It is merely routine and statutory anywhere in the world to be appointed to public office but strictly as subordinates to the first citizen. In which case, all efforts must not only be geared towards, but must also be so seen as, complementing the prevailing national leadership. But in Nigeria even a messenger can throw a spanner in the works, if only to display his “bigmannism.”
It may be too harsh to group Communications Minister Isa Pantami and Nigerian Communications Commission boss Dambatta into this category. That exactly is why the two men must urgently review the ultimatum they issued for GSM telephone subscribers to link their numbers to a National Identity Number (NIN), before January 19, now extended to February 9, or such phone numbers would be stopped from operating.
Despite the underlining arrogance, threat and defiance of genuine public concern, the instant death knell of the ultimatum is its doubtful legality. To worsen matters, the worry is not whether Nigerians can be logically or successfully forced to capitulate to this ultimatum but that President Muhammadu Buhari could allow such rudderlessness in his administration to put the country on edge and health risk for weeks despite the alarm raised by experts and ordinary Nigerians. Now, coronavirus is spreading like wildfire owing to big queues formed to meet the GSM ultimatum.
Roping in GSM subscribers of over 15 years standing for sanctions unless they met the ultimatum of linking with NIN wrongfully presumes that they committed an offence by failing to meet a condition, which never existed at the time they were subscribing to GSM.
By all means, the minister may direct Nigerians to register for NIN, provided any proposed sanction against failure to link with NIN is limited to potential GSM subscribers, while old subscribers should be allowed their right under the Constitution to gradually register in an on-going process.
Where did the communications minister acquire the authority to backdate his sanction against failure to link GSM number to NIN by January 19? Even national or state assembly has no such power to legislate punitive measure against phone subscribers dating to two, five, 10 or 15 years and over. Section 9 of Nigerian Constitution accordingly renders the minister’s ultimatum completely invalid.
At the time of the introduction of GSM services in Nigeria, indeed, until the time of appointment of the communications minister, there was no condition attached that every subscriber must link his phone number to the NIN, failing which his number would be revoked or even ordinarily blocked.
Where then did the minister derive his power to sanction any GSM subscriber who failed to link his phone number to a national identity number, latest January 19 or (now extended to) February 9? The minister may stipulate such clampdown on new GSM numbers post-national identity number.
But he has no power to backdate his sanction against subscribers who innocently and unconditionally obtained their GSM number even a year ago, not to talk of almost 20 years ago.
Section 9 of Nigerian Constitution protects citizens against such arbitrariness, with clear-cut assertion that “the National Assembly or a state House of Assembly shall NOT in relation to any (criminal) offence whatsoever (repeat whatsoever) have power to make any law which shall have retrospective effect.”
In short, when did it become an offence punishable with forfeiture of phone numbers to fail to link a GSM number to a NIN? Definitely, not when I was subscribing to the GSM in 2002. The minister suddenly got up late 2020 to criminalise me or any Nigerian who, over the years, obtained his GSM number UNCONDITIONALLY.
The sad situation is that many of us are ignorant of our rights against illegality by the government. Ironically, there are, perhaps, inadequate but substantial guarantees in Nigerian Constitution against state tyranny. We are saying that the fact that a minister issues a fiat does not make it legal or tenable, moreso, if such fiat violates Nigerian Constitution.
Delusion and desperation are some of the tactics employed by officials to shore up the minister’s ultimatum on linking personal GSM numbers to NIN by January 19, an impossible task as it has now turned out. The delusion is that Nigerians love ultimatums, whatever that was meant to be.
The implication is that Nigerians, all along, even if in the last two years, had the chance to register for national identity card but refused or deliberately failed to do so. That is false and Communications Minister Pantami must, henceforth, pay unscheduled visit without official paraphernalia to the so-called national identity registration centres to feel the bitter experiences of ordinary poor Nigerians.
The truth is that governance in Nigeria, especially in the past few years, has abandoned citizens to the mercy of exploiters at every stage of transaction, among others, genuine efforts to register. Even till now, the forms, clearly indicated as NOT FOR SALE, are never available and the applicants will be directed to collaborators nearby offering the document for sale at up to N500, if not more.
Lucky to fill the form and submit? Not exactly. The applicant would be told that only 20 applicants are attended to per day and that means almost every day, that is the limited number. Frustrated and giving up for the day and every day? Standing nearby watching the proceedings are eve- ready collaborators offering unsolicited assistance to either provide the form for a fee or indeed assist in processing. Otherwise, the applicant is charged not less than N5,000 or even more to have the card within months. Otherwise, frustration and indefinite wait extending to years without public enthusiasm to get registered.
The situation is even more brazen after the minister’s ultimatum. There are Nigerians waiting for their identity card over two years after submitting the form but would have collected the card if they compromised.
If, therefore, Nigerians had been blamed for not registering all along, how, in the light of the above human obstacles and deliberate frustration does the communications ministry hope to conclude within weeks a registration that could not be completed within the last eight years? Furthermore, buying into the delusion and cover-up of government officials on the rate of registration, Pantami claimed to have been attended to within minutes to link his phone numbers to his identity number. That is very amusing, and cannot help his gamble on the national identity controversy. He should be smarter than that.
Otherwise, Pantami should have realised that the man honourably and quickly attended to at the national identity registration centre was the Minister of Communications rather than Isa Pantami. To establish that difference, Pantami should stay back and test the luck of his siblings or offspring. Only then can the minister experience the hardship and frustrations of ordinary Nigerians on the matter of being set for suffocation to get himself registered for national identity card.
There is also the timing of the GSM ultimatum. The whole world is being ravaged by coronavirus and the situation was said by the Presidential Task Force to have resurged in Nigeria, with everybody being advised to avoid large gatherings or big crowds. Yet, the minister chose that very moment to create mini-stampede all over Nigeria.
So worried were Ministry of Health top guns as to be suggesting that it might be necessary to suspend the rush to get registered for national identity card within the ultimatum of the communications minister. Yet, President Buhari has not intervened.
Who, in any case, says or hopes that national identity registration of Nigerians will necessarily stamp out or reduce crimes in Nigeria or that Boko Haram insurgents would thereby be defeated? The surprise at the end of the day they may continue to operate their GSM phones and the whole farce will continue.
Latest report is that despite the gra gra, less than 50 million subscribers have been linked to NIN with 150 million GSM numbers still to be linked. Before February?
Best wishes for Olatilo
Nigeria is the only country where mischievous elements radiate in falsely reporting the death of fellow citizens, even if gravely ill. Such tendency, in a way, exposes the malice of the culprits. Over past decades, such mischief seemed to be spreading without qualms. Lately, it was the turn of Bisi Olatilo not only to be reported dead but also embellished with his purported obituary.
After a very successful broadcasting career, Olatilo has since emerged virtually exclusive host of social events, weddings, anniversaries, corporate landmarks, of Nigerians in different parts of the country and abroad. It was, therefore, a shock when the malicious reports spread. Fortunately, it was all fake news. Bisi Olatilo should not be dispirited. Indeed, he should feel honoured at being thrown into good company. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari, etc. Even poor Duro Onabule was mischievously speculated to be among the fatal casualties of the Bellview air crash around Otta over 10 years ago.
Old man Zik, after reading his obituary, lived for more years and naturally died at the age of 92. The malicious rumour on Obasanjo’s death was in 1999, after which he went on to administer Nigeria for eight consecutive years, ending in 2007. False report of Ibrahim Babangida has become a casual pastime for his enemies. Muhammadu Buhari is even a classic case of malice, with coffin purportedly containing the corpse displayed on the social media, except that the demise of younger and healthier-looking Nigerians in the last one year has driven home the lesson.
Bisi Olatilo will also overcome.