit the markets, how many people are complying with the protocols? It has nothing to do with NIMC or the Federal Government rather individuals need a change of attitude.
When asked about plans for possible second lockdown due to increase in COVID-19 cases, he said: “If the second lockdown is enforced, then, the Ministerial taskforce including NIMC, NCC, MNOs (Mobile Number Operators), etc., will meet to review the process. We meet usually on weekly basis. We are citizens and must respect Federal Government’s directives. Meanwhile, we encourage our citizens to change their attitudes. For example, few weeks ago, I travel outside Nigeria and could not spot a citizen of that country moving about without facemask. And they announced it just once. But in Nigeria, go to every nooks and crannies, there is low level of compliance. It calls for attitudinal change. Laws can’t implement themselves; we must be law abiding and respect FG’ laws and policies.
Can we clearly say that NIMC is doing a digital enrolment if people have to appear in persons to carry out the registration?
Here is the Minister’s response:
“First, whoever complains about the process, obviously, has not been following the events and transformations we have been infusing into the system. We developed an app which is available on Google PlayStore. As long as you have NIN, you only need to download the app and impute your mobile numbers without visiting any office in Nigeria.
“We should be able to impute up to seven mobile lines. I have already downloaded the app and used it.
“Digitalisation is an ongoing process. For instance, it was only after we have launched this app that Saudi Arabia’s government released theirs. The entire country was celebrating it that Saudi Arabia has digitalised it’s digital ID. This is something we have already launched.
“Secondly, with regards the process, there are things that anywhere in the world, you must do them physically. When it comes to NIMC, you can download the form virtually, complete the filling without visiting any office. You can even submit it virtually. But, things like biometrics require that you have to be physically there to submit them. We have dimensions for image capturing which must tally with standard stipulated in NIMC Acts under sections 14 and 15.
“And I was in NIMC office for supervision; I discovered that citizens are registered within three to five minutes”.