For reasons best known to the Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC, and the National Security Agency, NSA, mobile phone subscribers with perhaps unsatisfactory ownership details are being made to re-register. Ostensibly, the current move is designed to capture the biometric data of all mobile phone subscribers and may be, to curb crimes committed through mobile phones and other cyber outlets in the country.
After all, the activities of scammers and incidence of cyber criminality in the country is not a matter of hearsay: it is a recurring daily occurrence. In this light, we consider this as an action long overdue, even as we condemn the haphazard manner in which officials of the mobile phone companies are going about it.
For instance, the chaos that occurred last Wednesday, when about 10.7 million subscribers woke up to find out that their mobile phones had been disconnected, was to say the least, scandalous, even criminal. Millions of irate subscribers besieged their network service centres across the country to complain about their inability to either make or receive calls and send text messages because of the ban placed on their Subscriber Identity Modules, SIM, cards.
By subjecting subscribers to such excruciating agony and misery, the NCC re-affirmed its insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians. We consider the needless pain and panic inflicted on subscribers as calculated insult.
We must state that we endorse the deactivation of subscribers’ SIM cards ahead of the ongoing exercise; if for nothing else, at least for the sake of our aggregate national security. But in fairness to fellow Nigerians, only SIM cards found defective ought to have been suspended. For strange reasons which we see as solely commercial, Major Network Operators, MNOs, including Airtel, Etisalat, MTN and Globacom at the risk of being tagged non-compliant on this note, stone-walled the initial registration exercise required for every new subscriber before his phone line is activated, refused to delete people with uncompleted registration details from their networks as this entails losing market share.
We recall that in September 2014, the NCC discovered that some of the SIM data GSM operators sent to it for harmonisation were defective and had to be returned. Accordingly, no fewer than 7. 49 million SIM data were sent back to Airtel; 10.46 million to Etisalat, 2.23 million to Globacom and 18.6 million to MTN.
Regrettably, the about N31 billion claimed to have been invested in the exercise in the last five years, appears to be money gone down the drain. While MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat claimed to have spent about N25 billion on the process, NCC, under former Executive Vice Chairman, Dr. Eugene Juwah, also got N6.1 billion from the federal government to do the SIM registration and harmonisation.
As the breakdown in communication across the country has demonstrated, it is doubtful if the NCC considered the ripple effect of its inconsiderate administration of the exercise. With millions of dissatisfied customers milling around the centres, manned by discourteous and ill-mannered customer service representatives, who themselves have become challenged by the tedium and tackiness of the exercise, it would take only a short while before tensions begin to mount, especially with the continuous suspension of duly registered subscribers who are paying the price because some Nigerians are bad citizens as far as obeying rules and regulations are concerned.
The uncanny display of patience and subservience, amidst sloppy management of the exercise by the GSM operators, is commendable. However, it would be a mistake to take this for granted. As tensions eventually rise and tempers flare, simple altercations, which ordinarily would be resolved, frankly, would become, in this mob setting, a recipe for violence. And Nigeria, charged as it is from the palpitation of socio-economic discontents, cannot afford to be fanned aflame by a commotion over mobile phones. It is imperative, therefore, that the groundswell of public complaints and an acknowledgement of its incapacitation should impel the NCC and other stakeholders to reconsider the suspension.
Beyond the tragic comedy of errors that the exercise has become, now is an auspicious moment for the NCC to take a hard look at the quality and cost of services provided by the GSM operators. The current connectivity and tariff/billing problems are beyond the registration of SIM cards. With 154 million connected lines, 144 million of them active according to released figures, in over a decade of service, Nigeria has come a long way. What is regrettable however is the service delivery, which is clearly inversely proportional to the growth of the sector, despite promises to the contrary by the providers. The NCC, despite claims of working at quality and transparent service delivery, seems content with inadequate supervision.
Our call is simple: there is now need more than ever before for the federal government to take a very hard look at NCC and telecom service providers vis-a-vis subscribers’ satisfaction as well as the country’s economic prosperity from the service providers. Until that is done, we fear that the fraudulent practices in the service delivery to consumers would continue unabated.


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