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Nigeria NIN-SIM linkage now 1.4% of phone users sparking concerns

Nigeria NIN-SIM linkage now 1.4% of phone users sparking concerns
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The Federal Government and telcos are worried over the slow pace of the Nigeria NIN-SIM linkage, which has only reached 1,314,279 lines, representing 1.4% of submitted phone numbers, according to Technology Times checks. 

The slow pace has sparked concern that the ongoing harmonisation of National Identity Number (NIN) and SIM card information mandated for phone subscribers, a key segment of Nigeria’s Digital Identity programme, may linger beyond five years before completion, according to internal documents of the implementation team reviewed by Technology Times.   

The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Nigeria’s ID agency, which has 95,606,164 phone numbers, representing 49.7% of overall national subscriber base in the country, has so far been able to verify 1.4% of submitted phone numbers by end of May, this year.

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Nigeria NIN-SIM linkage now 1.4% of phone users sparking concerns

As of May this year, the Nigerian telecoms industry has 187,026,517 subscriber lines representing 97.98% coverage of the population; 140,488,490 active internet connections and 75,569,442 broadband connections estimated to have reached 39.59%, according to official market information provided by the telecoms industry regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), which has 95,606,164 phone numbers, representing 49.7% of the overall national subscriber base in the country, has so far been able to verify 1.4% of submitted phone numbers by end of May.

Telcos, particularly the MNOs have so far collected  95,606,164 phone numbers of NIN owners, representing 49.7% of national subscriber base/count across Nigeria, within the same period, several documents reviewed by Technology Times have revealed.

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Dr Isa Pantami, Communications and Digital Economy Minister, had last year ordered all phone subscribers in Nigeria to link their NIN and SIM information to their telecoms service providers. Telcos were equally ordered to stop sale of new phone lines and retrieval of lost SIMs, a development that hit the telecoms industry, causing subscribers and revenue loss to the operators.

The Minister, who chairs the Joint Implementation Committee (JIC) set up to review that progress of the Nigeria NIN-SIM linkage and telcos are now worried that NIMC’s current pace of verification may not deliver the expectations of leveraging the linkage of phone subscribers’ records to accelerate enrolment of Nigerians for the National Digital Identity programme.

As of May 2021, the JIC monthly report of the nationwide NIN-SIM harmonization exercise reveals that the slow pace of verification by the Federal ID agency has been further hampered by the manual process made available to mobile networks.

Across Nigeria, phone subscribers have continue to submit their NIN to mobile phone companies for both verification and linkage to their phone lines, with 5.3 million lines collected in the month of May to grow the total number of phone lines to 95.6 million by NIN holders, which represents 49.7% of 192 million phones in Nigeria, within the same period. At 49.7%, the submission for the month of May represents a marginal increase over the 47% collected from the preceding month of April, according to the progress report by the JIM reviewed by Technology Times.

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Nigeria NIN-SIM linkage now 1.4% of phone users sparking concerns

The biggest worry for government, telcos and other stakeholders is that by end of May, only 1.3 million, representing 1.4% of the cumulative 95.6 million submitted phone numbers “have been duly verified and linked to subscriber lines”, representing a marginal growth over the 1% recorded for the month of April 2021.

The progress report further reveals that “NIN verification and linkage by MNOs remains meagre at 0.6-1.4%, March through May 2021, in comparison to 46-49.7% of the national telecommunications base that submitted non-unique NINs over the period. This trend is expected to continue as long as Bulk NIN Verification by NIMC is not in place.”

To address this issue, NIMC “needs to confirm a timeline when Bulk NIN Verification will commence”, since the system has been at the proof-of-concept stage since January, according to the report. 

Without the Bulk NIN Verification system, Nigerian MNOs “will continue to collect submitted NINs from customers but will not be able to verify and link them to customer’s telephone lines (MSISDNs), as required, to achieve the stated objectives of Government.”

The Committee’s reports underscore the need for NIMC to urgently roll out the Bulk NIN Verification explaining that without the system, “verification of the 95.6m submitted MSISDNs which would continue to grow monthly, cannot happen and Government’s Directive to verify and link NINs to customer SIMs (MSISDNs) will not be achieved.”

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Nigeria NIN-SIM linkage now 1.4% of phone users sparking concerns

Nigeria NIN-SIM Linkage: Need for Bulk Verfication

According to the team, “without Bulk NIN Verification, MNOs would have to resort to overnight Batch NIN Verification processing using the Single NIN Verification API or otherwise invite their customers to visit MNO outlets for Individual NIN verification using same API. NIMC’s systems would become overwhelmed by the millions of requests for overnight Batch NIN Verification processing from all MNOs leading to poor performance outright failure of the processing systems. 

“On the other hand, the option of inviting millions of telephone customers to visit MNO outlets for Individual NIN Verification would lead to congestion of these outlets and overwhelm MNO personnel, besides precipitating a public health emergency with the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, as it would be difficult, if not impossible, to observe the stipulated public health protocols. It is pertinent to state that both options above would take years to complete.”

The Implementation Committee warns that the Nigeria NIN-SIM linkage underway nationwide may linger for more that four years at current pace of verification, though MNOs have increased their enrolment centres from 298 outlets in April to 452 by May, this year, and with other enrolment partners have added 2 million NINs enrollees or 27% NIN penetration.

“NIN penetration is still low, considering the target of 65% NIN penetration that is proposed as a reasonable threshold for effective coverage of owners of telephone lines in the country. Without reaching this target, millions of Nigerians who do not have NINs will have their lines disconnected if Government directs MNOs to disconnect telephone lines that are not harmonized with customers’ NIN. At the current rate of 335,193 Generated NIN additions monthly, it would take about over 4 or more years to reach the stated 65% NIN penetration target”, according to the Committee.

“At 27% NIN penetration, a good number of telephone subscribers do not yet have NINs, as evidenced by the 50.3% of the nationwide telecommunications base that is yet to submit NINs for linkage to their telephone lines. Growing NIN penetration to the stated target of 65% of the population is important in order to reach a threshold that realistically covers a reasonable majority of the owners of telephone lines”, the report recommends. 

The Committee reckons that, “this will ensure that customer’s telephone lines are not unfairly or unduly disconnected on account of poor access or the lack of opportunity to acquire a NIN, which is not the fault of the subscribers. It is notable that NIN enrolment centers are prevalent in the urban centers which accounts for 52% of the country’s population. NIN penetration needs to go beyond the urban to rural areas to reach the 65% target in order to reasonably cover the population of telephone owners.”

The team also says that the recommendation to urgently upgrade NIMC’s facilities should be implemented “including the provision for Disaster Recovery site is critical, in order to avoid precipitating persistent poor performance, system overload and outages that will frustrate MNOs and other users of NIMC’s verification services, that are now mandated as part of their business processes.”

There is also the urgent need to upgrade the National Identity Management System (NIMS), seen as central to the ongoing harmonisation process of NIMC that is designed to uniquely authenticate the identity of all individuals and provide a national identity database and an authentication/verification infrastructure.

The NIMS upgrade is urgently needed “in the coming months as MNOs commence the deployment of 150,000 Android Enrolment Devices in the course of 2021. Rollout of Bulk NIN Verification by NIMC is also crucial so that the pile of 95.6m MSISDNs that have been submitted by customers can be verified and linked to their respective subscriber lines”, according to the team’s report.

Meanwhile, at the Communications and Digital Economy Ministry in Abuja last week, Uwa Suleiman, the Minister’s media aide told Technology Times that rather than the Minister, NIMC was better placed to respond to questions regarding the slow pace of the NIN-SIM verification process as “they are not policy issues.”

Rather, she says that NIMC, the nation’s ID agency was better placed to address the questions since they are currently under the mandate under the ongoing implementation of the national digital identity programme of the country. NIMC became one of the government institutions that came under the supervision of the Communications and Digital Economy Ministry last year, following its relocation from the Presidency.

Dr Aliyu Aziz, NIMC Director-General did not respond to questions sent to him last week by Technology Times to get the agency’s response to some of the issues raised, including the slow pace of the verification process.

A World Bank financing of the Nigerian digital ID  with a $430 million grants provided by European Investment Bank, $215 million; French Agency For Development, $100 million and International Development Association (Ida), $115 million is supporting the “Digital Identification for Development Project for Nigeria is to increase the number of persons with a national ID number, issued by a robust and inclusive foundational Identification (ID) system, that facilitates their access to services”, the multilateral institution says.

According to the project timelines, when completed by June 1, 2024, Nigerian is expected to have issued NIN totalling 148 million, with women accounting for 65 million and children, 50 million.

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