‘One’s days were too brief to take the burden of another’s errors on one’s shoulders. Each man lived his own life and paid his own price for living it.” –Oscar Wilde
By Cosmas Omegoh
Until August 21, 2019, when he was sworn in as Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami was just another ordinary Nigerian.
But gradually, he has become one of the few Nigerians who have gained visibility courtesy of Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency.
Before his upward climb into the political stratosphere began, he was the Director General and CEO of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). He was appointed into that office on September 26, 2016. He spent nearly three years in the position before he was made a minister. He was coming from the academia where he distinguished himself as a scholar.
But even as an honourable minister, not many can beat their chest to declare that they know him. Frankly speaking, not many people know anything about this man.
Now, all that seems to be changing. Pantami has begun gaining optics. And it all began on December 16, 2020.
Many who did not bother to care a hoot about him are beginning to ask questions. They are feeling the heat of the fires he recently ignited.
Give to him, whether for good or bad, Dr Pantami is easily one of the many Nigerians being discussed at the moment for his pronouncement which is stampeding Nigerians at the moment. So he is in the consciousness of Nigerians across all divides.
On December 16, Pantami issued his now-talked-about “decree” which Nigerians must obey within two weeks.
From his high horse, he issued his hoopla, directing the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to mandate all telecommunications operators to block all SIM cards which are not registered with the National Identification Numbers (NIN) at the end of December 31, this year. This is a pronouncement too many, which probably no one is finding funny.
According to Dr Ikechukwu Adinde, director, Public Affairs, NCC, “operators are to require all their subscribers to provide valid National Identification Number to update (SIM) registration records.
“The submission of NIN by subscribers (is) to take place within two weeks from December 16, 2020, and end by 30 December 2020). After the deadline, all SIMs without NINs are to be blocked from the networks.”
The NCC also noted that a ministerial taskforce comprising the minister and all the CEOs of the networks among other persons would help to ensure compliance.
The NCC then added that “violations of this directive will be met by stiff sanctions, including the possibility of withdrawal of the operating license,” of the networks.
Turning to helpless Nigerians, the NCC under Pantami’s directives charged them to launch out and ensure that their NINs were captured in their SIM registration data. It went on to issue the usual Nigerian cliché “all inconveniences which might be occasioned by this directive are deeply regretted.”
The need to hand Nigerians the pill to swallow NCC said arose from the gains from an earlier directive on the suspension of new SIM registration by network operators.
It added that the new directive aimed to consolidate the achievements of last year’s SIM registration audit which it believed would help it to improve the performance of the sector.
The new move would further help to take urgent drastic measures to inevitably improve the integrity and transparency of the SIM registration effort.
Following the handout, Nigerians stepped up on the firing line, questioning the rationale in Pantami’s directive and what he stood to gain by putting Nigerians to the test especially in this Yuletide season when the citizens are enjoying their holiday.
Many are questioning the urgency in asking Nigerians to troop out in their numbers to the NIMC centres first to register and get their NINs when Pantami and his NIMC ought to know that the process is nearly as difficult as water flowing uphill.
Besides, the shock of it all is why do the NCC and Pantami want Nigerians to risk their lives by going out for such exercise when they ought to know that there is a second wave of COVID-19 ravaging the country and the world at the moment.
Nigerians are contending that obeying the NCC directive is an invitation to chaos and death as that would be a sure way to spread COVID-19 as there is no how anyone could stop the virus from spreading since social distancing might not be guaranteed.
Critics also wonder why the exercise that was approved by Pantami could not wait until the country got over more worrisome matters.
Not letting up, more people insist that the NCC directive lacked deep thinking, revealing that it mirrors the quality of policies and directives being churned out by many managers of the present administration, which leave observers with the conclusion that coordination is missing in the present administration. Otherwise, the NCC should have effectively synergied with other government agencies to get its job done without calling Nigerians out.
Expectedly, pressure on the NCC – especially from the House of Representatives and other bodies – had forced Dr Pantami to shift grounds by approving an extension of the deadline for the exercise.
According to a statement issued by the NIMC’s Head, Corporate Communications, Mr. Kayode Adegoke, Dr Pantami approved the extension of the deadline on the ongoing NIN- SIM integration after a review of the exercise by the Presidential Task Force chaired by the minister.
The decision was taken at a meeting attended by the minister, and executive stakeholders in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, which includes the Director General, National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Aliyu Aziz; Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta; DG, National Information Technology and Development Agency (NITDA), Inuwa Kashifu Abdullahi; Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, CEOs of various networks among them MTN, Airtel, Ntel, Glo, Smile and 9mobile.
“Based on the endorsement of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the following resolutions were made:
“Three weeks extension for subscribers with NIN from December 30, 2020 to January 19, 2021; and six weeks extension for subscribers without NIN from December 30, 2020, to February 9, 2021.”
NIMC had assured that COVID-19 protocols would be implemented, saying that “NIMC has provided strategies to enable citizens to attend the registration in full compliance with COVID-19 protocols – particularly the use of facemasks, which remains mandatory and maintenance of social distancing.”
Indeed, not many trust that they are safe with this assurance given by the NIMC.
The new policy being promoted by Minister Pantami comes through as one of those unpopular actions of government which seeks to widen the gulf of mistrust between the people and the government.
Already, many Nigerians are seeing the policy as one of those numerous ways the government insensitively puts pressure on the ordinary people without caring a hoot. They wonder what the fate of the rural dwellers who do not know their way to the NIMC centres would be if their phone lines are blocked within weeks.
Yet many have argued that the latest policy of government leaves observers wondering what government does with the quantum of data it has collected since it has the biometrics of many Nigerians who for long registered for their Bank Verification Number (BVN), International passport, driver’s licence, NIN, among others.
They advised Minister Pantami to seek closer collaboration with other relevant government agencies in the course of achieving his set objectives rather than putting Nigerians through stress in these trying times.
Pantami, the man in the eye of the storm is said to be born on October 20, 1972, and hails from Pantami in Gombe State.
Before he was appointed DG/CEO of NITDA, he was a lecturer at Federal University of Technology Bauchi for over 10 years.
He had his primary and secondary school education in Gombe State before attending Federal University of Technology Bauchi (formerly Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University) where he earned his first degree of BTech in Computer Science, an MSc in Computer Science (2008/2009) and an MBA in Technology Management (2010/2011).
He obtained a Ph.D. in Computer Information Systems and Post Graduate Certificate in Research Methods from Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland, and the United Kingdom; he is a CCNA certified professional.