With some 120 million mobile phones, Nigeria has the largest concentration of mobile phones in Africa but there are indications one in four mobile phone users are now disconnected from the network. They failed to register their SIM cards in a government effort to combat crimes that are committed through the use of mobile phones.
“I registered my SIM card several months ago but my phone was still disconnected. I want that re-instated”, according to Odaro Uworuya, a mobile subscriber in the Wuse II District of Abuja. Mr Odaro is one of about 30 million Nigerians whose phones have been disconnected for failing to meet a registration deadline set by authorities of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
The Nigerian mobile operators simply disconnected any phone user who did not comply with the June 30th deadline.
In early May, the NCC directed all mobile operators to disconnect any unregistered subscriber. Although the operators wanted a three-month extension, NCC insisted that there was no going back on the deadline.
MTN Nigeria external relations manager, Funsho Aina said MTN had fully complied with the NCC directive.
MTN was expected to be the most affected network based on its large number of users with some 52.2 registered subscribers, according to its last financial report of March 2013. The report which was confirmed by Mr Wale Goodluck, corporate services executive of MTN Nigeria, said 13 per cent of the MTN subscribers did not register their SIM cards.
Goodluck said before the NCC deadline , MTN advertised in newspaper, television, social media, telephone calls and short message services (SMS) for its subscribers to respect the deadline
Also, Mr Osondu Nwokoro, director, special projects and regulatory affairs of Airtel Nigeria, another mobile telephone operator, said they were complying. “It is a directive from the telecommunications regulator and it has to be obeyed”
Efforts to get response from Etisalat and Globacom failed as their spokespersons did not return the calls made to their lines.
Meanwhile, the Director of Public Affairs of NCC, Mr Tony Ojobo said the NCC expected that the disconnection would take effect Sunday. “We assume that they will comply to the NCC directive as they have no choice,” Ojobo said.
Mobile operators in Nigeria have pleaded for three months extension through the, Association of Licenced Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), but Ojobo insisted there was no going back on the directive.
The NCC spokesman said mobile operators who did not respect the directive will be sanctioned.
Asked how the Commission would know if the operators had fully complied, he said the next phone database figures that would be pasted on NCC’s website would reflect the post-SIM card disconnection numbers.
Meanwhile, Alton and National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (Natcoms) have continued to plead with NCC to extend the SIM card registration by another three months, citing difficulties experienced by subscribers, registration agents and operators to meet the deadline.
A letter signed by Alton chairman and executive secretary, Gbenga Adebayo and Kazeem Ladepo respectively, sent to the executive vice chairman of NCC, Dr Eugene Juwah, said, “In the light of the security situation in the country and the general logistic problem, it has been very difficult for the subscribers, registration agents and our members (operators) to meet the June 30, 2013, deadline.
“We appreciate the effort of the Commission on this process and the attendant public awareness campaign over the past few weeks and we believe that the exercise will be more successful if an extension of time is considered. We hereby request for a three-month extension to the SIM card registration exercise for its overall success,” the statement read.
Since Monday, millions of unregistered mobile phone subscribers have been flooding network operators’ offices in Abuja trying to get back their connections after their mobile signals went dead.
Through the Sim card registration process, Nigeria aims to verify the identity of subscribers in order to combat crime. Subscribers have, however, bemoaned the lack of capacity by operators and agents to properly carry out the process.
Most of those affected by the disconnection are subscribers in rural areas. Also, most business persons who have been disconnected from the mobile network claim they have lost millions of dollars as a result . Some are threatening to sue mobile operators for compensation.