In the wake of the kidnapping epidemic in Nigeria, even its capital city Abuja is not spared. This leaves one wondering about the effectiveness of the National Identification Number (NIN) – SIM card linkage initiated by the Nigerian government.
The NIN-SIM linkage, which was launched in 2020, aimed to enhance security measures and curb rising incidents including kidnappings in the country.
The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) secured a World Bank loan to boost NIN enrollment, with the government urging citizens to link their NIN to SIM cards.
Stringent guidelines were issued, leading many Nigerians to endure long queues and challenging conditions to complete the linkage, often facing financial losses and scams.
The administration of Muhammadu Buhari insisted that the sufferings were for good as Nigerians should expect robust intelligence gathering through the NIN-SIM linkage and possible swift actions against kidnapping and other vices.
That project was championed by Professor Isa Pantami, then minister of Communications and Digital Economy.
Despite the World Bank loan, the Federal Government of Nigeria through NIMC, had to rely on Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), such as MTN, Globacom, Airtel, 9mobile, Smile Communications, and other third-party agents to pursue this project.
NIMC under the leadership of Engr. Abisoye Coker-Odusote, the director-general, disclosed that a 104.16 million NIN enrolments have been recorded as at December 2023.
Kidnapping Epidemic Statistics
Data from various sources show a concerning surge in kidnapping incidents across Nigeria. Between January and February 2021, 1,181 people, including 362 children and 103 females, were kidnapped.
The figures for July 2022 to June 2023 revealed 3,620 people abducted in 582 incidents, with ransom demands exceeding N5 billion.
Recent data from December 2023 to January 2024 indicates a spike in kidnappings, with over 380 individuals abducted, including men, women, farmers, children, and students.
The former Minister, who initiated the NIN-SIM linkage, recently had to lead a crowdfunding crusade to raise funds to free victims from kidnappers’’ den. What an irony.
Anyway, it is heartwarming that the victims have regained their freedom even as one of the sisters paid the maximum prize. Nigeria failed her.
NIN-SIM Linkage: An Unfulfilled Promise?
Despite promises that the NIN-SIM linkage would facilitate tracking criminals, the surge in kidnappings shows a disconnect.
Critics have pointed out some key issues about the current policies of telecommunication companies regarding the blocking of unlinked SIMs.
Some of these critics are accusing the telcos of not fully complied with the regulations, leaving unlinked SIMs unblocked and creating vulnerabilities that criminals can easily exploit. This poses a serious threat to national security and public safety.
Another school of thought argues that the current focus on compliance is overshadowing proactive crime-fighting efforts, such as active intelligence gathering and law enforcement measures. This means that law enforcement agencies are not able to take effective measures to prevent criminal activities before they happen.
Another issue that has been highlighted is that the policy seems to neglect the underlying factors that contribute to criminal activity, including widespread poverty and social issues. Therefore, the policy may not be as effective as it was envisioned, as long as these underlying issues are not addressed.
Frustration and Despair Nationwide
Nigerians who endured the NIN-SIM process express understandable disillusionment. Many faced inconveniences and financial losses, only to witness the unabated kidnapping epidemic. Pertinent questions linger: Was the collective pain endured worth the promised benefits, or has the policy merely added bureaucratic layers for already burdened citizens?
What’s the next step in tackling the root causes of kidnappings and alleviating the pervasive sense of insecurity?
Global Strategies to Combat Kidnapping: Technology Leverage
Kidnapping, a heinous crime that shatters lives and destabilizes communities, is heightened in countries across the globe. As criminals adopt increasingly sophisticated tactics, nations are turning to advanced technologies to counter their actions and protect vulnerable populations. Here are some technological strategies being deployed around the world:
- Surveillance and Tracking:
- CCTV networks: Countries like China and the United Kingdom have expansive CCTV networks that utilize facial recognition and real-time monitoring to track suspects and identify potential risks.
- Drone surveillance: Israel and Mexico are employing drones developed with high-resolution cameras and thermal imaging to patrol remote areas and monitor high-risk locations.
- Mobile phone tracking: Law enforcement agencies in several countries, including India and South Africa, are leveraging mobile phone data to track kidnapped victims and identify criminal networks.
- Data Analysis and Crime Prediction:
- Predictive analytics: Advanced algorithms are being used to analyze crime data and identify patterns, allowing authorities to anticipate potential kidnapping hotspots and allocate resources proactively.
- Social media monitoring: Tools are being developed to monitor social media platforms for suspicious activity and communication patterns that might indicate impending kidnappings.
- Biometric databases: Countries like Brazil and Argentina are utilizing biometric databases like fingerprints and iris scans to identify suspects and victims more quickly and accurately.
Communication and Alert Systems:
- Emergency alert systems: Widespread emergency alert systems using SMS, mobile apps, and public sirens quickly inform citizens of potential kidnapping threats and provide safety instructions.
- Cybersecurity measures: Secure communication channels and encrypted messaging platforms are vital for law enforcement to coordinate operations and share critical information without compromising investigations.
- Public awareness campaigns: Utilizing digital platforms and traditional media to educate citizens about common kidnapping tactics, safety tips, and reporting procedures can empower communities and deter criminal activity.
- Technological Innovations:
- Facial recognition technology: Law enforcement agencies are increasingly using facial recognition software to identify suspects from CCTV footage and databases, aiding in investigations and arrests.
- Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots: Virtual assistants are being developed to provide initial crisis support and collect important information from victims or witnesses, potentially saving valuable time in rescue operations.
- Blockchain technology: Some experts propose using blockchain to securely store victim and suspect data, ensuring its authenticity and facilitating cross-border cooperation in complex kidnapping cases.
Challenges and considerations
While technology brings about powerful tools for fighting kidnapping, ethical considerations and technical limitations remain. Balancing surveillance with individual privacy, ensuring data security, and preventing misuse of these technologies are critical challenges.
Additionally, access to resources and technological infrastructure varies significantly across nations, highlighting the need for international collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Recognizing that the NIN-SIM linkage alone cannot be the panacea for Nigeria’s kidnapping crisis, a comprehensive strategy is imperative. This strategy should:
- Strengthen law enforcement by providing resources and intelligence to proactively combat crime.
- Address root causes such as poverty, unemployment, and social inequalities that contribute to desperation and fuel criminal activity.
- Promote transparency and accountability, holding law enforcement officials and government agencies accountable for their actions while ensuring effective implementation of security measures.
- The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) must step up its monitoring, working with the law enforcement agencies to crack down on illegal Sim registration syndicates. This will ensure that the sim registration database is ‘clean’ enough to power the securities agencies to go after criminals who use Sim cards to perpetuate different offenses.
- NIMC should as a matter of urgency conduct audit of its database to weed-out any promised NIN in its system.
Nigerians deserve to feel safe in their own land. We encourage the President Bola Tinubu’s government to note the flaws in the current approach and implement a holistic strategy that delivers tangible results in the fight against kidnapping and restores a sense of security to its citizens.
The global fight against kidnapping is undergoing a transition towards technologically driven solutions. However, addressing ethical concerns, bridging resource gaps, and facilitating international cooperation will be important in ensuring these technologies are used effectively and responsibly to bring back hope and safety to communities tormented by kidnapping.