From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja
Many telecommunications subscribers thought the Federal Government was bluffing when it gave a few days’ grace to those who have not linked their SIM cards with their National Identity Number (NIN) to do so or risk having them barred.
So, it was a rude shock when many Nigerians woke up at the dawn of April 5 to discover that they could no longer make calls.
Almost 20 days later, NIN enrollment centres have become a beehive of frustrated Nigerians trooping in to unbar their lines.
Touts and corrupt enrollment officers capitalize on the desperation of subscribers to demand bribes.
On various occasions that DailySun visited the NIN enrollment Centre at Wuse Zone 3, security officers battled frantically to control the mammoth angry crowd which broke into a fight occasionally, threatening to vandalize the place. Severely, the gates of the center were shut against enrollees before 12pm in an effort to protect the place from the angry mob.
Among the affected persons is a set of Nigerians who have linked their SIM cards to their NIN but still have their lines barred out of system error either on the part of the telecoms operators or the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).
Without immediate help in sight, those affected have stormed various social media platforms to vent their frustrations.
Many players in the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) space are also lamenting the horror they have been subjected to with the barred lines.
Many of them said their businesses were currently on ventilators as they cannot reach their customers as and when due. They also complained that the self service code provided by the NIMC was not functioning.
Gladys Kennedy, a Point of Sales operator said her business line was barred despite linking her SIM with her NIN.
“I woke up last week and discovered that glo has barred me from making calls. I’ve done the linkage, yet my line was barred. I tried to link my SIM again using the self service code but it kept giving me error feedback. So I went to an NIN enrollment Centre to complain only for them to say my NIN is invalid and I need to verify it. I was shocked because this is the same NIN I have been using for years. I was asked to return in a week. This was after spending days in the queue to go in. I still can’t reach my clients when I want to. It’s so horrible. I’m frustrated”, she lamented.
Another victim of a wrongful SIM block is Chijioke Ulaka, who told Daily Sun that life has never been the same since his lines were barred from calls.
“I’m a thrift society treasurer. I need to call and remind people to pay their contributions. But since my lines were barred, I can’t do that. This is unfair. My lines are linked. This country is hellish”, he lamented.
Distraught Nigerians are also on Twitter to express their sad feelings about their blocked lines.
@Iconic_chijioke said: “I think there is something we are not getting. I linked my GlobWorld SIM and it’s showing verified on the app but it is barred”.
@Afro_addict lamented; “I used this app and my number was validated and I still got barred from making calls… I had to use *121*# and after waiting for hours it was unbarred. And now it has been barred again”.
@WestGadget tweeted; “This is useless. AirtelNigeria I bought a new Sim three months ago, registered with NIN, linked the NIN myself and my Airtel SIM was blocked”
@OkoroTeg: “I have linked my NIN, yet I was barred this morning from outgoing calls. What type of wickedness is this?”.
Reacting to the development, the President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Mr Adeolu Ogunbanjo, disclosed that NATCOM was set to take the government to court by May if it fails to temporarily lift the ban.
He said the action by the Federal Government was premature, arguing that it would have consulted widely before taking such a decision.
He queried how subscribers who do businesses on their SIMs survive the implication of the Federal Government’s directive.
Representing the voices of many telcos subscribers, the NATCOMS President called for the extension of the NIN-SIM linkage exercise for more persons to be captured.
He said “For me, I think it is premature. The period given to subscribers was less than two years. So why would the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy order telcos to bar outgoing calls to unlinked SIMs?
“A lot of people use their phones for businesses. The government would have held meetings with operators and stakeholders to know the extent of compliance before coming out with a blanket statement.
“Also, the capacity of National Identity Management should be questioned. There is a need for the expansion of NIMC capacity. The Federal Government should rather extend further the NIN-SIM linkage exercise”,
“We have said that if the Federal Government does not lift the ban, we would go to court. But SERAP said it had filed a document in the court. So, we are giving the government until the end of the month.
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the Presidency to unblock 72 million subscribers from making calls.
While acknowledging the need to address insecurity in Nigeria, SERAP urged the incumbent administration to do so in a manner that respects human rights and due process.
The Group also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently review and rescind his reported approval for security agencies to access subscribers’ personal details via NIN-SIM linkage without due process of law.
SERAP also urged the president to send executive bills to the National Assembly to repeal and reform all laws, which are inconsistent and incompatible with Nigerians’ rights to privacy, dignity and liberty.
Meanwhile efforts to get Mr Kayode Adegoke, NIMC Spokesperson to divulge what the government was doing to address the hitches proved abortive as he declined giving any comments.