Nigeria: Registration of phone users?

De Master Yoda

Registration of phone users?

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) recently announced an initiative that would ensure the registration of all telephone sub-scribers in the country.
It is aimed at identifying a subscriber when necessary and record keeping for security purposes.

Ernest Ndukwe, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, said at a stakeholders’ meeting in Abuja, that the move was at the instance of security agencies which had expressed great concern over the incidence of criminals employing telephony for unlawful purposes.

He warned that Subscriber Information Modules (SIM cards) which are not registered after the scheme commences would be deactivated, adding that those to be affected in the registration are prepaid subscribers as the post-paid ones are already registered before being activated.

As at the end of May this year, Nigeria had 49.607 million active telephone subscribers and about 90 percent of these were on the prepaid platform. What this means is that at this moment, 90 percent of telephone subscribers in Nigeria are not registered and the networks they subscribe to have no way of identifying them if need be.

Ndukwe said a deadline would be set, by which time all telephone subscribers must have been properly registered, and that those who fail to be so registered would be taken off the networks.

As Ndukwe rightly observed, there are grave security concerns attending the sale of SIM cards without due registration and documentation.

Many Nigerians are now conversant with scam calls in which a caller purportedly representing a big corporate organisation tells an unsuspecting telephone subscriber that he or she has won a big prize in some lottery or promo or that there is some money waiting for him or her in some bogus scheme. Then there is the catch: one has to send some air time credit to facilitate the process that will lead to collection of the phoney prize.

It is bad enough when these schemes are unleashed on fellow Nigerians at home. Unfortunately, however, advance fee fraudsters, otherwise known as 419, also make international calls for the same reason. Apart from the financial damage that they can do to their foreign victims there is the added effect of the image of the country and countrymen which they soil.

Besides, Nigeria has become notorious for poor record keeping. This works against the country at critical times because proper and accurate records form the bedrock for planning and societal and economic improvement at all levels.

For instance, when the GSM licence auctions were thrown open in 2002, many big global telecom players declined to invest in Nigeria. The greater reason for this was poor record keeping. Poorly informed foreign consultants informed the would-be investors, wrongly through but probably innocently, that such a business was not viable in Nigeria because income per capita was so low, that the vast majority did not earn enough to be able to afford telephone services. They made other negative claims, many of which turned out to be false or alarmist. This happened because there were no reliable records available with the Nigerian authorities then and even now.

The few investors such as MTN and Econet (now Celtel) that took the risk, made good returns on investment in record time, to the astonishment of those consultants and their principals. There was a quick review of the assessment of the Nigerian market and soon many of the big players were in a rush to invest in Nigeria.

We recognise the main argument against the NCC proposal, which is that it is an infringement on a subscriber’s right to privacy. Those in this school of thought believe that a telephone subscriber is entitled to his privacy, which will be violated by having his or her identity on the database of a network operator.

It is comforting to note that the information is not going to be in the public domain. Also, there is a limit to what the custodians of such records can do with the information contained therein, as the laws of the land are clear on the processes and procedures involved before a network operator can divulge the identity of a telephone subscriber or the details of entry into a subscriber’s line.

All over the world it is standard practice that details of telephone operators are available to network operators. It helps security agents in crime prevention, detection or law enfiorcement.

Belated as it is, the proposal by NCC is welcome. We urge those entrusted with its implementation to expedite action on it.

From: Business Day.