In December 2020, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) instructed all mobile network operators in Nigeria to halt SIM card registrations. They also told subscribers to link their National Identity Number (NIN) to their SIM cards.

The NCC was acting on the directive of Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami. It's alleged that some Nigerian's ride on multiple SIM registration and fraudulent SIM sales to perpetrate fraud. Dr. Isa Pantami aims to stop these activities.

Hence the threat that came after the ruling. The NCC further ordered mobile networks to block SIMs that weren’t linked to NIN by the 30th of December 2020.
The Minister's goal was to give the NCC ample time to audit Nigeria's Subscriber Registration Database. But, the country's size thwarted the dream before it even began.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with over 200 million people living in it. As of May 2020, Nigeria has 198 million active mobile lines. Yet only a mere 41.5 million Nigerians have registered for Identity cards.

The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) also recounts that only 48.2 million people have linked their NIN out of 99 million unique subscribers in Nigeria. This disparity in numbers has forced the NCC to move the deactivation deadlines around. The initial deadline of December 30 got postponed to April 6, 2021. Getting millions of Nigerians to register for the National ID card is a struggle and the initial deadline did not suffice.

The registration process is not seamless. It’s not something one can do from the comfort of his/her home or at a cyber café. It requires citizens to visit NIMC verified centers to register. But, these centers are not enough to cover the country’s population.

This rigid registration process puts a strain on the NCC’s goal. Currently, the latest deadline to link SIM cards with NIN in Nigeria is May 6, 2021, and it might not stand.

Consequences of the NCC SIM registration ban

Actions have consequences, and this continuous ban by the NCC has badly affected business owners, individuals, entrepreneurs, SIM registration agents, and telcos.

In our efforts to uncover how this ban has affected Nigerians, we spoke to individuals and business owners across sectors.

My experience

On Thursday, the 26th of March 2021, my network provider had a general downtime that affected calls, texts, and internet connection. When the disruption began, I didn’t panic because I thought they’d restore it before the end of the day. However, by Monday the 29th, as the problem persisted, I tried to reach my provider for quick resolution, but all efforts proved abortive. I finally got to them on the 30th, but they did nothing to remedy the situation.

Days ran into weeks, and the problem persisted. I decided to buy a MiFi from another network provider. The provider explained that I could only get an empty MiFi device for ₦12,000, and if I wanted a SIM card, I should get a pre-registered SIM for ₦3000 from an agent inside the outlet. Dejected, I left that particular outlet to another network provider, and it got worse as they sold theirs for ₦10,000.

It’s been over two weeks of network disruption, and I’m stuck with my current network provider because of NCC’s SIM registration ban.

Kelvin 44 (Medical Doctor)

I’m a Nigerian, but I live in Ontario, Canada. I recently returned to the country after being away for 30 years. After I got home, I needed to get a new SIM card to communicate with friends and family. At a network provider’s outlet, they told me the NCC banned SIM registration. They, however, referred me to someone in the outlet that helped me with a pre-registered SIM. Long story short, I got a pre-registered SIM for ₦20,000, something that originally costs ₦200.

Nzeh 39 (SIM registration agent)

Before the ban in December 2020, I usually make a minimum of ₦1000  from 5 SIM registrations daily. That’s ₦30,000 in a month because I operate every day of the week. The network provider pays me ₦60 per successful SIM registration, which gives me an average of an extra ₦9000. I rely on this money to feed my family, but this ban has frustrated my efforts and business.

Adah 25 (SIM registration agent)

I’m a student, but I run my SIM registration business on the side. I am at a busy site, and it helps my business as my daily turnover is high. On days when business is bad, I make ₦32,000 but, when it is booming, I can make between ₦60,000 - ₦70,000 a day. The turnover is different from the commission I get from the network providers. However, since this ban, I have made zero Naira, and it has gravely affected my upkeep.

Dereck (business owner)

I run a telematics startup that makes use of IoT dongles. Due to the NCC ban, we can't issue or even test the dongles with potential customers due to the sim cards. Although we have seen options to purchase SIM cards at ₦2000 per SIM, it is not cost-effective.  We have to suspend selling the dongles and switch to another business to survive.

Some other affected persons took to twitter to narrate their ordeal.

Telcos are also affected

Since the ban, all telcos have lost a significant amount of subscribers. While MTN lost 1.73 million subscribers, Airtel lost 2.2 million subscribers, Glo lost 250,000 subscribers, and 9mobile lost 180,000. An MTN’s 2020 report revealed that the suspension of sale and activation of SIM cards affected their subscriber growth. Also, Airtel, in its report, recounted that the overall impact of the ban remains uncertain.

The ban has continued to negatively impact businesses and individuals, and if allowed to linger, it might cause more harm than good.

NB: The names were changed.