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SIM-NIN saga continues, as lawyer files N10bn suit against NCC, telcos



The ongoing saga surrounding the mandatory linking of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards to National Identification Numbers (NIN) has taken a new turn. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is facing legal action while defending its decision to block phone lines not linked to NINs by the February 28th deadline.

NCC’s Defense of Line Blocking

The NCC, through its spokesperson, Reuben Morka, during an interview defended its directive to telecommunications companies to bar phone lines not linked to NINs. His stance emphasizes the importance of the SIM-NIN linkage exercise, citing national security concerns and the need to curb criminal activities facilitated through anonymous phone lines.

Dr. Aduba highlighted the extensive public awareness campaign conducted by the NCC and mobile network operators (MNOs) in the lead-up to the deadline. He argued that ample time and resources were provided to enable Nigerians to comply with the directive.

Muoka, who explained in an interview on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, The Morning Brief, said: “People who probably didn’t get a cleared or verified NIN” had been barred because “the earlier ones they submitted were not good.”

He said some SIM cards had verification and identification issues, such as disparity in information, including names and other data.

“There are still some subscribers whose NINs are yet to be verified by the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, and those have to also be corrected,” Muoka said.

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Lawyer Files N10 Billion Suit

However, the NCC’s actions have been met with legal resistance. Lagos-based lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje, filed a N10 billion lawsuit against the NCC and its leadership. The suit, filed before the Federal High Court in Lagos, accuses the commission of causing “inconvenience, discomfort, injury and loss of business opportunities” to Nigerians due to the blocking of their phone lines.

In the suit marked FHC/L/CS/363/2024, Ogungbeje asked for an order compelling the respondents to jointly tender a public apology to the applicant and other affected Nigerian citizens.

Other respondents in the suit are MTN Nigeria Communications Plc, Airtel Networks Nigeria, Globacom Limited, and Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Ltd(9Mobile).

The court had on February 22, 2024, granted an order restraining the respondents from barring, deactivating and or restricting any phone lines/SIMs of the applicant and other Nigerians.

Ogungbeje is asking for a declaration that the action of barring, restricting and deactivating of his phone lines/SIMs and that of Nigerians by MTN, Airtel, Globacom and 9Mobile upon the directive of NCC and Maida from February 28, till date despite a valid and subsisting order of court granted against the respondents is wrongful, illegal, unlawful, undemocratic, unconstitutional and prejudicial against his and other affected citizens fundamental rights to fair hearing.

A Court Battle Looms

The lawsuit challenges the NCC’s authority to enforce the blocking of phone lines and seeks a court order restraining the commission from further actions. The N10 billion suit represents compensation sought for the alleged damages suffered by Nigerians who were unable to use their phones due to the NIN linkage requirement.

Unresolved Issues and Concerns

Several concerns linger regarding the SIM-NIN linkage. These include:

• Limited NIN Registration Access: Many Nigerians, particularly in rural areas, have faced difficulties obtaining their NINs due to a lack of registration centers or bureaucratic hurdles.
• Data Privacy Concerns: Questions remain about how the collected data will be stored and used, with some Nigerians fearing potential privacy breaches.
• Alternative Identification Options: The reliance solely on NINs for SIM registration excludes those without NINs for legitimate reasons. Exploring alternative identification methods could be beneficial.

Looking Ahead

The NCC’s defense of its actions and the N10 billion lawsuit set the stage for a potential legal battle. The court’s decision will be crucial in determining the future of the SIM-NIN linkage exercise and the rights of phone subscribers in Nigeria.

In the meantime, Nigerians await further developments with a mix of apprehension and hope. The success of the SIM-NIN initiative hinges on addressing outstanding concerns, ensuring inclusivity, and striking a balance between national security and individual rights.

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