The federal government yesterday put the number of Nigerians that have obtained the National Identification Number (NIN) as of Wednesday at 51 million, warning that those without NIN risk 14 years’ imprisonment.
Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, said at a ministerial briefing in Abuja, coordinated by the presidential media team, that there were no plans to lift the ban on Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card registration.
Pantami also put the number of SIM card subscribers at over 150 million.
He stated that while 51 million had completed their NIN registrations, the remaining 99 million had problems of improper registration.
The minister warned that those who failed to obtain their NIN could be jailed for between seven and 14 years as stipulated by law.
According to him, while obtaining a SIM card may be optional, NIN is mandatory as prescribed by Section 27 of the NIMC Act of 2007.
He added that it is a criminal offence to carry out business activities without first acquiring the NIN number.
He said: “Clause 27 of the NIMC Act states that you need the NIN number for opening bank account, for insurance, land transactions, voters’ registration, drivers’ licence. So, it is an offence to transact any business activity without first having your NIN.
“Based on the requirement by law, each and every citizen and legal resident must obtain his/her National Identification Number, which is being coordinated by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC). It’s a requirement by law, but many citizens ignore it.
“What we achieved in the area of enrolment from the time Mr. President has directed me to supervise NIMC till date is unprecedented and we would continue to ensure that in the next few years we have an almost complete data base of all our citizens in the country.
“No country will be successful in education, health, budget planning or national planning without data base of its citizens in place.
“What I inherited in the database was less than 20 per cent of our population. But we want to ensure that before we leave office we would look at the database and be proud of our country.”
Pantami added that the number of enrolment centres has doubled while the number of computers has tripled.
He stated that NIN would determine the total number of Nigerians that had registered because of the unique number.
He said government had no plan to lift the ban on new subscriber identification module (SIM) registration any time soon for security reasons, noting that when it comes to addressing security issue, the economy takes a back stage.
He added that SIM registration carried out in the past compromised the system.
“The ban on new SIMs remains in place for security reasons. We know this ban is painful but very necessary. In the past, SIMs registration process were compromised, most of the SIMs were improperly registered hence we have most of the SIMs used to commit crimes in the country. So what we are doing now is matching all the SIMs with NIN this has become necessary for security purposes.
“The ban may affect our economy, but when addressing the issue of security, the economy takes back stage. People used the biometrics of one person to register about 100 SIMs, after people are given money, this is even as some SIMs were improperly registered. This is one of the most difficult decisions taken as a minister. It is a very painful decision, but we had to take it,” Pantami stated.
According to him, the cost of data provided by telecommunications companies has been halved since last year from about N1,200 per gigabyte to less than N500 now.
The minister, however, blamed some state governors for the high cost of data production by inflating the charges telecommunication firms pay for right of way in installing their cables.
He said: “Some states charge as high as N60,000 per linear metre whereas it should not ordinarily be more than N145.”
Pantami said his ministry had engaged the governors through the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and pleaded with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to intervene in the matter.
He expressed optimism that if the anomaly is corrected, the telecom companies will produce even cheaper data.
On the performance of the ministry in 2020, Pantami stated that but for the ICT sector, Nigeria would not have been able to exit recession occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic.
He said within the period under review, the ICT sector grew more than 0.9 per cent, adding that the growth in the ICT is key to the successes recorded in the economy.
THIS STORY WAS FIRST REPORTED ON THISDAY