The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, is plodding on with his wrong-headed, poorly thought out move to uproot millions of Nigerians from the mobile smartphone and digital space, with this National Identification Number (NIN) business.
The decision of the federal government to harvest mobile phone numbers of millions of Nigerians and harmonise all of these into a single database, is a brilliant, long overdue move, make no mistake.
Linking phone numbers to NIN and having everyone’s mobile phone number captured in the National Identity Database would help the government plan and better implement people-oriented policies, help security agencies nip crimes in the bud, help law enforcement and intelligence agencies to better tackle terrorism and enable a seamless rollout of development initiatives for the mass of the people.
In the smartphone and digital age, a single database of all mobile phone subscribers will help our leaders and our beleaguered nation in more ways than one.
However, it is the shoddy and disorderly manner Pantami and the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) have gone about harvesting these data in the middle of a global pandemic; and the poor communication or information dissemination surrounding the enrolment, that has befuddled, rankled and enraged.
You know it's going to be a long year when your Communications minister can't even communicate properly to save his life.
It was not until mid December of 2020 that the Nigerian Communications Communication (NCC) announced that subscribers who haven’t obtained their NINs and have those NINs linked to their phone lines, would have their phone numbers blocked by December 30, 2020.
“The submission of NIN by subscribers will take place within two weeks (from December 16 to December 30, 2020). After the deadline, all SIMs without NINs will be blocked from the networks.
“A ministerial task force, comprising the minister and all the CEOs (among others) will monitor compliance by all networks,” the NCC announced through its Director of Public Affairs, Ikechukwu Adinde.
It didn’t matter to Minister Pantami, the NCC or the NIMC at the time that not enough awareness on the exercise had been done and that millions of Nigerians in villages and hamlets didn’t even know what was going on.
It didn’t matter to these agencies and the minister that two weeks was a short time to enrol over 100 million Nigerians and hand them NINs.
It also didn’t occur to them that they didn’t have the required logistics, the manpower or the resources to pull off the project within their publicly issued timeframe.
What followed was mass hysteria, panic and a rush that saw millions of Nigerians besiege NIMC offices across the country in order to beat the government’s deadline--all in the middle of a global pandemic.
Pantami and the agencies within his purview still do not think it is a bad idea to have crowds gather across centers without face masks, and with scant regard for COVID-19 safety protocols or guidelines.
The Communications ministry is yet to provide hand sanitizers or handwashing basins at any of these NIN registration centers and there has been no physical distancing measures at any of these centers thus far.
Instead, Pantami and his team have persisted with issuing threats about blocking phone numbers and reeling out more deadlines, while creating the kind of chaos our nation can do without at this time.
At the end of the day, what is on the surface a novel idea and a decent government policy, has been embroiled in controversy because government just can't be trusted to implement anything properly.
The National Task Force on NIN and SIM Registration has announced that mobile phone subscribers with NIN should do well to complete the process by January 19, 2021, while those without NIN have until February 9, 2021 to obtain one and update their records or have their lines blocked.
Information dissemination, awareness and sensitisation remain sparse as the deadlines loom and the NIMC has just announced that electronically generating a NIN through BVN (Bank Verification Number) no longer matters; and that physically heading to disorderly, unruly, disorganised, overcrowded and virus-infested NIN centers has become inevitable for all Nigerians who intend to retain their phone numbers.
There’s never been a better petri-dish for the novel coronavirus than the conditions and atmosphere Pantami has now churned out and which he continues to pursue with single-minded determination, harebrained as this all appears to anyone with half a brain.
I have long maintained that the NIN registration process and linking NIN to phone numbers should be continuous, seamless and painless; and that there should be options to obtain and link a NIN from the comfort of your homes on a smartphone or laptop. If the government had been sensitizing and educating Nigerians all along on NIN, we wouldn't be here.
Telecom firms should also make the enrolment exercise simpler for their subscribers by explaining what this is all about through subtle text messages, phone calls and links.
There should be jingles on radio about what this is all about and why everyone should obtain their NINs, in order to sensitise and educate more people.
All of this chaos, threats and information dissonance from the supervising ministry and agencies on something as simple as an enrolment exercise, are typical of and consistent with how we have run our country for all of 60 years, but that doesn’t make it right.
Pantami and his team should be stopped dead in their tracks right away before they do more damage to our country and mastermind more surges in COVID-19 infection rates, amid a second wave of the pandemic.
*Pulse Editor's Opinion is the viewpoint of an Editor at Pulse. It does not represent the opinion of the Organisation Pulse.