Nigeria suspends mobile service for 73 million unverified identities

The Nigerian government has ordered telecom providers in the country to cut mobile service for 73 million customers. The unprecedented move seeks to compel residents and mobile operators to comply with a 2020 regulation which stipulates that every SIM card must be associated with a Nigerian National Identity Number (NIN).

President Muhammadu Buhari issued the order in December 2020, although enforcement has been repeatedly delayed due to complaints that the deadlines were too short. However, it now appears that the government is no longer willing to tolerate any further excuses for non-compliance and is ordering mobile operators to block calls to all SIM cards that have not yet been registered. Data subjects will not be able to make calls until they complete the mandatory identity verification process, which includes registering the NIN.

At present, the National Identity Management Commission of Nigeria has already distributed over 78 million NINs, and these numbers have been linked to over 125 million SIM cards. The president and the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission hope the new requirement will help mitigate fraud and cybercrime and make it more difficult for criminals to report. In this regard, the country has been plagued with a wave of kidnappings and extortion, which at least partly motivates the order to disconnect unregistered SIM cards.

The biometric registration program is also part of this crime prevention effort. To register for a NIN, Nigerian residents must submit personal information along with their fingerprints and a photo. A strong ID program should make it easier to track criminals and missing people across the country, and the mobile policy should encourage more people to sign up for the program. Nigeria already requires a NIN as proof of identity for those accessing key services like health insurance, voteand bank accounts.

In the past, Nigerian mobile operators have faced massive fines (up to US$1 billion) for failing to comply with government SIM mandates. Nigeria began rolling out its biometric identification program in 2019, with the help of $433 million in financing from the World Bank and fingerprint scanners from BIO-key. South Africa has also considered linking mobile numbers to biometrics, although Nigeria’s recent move is a much more aggressive step in that direction.

Sources: All of Africa and Media Capacity

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