Nigeria's security worsens, raising doubts about NIN-SIM linkage

Insecurity lingers in Nigeria, three years after introducing NIN-SIM linkage to address it. Ex-minister blames security operatives for underutilising the platform.

Nigeria's security worsens, raising doubts about NIN-SIM linkage
Isa Pantami, the former minister for communication and digital economy, who led the implementation of the NIN-SIM linkage policy

On January 9, unidentified terrorists kidnapped Mansoor Al-Kadriyar, as well as five of his daughters and one niece, from his residence in the Zuma 1 Bwari area, located in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria.

Despite the Nigerian Police Force (NPF)'s intervention during the abduction, the terrorists evaded capture after a gun battle that inflicted injuries on some officers and led to the unfortunate death of Al-Kadriyar's brother, who had alerted the police. The injured officers later died, according to Daily Trust.

Subsequently, the terrorists released Mansoor Al-Kadriyar on January 5, tasking him with arranging the ransom for the release of his daughters and niece, with a deadline set for January 12.

A few days after the incident, the hashtag #Najeebahandhersisters gained traction on Twitter, as users mobilised to crowdfund ₦60 million for the family's release. Beyond its fundraising efforts, the hashtag sparked intense discussions on social media about the escalating insecurity, particularly the alarming rise in kidnapping cases in Abuja.

Upon the deadline, the family managed to raise only ₦30 million, half of the requested amount. "After back and forth [with the terrorists], they instructed us to come and receive a ‘message’ at a location in the night," revealed Sherifdeen Al-Kadriyar, a brother to Mansoor Al-Kadriyar. The 'message' turned out to be the lifeless body of Nabeeha, one of Al-Kadriyar's kidnapped daughters.

The kidnappers also hiked the ransom to ₦65 million. "The NPF is actively engaging and contacting individuals crucial to the rescue operations and investigation. The objective is not only to bring perpetrators to justice but also to intensify efforts in rescue operations for victims still in captivity," according to Olumuyiwa Adejobi, the national spokesperson of the NPF.

On January 14, Isa Pantami, the former minister for communication and digital economy, revealed that a friend of his contributed ₦50 million for the ransom. Pantami clarified, stating, "I am personally not in support of paying ransom to criminals."

Regardless, the 'generosity' of Pantami's friend sparked outrage over the underutilisation of the country's digital identity systems, specifically the national identification number (NIN) and subscriber identity module (SIM) to end insecurity. Some public commentators accused the minister, who is a professor of cybersecurity, of publicly funding terrorism, which is against Nigerian laws.

A person who knowingly and directly or indirectly, solicits or renders support for the commission of an act of terrorism, or to a terrorist group, commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of at least 20 years and up to a maximum of life imprisonment.

— Section 13 (1a&b) Terrorism Prevention and Prohibition Act 2022.

In December 2020, under Pantami's tenure as the minister, the Nigerian government implemented the NIN-SIM linkage as a measure to address security challenges associated with volatile communication services.

"By the time all Nigerians have linked their NINs to their SIM cards, it would indirectly improve the security of the country, it would help in tracing a call from a registered SIM," Sunday Folayan, a former president of the Nigeria Internet Registration Authority, said at the time. "It’s difficult to trace a call from an unregistered SIM, but if all SIM cards are registered and linked to NIN, it would be easier to trace the calls. One of the reasons the government wants Nigerians to follow that directive is because it can help improve security in the country."

Recently, the Nigerian Communications Commission announced that any subscriber who hasn't completed the linkage by February 28 will face disconnection. Over 125 millions SIM cards have been linked.

Related Article: Why are African governments deactivating unregistered SIM cards?

According to Katch Ononuju, a public affairs analyst, "The SIM-NIN linkage has been used to zero in on the terrorists, the problem is the absence of political will..." Some attribute the underutilisation of the linkage to a lack of collaboration between affected individuals and security forces.

In a recent response to a comment on X, Pantami stated, "lack of utilising it is the main problem, not the policy". "The relevant institutions fighting criminality are to be requested to ensure they utilise it effectively when a crime is committed," he added. The former minister mentioned that during his tenure, the system was utilised in three successful operations.

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