Thursday, December 17, 2020

Ministerial directive: Rethinking the deadline - ITREALMS

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Time and time again, they have proved it: that Nigerian leaders are among the most warped in  execution of policies. Even when the idea is right, the implementation is often Knee jerk. No much attention is given to the human impact of the measures they are advocating or putting in place.
Dr Isa Ali Pantami, Minister of Comm. & DE
The Nigerian Communications Commission based on the reported Ministerial directive, wants Nigerian telephony operators to require all their subscribers to provide valid National Identification Number (NIN) to update Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) registration records. And this must be done in two weeks - from December 16, to December 30, 2020. After then, all SIMs without NIN will be blocked from the networks. 
Methinks that this policy as per the deadline is unworkable. For one thing, it shows how far removed from reality, these leaders are; and for another, it indicates the low level of data inputs that go into government policies and directives.

The whole idea of registering SIMs with NINs will without doubt help in enhancing the security of lives and property in the country. Phones are the basic instruments of communication by criminals and when SIMs are synced with NIN, owners of phones used in criminal activities can easily be traced. But how on earth do the minister and all that are involved in the making of the directive think that in two weeks - just two weeks - all Nigerian phone users would have registered with NIMC and again updated their SIMs with operators?

That is just impossible, unless their goal is to deny millions of Nigerians the usage of phones. First, of the 185.9 million active SIMs (as January 2020) how many are synced with NIN? Second, how many Nigerian phone users have obtained NIN? Third, how easy is it to go through the Nigeria Identity Management Commission registration for NIN? All these questions ought to have been evaluated and considered in arriving at a plausible deadline for the carrying out of this directive. It is clear that was not done.

I tried to find out but could not get a specific figure of NIN complaint SIMs, but I learnt that only an insignificant proportion has been synced. That means that they want over 100 million Nigerians to congregate at NIN registration centers and operators’ office to register within two weeks. This is simply callous.

Unknown to them, NIN registration in some states like Lagos and others is a herculean task. Earlier in the year, February to be precise, when I sought registration at Surulere, Lagos Centre of NIMC, I found it daunting. I was advised that for me to have any chance of getting registered at all I should leave my home by 4.30 am to be among the first ten persons to be on a queue. Consider the risks and the inconvenience!

By the sidelines, some smart Alec approached me and offered to help me get through . That was on the condition that I pay N5000 as ‘facilitation’ money. Of course, I could not play along with them. I had to wait till I travelled to Enugu where it was much easier to get registered.

Many parents had to go through such horrendous ordeals in order to get the number for their children as it was a registration requirement for UME and WAEC. In some schools, students were required to pay between N500 and N1000 each for special arrangement with NIMC workers to come to their schools and register them. Some parents had to travel to some remote local governments in Lagos and Ogun States to get their children captured and assigned numbers by NIMC. That is how difficult it is to get NIN.

If it was that difficult for students taking JAMB and WAEC numbering less than two million to obtain the number in a stretched out time of about two months, can you imagine when tens of millions go in search of the registration within the two-week window?

Why does our government institutions prefer to put the citizens under undue stress when there is need for none. For instance, if the NCC gives March 31, 2021 deadline, what difference will it make? This country has been under security siege for years, will another three months amount to apocalypse?

It is clear that these men in authority do not understand the pains and deprivations caused by some of their policies and directives on ordinary people. They do not know what it means to leave one’s home in the wee hours to queue just to obtain a number which in other jurisdictions poses no hassle. They do not know what it takes to go far into the interior to seek to obtain a number for your child. After all, all these come to them and their family members at the snap of their fingers. 

Before putting in place this snappy deadline, could not the Ministry of Communications and NCC thought of the sheer number of persons that would be affected and the impracticability of such short time frame? Could they not have ensured that the registration points for NIN are expanded to take care of the expected upsurge in demand registration? For now, there is only one registration point in each of the local government areas. How would that cope with the uptick in the persons seeking registration?

Think of this. Christmas, which is a major celebration for Christians, is just a few days away, and you want them to discard their plans for the period to focus on seeking NIN registration. By the time many of them would hear about this directive they would be on their ways to their different villages and towns for the annual festivity.

Then comes the big one. With the recent increase in the the number of COVID infections in the country, the same government has been urging people to keep safe distance and wear masks as per COVID-19 protocols. With this Ministerial cum NCC directive, phone users must of necessity seek to update their SIMs and the likely consequence is that crowds would gather at NIMC centers and network operators’ offices.

As I earlier said, Nigerian leaders are not bereft of good ideas, but they often fall short in goal-setting and implementation. No one would dispute that the idea of syncing NIN with SIMs is a beautiful idea. But timing, both in terms of period and span, has shown once again the insensitivity of this government to the human factors in their policies. It is time public office holders applied more thought on the likely impact of their directives on the already over-burdened Nigeria masses.

*Chijama Ogbu publishes The Rainbow News www.therainbowonline.net 

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