The top telecoms companies in Nigeria and government are to hold crucial talks today over the nationwide embargo on sales of new phone lines ordered by Dr. Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.
People conversant with the situation told Technology Times that today’s meeting in Abuja will have top officials of the four biggest mobile network operators, MTN Nigeria, Airtel Nigeria, Glo and 9mobile, meeting with the Minister to review the impact of his embargo on the health of the telecoms industry, and the Nigerian economy at large.
Pantami has ordered that telecoms companies should stop selling new phone lines across Nigeria to allow government to conduct an audit of the SIM Registration database, an order which the industry regulator says has come into force.
Apart from Pantami’s order suspending sales of new SIMs by mobile network operators (MNOs), he also directed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to enforce the directive which he says will allow for an audit of the country’s phone subscribers’ database.
Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, Director, Public Affairs, NCC, explains in a statement sent to Technology Times that the Minister’s order will be in force until the SIM Registration audit has been concluded and the government “has conveyed a new direction.
“Accordingly, MNOs are hereby directed to immediately suspend the sale, registration, and activation of new SIM Cards until the audit exercise is concluded, and Government has conveyed the new direction”, the NCC spokesman says.
Telcos that flout the Minister’s order were also warned by the regulator that any breach “will be met with strict sanctions” that includes “the possibility of withdrawal of operating licence.”
Nigeria has 207,954,737 active phone lines; 152,927,670 and 87,675,911 active internet and broadband subscriptions respectively, by October this year according to the telecoms regulator’s market information.
Meanwhile, telcos say that they have complied with the Minister’s order, while efforts are underway to resolve issues towards getting the government to lift the embargo.
Telecoms industry analysts say that the Minister’s order send a wrong signal to the investment community as the nation grapples with removing obstacles to attracting investments to shore up the Nigerian economy, which has been hit by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But NCC says that “the objective of the audit exercise is to verify and ensure compliance by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) with the set quality standards and requirements of SIM Card Registration as issued by the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Commission.”
The Minister’s directive was handed down “in line with the Federal Government desire to consolidate the achievement of the SIM Card registration exercise of September 2019”, while he has ordered NCC “to embark on another audit of the Subscriber Registration Database again.”
That NCC spokesman says “the Minister has earlier directed in January 2020, all citizens are urged to immediately secure Digital Identification from the National Identity Management Commission and submit it to the Network Operators.”