The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has reiterated its commitment to supporting security agencies to combat crimes through the registration of (Subscriber) Identification Module (SIM) cards.
Dr Isa Pantami made the disclosure when he featured at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja on Sunday.
Pantami, however, said that the SIM card registration must be in synchronisation with the National Identification Number (NIN) registration, which was being carried out nationwide.
He said that the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) was directed to release the biodata of any individual suspected of using mobile phone to commit any offence within 60 minutes.
According to the minister, it is an offence for any citizen or foreigner resident in the country not to have a NIN.
“It is the number that one is identified either as a citizen or as a legal resident. Any person resident in Nigeria is entitled to it by law.
“It is the foundational identity and no responsible country will exist without providing foundational ID to its citizens and legal residents.
“It exists in the UK as National Insurance Number, in the U. S. as the National Insurance Security Number, even in India with population of about 1.2 billion it exists for all citizens.
“Every country has a type of identification but in Nigeria, the 7th most populous nation after China, India, U.S., Indonesia, Pakistan and Brazil, we are still struggling to know the total number of people living in Nigeria,” he said.
He said that the institution managing the nation’s population estimates that “there are around 210 million while some will estimate 10 million less or more, giving a gap of 20 million people.
“How can you get your national budget right; how can we get our education, health, security and social intervention right without knowing the population of Nigerian residents,” he said.
The minister observed that with census, the population could be known but census had been fraught with many abuses by people.
“With national identification such abuse is not possible.
“With biometrics, which are on record, the nation does not require frequent census if the data base is updated.
“The same data base can be with the National Population Commission because it is part and parcel of National Identity Management Commission.”
Pantami said that the NIN law was in place for more than 14 years and its neglect had negative effect on fighting crimes.
“Our main challenge is that we are passionate about having a law but we do not want to comply with it,’’ he said.
Pantami said National Communications Commission played significant role through the provision of bio data, which could be used by security agencies to trace criminals.
“We are not security agencies, what we are doing is our little effort to support security agencies.
“NCC only provides information for security agencies, if security agencies do not contact it we will not know,” he said.
He said that before he assumed office, no one knew the number of SIM cards in the nation’s network and the number of partially registered SIMs.
He said that it was only when NCC was directed to carry out an audit that it was discovered that about 9.2 million SIMs were either unregistered or partially registered and the owners could not be traced.
The minister said that toward end of September 2019, the agency removed all SIMs not fully registered.
“On the last day, 2.4 million, approximately, were blocked from the network, and the main reason for doing that was to support security of our country.’’
The minister acknowledged that the performance was appreciated although criminals later compromised the registration by using unpatriotic agents to register multiple cards and defrauding customers.
He noted that the Federal Government stepped in again to sanitise the system and came up with another policy to curb the criminal acts of the agents, part of which was to permit mobile operators to register NIN alongside SIM.
Pantami said only security agencies were permitted to get bio data from any network provider if there was any suspicion of infractions by any citizen on the use of a cell phone.
He said that vide the approval from security chiefs, NCC was mandated to release within 60 minutes the data of any person demanded of by operatives following due process. (NAN)