Several attacks carried out by militants fighting the Nigerian government and its people in the north east of the country and Abuja, the federal capital territory, were coordinated by the terrorist group, Boko Haram using mobile telephone lines.
Starting from last Wednesday, MTN, Airtel, Glo and Etisalat, the four leading mobile operators in the country, took their subscribers by surprise by deactivating all lines with unregistered or improperly registered mobile subscriber data on their networks.
This has resulted in a deluge of crowds at the various service centres of the operators round the country.
Head, Enforcement and Monitoring, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Mr Idehen Efosa, told LEADERSHIP that out of the 37.79 million lines, Etisalat had 19.46 million improperly registered lines, followed by MTN with 18.6 million lines. Airtel has 7.4 million lines while Glo has 2.33 million lines only.
The order to deactivate the lines followed a meeting between the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Department of State Service (DSS), the network operators and the NCC, the nation’s telecom regulator, to examine the security threats posed by unregistered subscriber identification modules (SIMs).
Thereafter, the NCC handed down a seven-day ultimatum starting from August 4, 2015, to GSM operators to deactivate unregistered SIMs with invalidity status.
The NCC also asked the operators to notify the affected subscribers before deactivation of their SIM cards so that they could go for a re-registration or regularisation of their SIM record before they are re-connected for full two-way service reception. However, the mobile operators did not fully implement the deactivation order until mid-last week.
The decision by the mobile operators to suspend activities on the lines followed the imposition of N120.4 million fines for failure to fully comply with the NCC directive to deactivate pre-registered and defective customer SIM cards.
An NCC team had carried out a four-day check on the operators’ databases after the seven-day order expired, and it discovered partial implementation of the directive: MTN only removed 1.6 million lines and put them on ‘receive only’ mode; Airtel only removed 2.3 million SIMs with facial images problem; Globacom also removed only 3.5 million from the network while Etisalat barred 3.3 million SIMs also.
Director, public affairs, NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, said after the telecom regulator observed the lackadaisical attitude of the mobile operators to fully comply with its directive, it had no other choice than to fine MTN, which controls over 62 million subscribers on its network, with N102.2 million. Globacom was slammed with N7.4 million; Etisalat N7 million and Airtel N3.8 million.
He said the fines to be paid by each of the operators were listed in letters dated August 26 and 28, 2015, and addressed specifically to them. He explained that in continuation of its monitoring activities, the department placed voice calls to 402 MTN subscribers from among the list of numbers submitted to the operator for deactivation.
Similar exercises were carried out on other operators. In one of the letters entitled, “Re: Monitoring of Status Compliance with Stakeholders Resolution of August 4, 2015, on Deactivation of Incomplete and Improperly Registered SIM Cards – Notice of Sanction,” NCC observed that the monitoring exercise had revealed that the operators were still harbouring activated pre-registered and defective SIMs on their networks.
Following the outcry of mobile subscribers over the suspension of their mobile lines, Airtel said it was extending its operation hours in all its showrooms and customer touch points across the country by two hours every day of the week, Monday to Sunday, to accommodate customers who are desirous of updating their records in line with the Know Your Customer (KYC) registration exercise.
Airtel said following the directive from NCC to ensure that all customers on its network, who were yet to fully complete their SIM registration requirements, were barred from using their lines, “we wish to inform you that the barring of non-compliant lines has commenced on the Airtel network.
“If you have been barred or received a message that you will be barred as a result of this process, we appeal to you to kindly reactivate your line or update your records accordingly to continue enjoying our quality services. Please, visit any of our Airtel Express Shops or KYC registration centres across the country to update your registration details.”
Airtel said customers who had duly completed the SIM registration requirements as stipulated by the NCC should be assured that their lines would continue to remain functional and services would not be interrupted.
MTN corporate services executive, Mr Akinwale Goodluck, on his part, apologised to MTN subscribers whose lines were rendered inactive due to the ongoing SIM validation exercise and who had crowded their service outlets across the country, saying the company was doing everything possible to ameliorate the conditions at the service centres.
Goodluck said: “We wish to apologise to all our customers who are experiencing difficulty with the ongoing SIM registration/revalidation exercise. We appeal for calm as customers visit our various outlets. We are committed to ensuring that all affected subscribers complete the process as directed by NCC. It is for this reason that we have increased the number of staff handling SIM registration/validation across all our channels.
“We have also mandated all our registration outlets to remain open till 8pm every day until further notice.”
He noted that the decision to deactivate all lines with invalid or incomplete subscriber registration details was in compliance with the NCC directive.
“It is to enable us provide maximum support to government in achieving the national interest objectives of the exercise,” he said.
The president, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Mr Deolu Ogunbanjo, expressed support for NCC’s deactivation order as it bordered on national security.
He, however, wished that the regulator had given subscribers up to 30 days’ time frame to complete the registration instead of the shock treatment they got.