Faulty and overwhelmed verification systems operated by telecom companies and the national identification number management commission (NIMC) have kept millions of phone lines barred, weeks after their owners submitted national identification details for reactivation.
The glitch means millions of users have been unable to make calls since April 4 and many businesses have been hit. Customers say shortcodes, apps or web services provided by MTN, Airtel and Glo, for NIN verification, have been largely faulty and unresponsive.
Telecoms firms blame NIMC for the slow and inefficient process, and the regulator, the Nigeria communication commission (NCC), said NIMC was overwhelmed and its systems could not handle a large volume of requests made.
The overwhelmed and faulty platforms have resulted not only in reconnection delays but also in mix-ups.
An MTN user, who gave his name as Lawrence, said he submitted his NIN in early 2021 and it was verified and successfully linked to his phone number, but his line was barred a year later. He has been unable to resolve the problem using instructions given by his service provider.
An Airtel user, Oji Ezeigbo, who has a clothing business in Abuja, said he was also barred despite completing the NIN-SIM linkage.
“This is so frustrating, after linking my line I was still blocked from making calls, this is my business line and I must tell you that since the issue started I have lost a lot of clients. I woke up one morning to discover that I can’t make calls,” he said.
Promise Agu, who uses Glo, expressed similar frustration. He said he submitted his NIN but the line has remained barred for two weeks after.
Salisu, who lives in Lugbe, Abuja, said he visited the MTN office in Lugbe, Abuja, more than 10 times but could not get his line unbarred.
“I have been going to the MTN office here in Lugbe for more than 10 days now and I was given a code *785# to link the line again,” Salisu, who gave one name, said. “I have tried that code several times and I got the message that said thank you for providing the NIN but I still can’t make calls. All I can do now is only receive calls.”
The federal government on April 4 directed telecom companies to bar phone lines yet to connect to their NINs – after a lengthy registration process that saw the deadline extended 10 times. The government says the linkage is needed to help go after criminals, especially abductors who seize citizens and make calls for hefty ransom money.
The implementation of call bans on a chaotic note with phone companies barring lines already linked to NIN. Subscribers shared their frustration about how they realised they could not make calls despite connecting their phone lines to their NINs. Some who had not connected continued to make calls.
over 72 million lines were eventually barred from making calls, the government said.
The policy has shut millions of users off and has affected businesses. MTN, which has the biggest subscriber base in the country, said it disconnected 19 million lines on April 4. By April 25, only 1.2 million lines of 8.7 million who submitted NINs had been reconnected.
MTN said the policy may affect nearly 10 per cent of its revenue The firm said it made nine per cent of its N1.7 trillion total revenue in 2021 from outgoing calls from the blocked lines.
The process of linking phone lines to NINs requires users to enrol and obtain their national identity numbers and then submit them to their phone companies using shortcodes or apps. The operators then verify the details from the central identity database operated by NIMC.
But since the NIN policy started in late 2020, phone operators and NIMC, which is the government agency responsible for implementing the policy, have struggled to handle large amounts of requests.
NIMC has reported repeated malfunctions that slowed or halted the verification process. NIMC’S WEBSITE CALLPSED for nearly 48 hours shortly after the first announcement after requests flooded the NIMC site. Its director-general NIMC, Aliyu Aziz, admitted the agency was overwhelmed by traffic on its website.
The site went down for days in February 2022, in what its management said was “due to maintenance by one of the Commission’s network service providers of its infrastructure”.
The agency would not comment. Its spokesperson, Kayode Adegoke, said inquiries should be sent to NCC.
The spokesperson of the NCC, Ikechukwu Adinde, said subscribers may not be unbarred for several reasons despite submitting their identity numbers.
“It could be un-matching details on the Sim Card and the NIN or wrong information, it could be different reasons,” he said.
But addressing journalists on Thursday, the head of compliance at NCC, Alkasim Umar, said NIMC does not have the infrastructure to maintain the volume of requests for verification. He said the agency’s website was one of dozens shut down in February due to technical issues.
The Networks too
The phone companies have their own challenges too. In addition to leaving customers to queue endlessly at their service centres, their platforms that should receive user details hardly work. A tool to receive NIN on MTN online works intermittently and fails sometimes.
Over a week ago, 9Mobile announced a platform that allows users to directly and personally get their lines unbarred. The focus of the initiative, however, is allowing users to register, enrol and obtain NINs virtually. The system still requires verification which reverts to NIMC.
The head of public relations at Glo, Toni Kan, did not respond to calls and messages sent to him. The spokespersons of Airtel and 9mobile, Bayagbon Ehrumu and Chineze Amafo, also did not respond to requests for comments.
In a note to investors last week, MTN’s chief executive, Karl Toriola, said the company was engaging with NIMC “to accelerate the verification of NINs submitted”.
An official at the Glo headquarters in Abuja who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media said using wrong information during registration of both SIM cards and NIN is a major reason the delay is happening.
“If someone’s name is Mustapha but when he did his registration he used Musty. If you send it, the system is very sensitive because what he uses is not the same thing as what was on his NIN so it will not open it,” he said.
“Now, some people got their SIM lines either from their husbands, brothers, or sisters or they just got the line on the street. Now they said they should link their NIN they are sending when they come here and check, they say oh their SIM was given to me by my brother.
“For most of the lines, when you check the reason why the line is still barred you will see that it is because of the wrong information that was given before.
“But if you don’t have any issues with wrong information and your line was barred, if you come for the linking we will mash what you have on the NIN and the line will be unbarred within 48 hours,” he added.
But confronted with details of those linked already yet barred, and those with accurate information, the official said the problem was also with the “network”.