Frustration mounts over subscribers’ inability to retrieve SIMS, get new ones - SALIENT TIMES ONLINE

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Monday, 26 April 2021

Frustration mounts over subscribers’ inability to retrieve SIMS, get new ones

By Our Correspondent


• Telcos claim NCC delaying process, regulator keeps mum
•Govt bans third party franchise for sale of lines



Nearly 10 days after the Federal Government lifted the ban on sales and registration of new Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards, telecommunications operators are yet to commence sales and retrieval of lines.
  
All throughout last week, checks across some service centres in Lagos showed that none of the operators visited had commenced retrieval and sales of new SIMs.
   
Subscribers, who were at some of the centres, especially to retrieve old SIMs, expressed frustrations, as they were turned back.

A customer at the Fatai Atere MTN office, claimed the operators said he should come back by ending of the month, as they were yet to start.
  
The consumer, who gave his name simply as Temitope, said he lost the line in January, “and all efforts to retrieve the SIM have not yielded result. 

Okay, as at then, I had no National Identification Number (NIN), but I have since registered and now have an NIN, and even linked it to my other SIM. But this particular SIM is a business line. I pray when I come back by month end, I should get my line back.”
   
Another subscriber, Chineneye Abiagwu, a Globacom user, also expressed same frustration. She said she was at the Airport Road office of the telecommunications firm to retrieve her lost line, “but I was turned back. I was told to check back next week (This week).”
 
The delay, according to findings is from the telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), which is billed to issue an official letter to the telcos for the commencement of the service.
   
Recall that the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Communications, had lifted the about five months ban on registration and activation of new SIMs in Nigeria on April 15, and directed that operators can begin to register effective April 19.  
  
However, checks showed that a formal directive from the NCC to the telcos has not come.Some of the operators, in separate interviews, said it is still a ministerial pronouncement, as there was no official letter yet from NCC directing them to commence the exercise.
  
“We wrote the NCC early last week to know if we can start SIM sales, but as at Friday, we have not heard from them. Maybe, something will happen this new week. It is still a ministerial pronouncement. The regulator needs to issue a directive, which we are still waiting for,” an operator stated.
  
Another operator, in a text message, wrote: “We have not. Still waiting on NCC to give go-ahead.” Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said according to the new guidelines, all new SIM activation must come with NIN number and verified, which is being followed strictly by operators.
  
“In addition, NCC has to accredit all SIM activation and NIN enrolment centres and that process is currently ongoing. Things are starting, slowly but rightly,” Adebayo added.

SalientTimes also gathered that part of the new SIM registration rules is that sales will only be within designated, official telecoms’’ offices. This means that henceforth, government has banned third party franchise for SIM sales.
   
Explaining this, an industry source said Nigerians can only purchase and register new SIM cards only at telecoms firms’ outlets. Furthermore, all those roadside and umbrella telecoms ‘operators’ and agents across the country are out of jobs.
   
The source said the ban on roadside and under umbrella sales and registration of SIM cards was part of the conditions agreed to by the mobile network operators (MNOs) for the Federal Government to lift the embargo on SIM registration.
   
According to the source, “under the new regulation, sale and registration of SIMs are to be done only at “controlled environments”, which means that registration of new SIMs are to be done majorly at service providers’ buildings to be manned by staff, who must have obtained the National Identification Number (NIN). 
    
Efforts to get the NCC to comment on the delay failed, as its Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Ike Adinde, could not pick his calls and reply text messages sent to his mobile line as at press time.
   
However, it was learnt that the regulator was actually working on new SIM sales and registration guidelines, expected to be made public this week.   
  
Besides, it was also gathered that the planned ban on MNOs’ use of third party to sell and register SIM cards was part of government’s moves that would ensure telecoms companies take full responsibility of the exercise, especially because of increasing security challenges in several parts of the country.
 
“As it is, only operators’ staff will be allowed to handle any SIM activity. The era of anyhow persons sitting by the roadside selling SIM card is no longer allowed. Moreover, ordinary people selling SIM cards by the roadside are limited. They cannot solve some pertinent issues, including SIM swap and mobile number portability. These can only be handled by the operators themselves. So, it is better the MNOs handle everything, so that we can easily trace the loopholes and ensure they are blocked,” an industry source stressed.    
  
According to the source, when the FG imposed the ban on SIMs, countless people who lost their phones or damaged their SIM cards inadvertently couldn’t retrieve them, even “visitors to the country couldn’t get SIMs and businesses that depended on SIM cards sales took a terrific hit.
  
“Millions were thrown out of jobs, sales outlets were shut down while operators lost revenue. But, I think, going forward, those loopholes will be tightened adequately well to block avenues where anybody can register SIM cards,” the source added.