Telcos in Nigeria warn short SIM re-registration period could cause COVID-19 risks


Industry bodies representing Nigerian mobile operators have cautioned that a two-week deadline to ensure all SIM owners comply with new ID requirements would cause significant difficulty and could carry Covid-19 (coronavirus) risks.

During an investor call, MTN Nigeria executives highlighted issues flagged by local trade associations ALTON and ATCON on new rules announced by the country’s communications regulator on 15 December.

After pausing the registration of new SIM cards earlier this month for the duration of an audit of user data, the Nigerian Communications Commission announced a new requirement to add National Identification Numbers (NIN) to each registration. Operators were given until 30 December to comply in full.

Following the deadline, the regulator noted, all SIMs not registered with the new requirement would be disconnected and any operator found breaching its order would face “stiff sanctions”, potentially including having their licence revoked.

ALTON and ATCON estimate around 25 per cent of the population has been issued with an NIN and, although operators have been cleared to issue the numbers themselves, it remains a massive task in the timescale.

The groups also warned a likely surge in crowds to complete registration constituted a Covid-19 risk. Their concerns have apparently attracted the support of some politicians in the country.

On its update call MTN Nigeria COO Mazen Mroue noted it currently follows all rules and is part of a taskforce established to “capture NINs as fast as possible” noting “very few of the 208 million or so SIMs in the market have NINs captured”.

It has also received the equipment allowing it to perform the registrations and is working with authorities on the issue.

The company estimates it can register 448,000 subscribers per day using the kit. GSMA intelligence figures for Q3 show the operator has around 75 million connections.


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