Why you can no longer buy or register new SIM cards in Nigeria, for now

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Since yesterday, December 9, 2020, you may have found it difficult to buy, register, and activate new SIM cards all around Nigeria. This is because Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Internet Services (ISPs) have stopped selling or activating SIMs following an order by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

The telecom regulator states that it wants to begin a fresh audit of the SIM registration exercise of September 2019 on the direction of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.

The Nigerian federal government intends to verify if all MNOS have followed the required standards for SIM registration and the issuing and sales of new SIM cards will be temporarily suspended until the exercise is complete.

The ICT minister also enjoins all subscribers to get their National Identity Numbers (NIN) and submit to the network operators as directed in January 2020.

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This move comes at the end of a series of directives that started over a year ago in 2019.

Recall that in May 2019, the NCC launched a second phase of the SIM registration exercise. By September of the same year, millions of MTN subscribers were ordered to redo their sim registration due to irregularities.

Following this, In February 2020, the ministry also stated that Nigerians registering new SIM cards would have to do so through the NIN while foreigners would use their passports. Existing subscribers were also expected to update their details with their NINs before December 1, 2020.

We have previously analysed why this move might not be realistic, and the issues raised then still persist. Nigeria’s quest for widespread digital identity has remained elusive, and new steps taken in 2020 are yet to yield results.

Encouragingly, the NCC says it has deactivated 2.2 million improperly registered SIM cards following the September registration. But it is still in the process of harmonising data from people that have more than one SIM card.

For now, it is increasingly likely that several subscribers that have not submitted an identity number would have to commence a fresh registration exercise once the audit is completed.


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