From Victor Osula, Abuja
Dr Isa Ali Pantami, Minsiter for Communication and Digital Economy
The federal government has said the current ban on registration of new subscriber identification module, commonly known as SIM, to Nigerians will stay in place for a while longer.
Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami, disclosed this to State House Correspondents on Thursday during the weekly ministerial briefing organized by the Presidential Media Team, at the presidential villa, Abuja.
The Minister said the federal government took the decision with the intent to protect Nigerians and the make the country safe from insecurity.
According to him, when it comes to addressing the issue of security, the economy takes back stage, insisting that SIM registration carried out in the past compromised the system.
“The ban on new sims remains in place for security reasons. We know this ban is painful, but very necessary.
“In the past, SIM registration processes were compromised, most of the SIMs were improperly registered, hence we have most of the SIMs used to commit crimes in the country.
“So what we are doing now is matching all the SIM cards with NIN. This has become necessary for security purposes”, he said.
“The ban may affect our economy, but when addressing the issue of security, the economy takes back stage.
“People used the biometrics of one person to register about 100 sims, after people are given money, this is even as some SIMs were improperly registered.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions taken as a minister. It is a very painful decision, but we had to take it”, he said.
He disclosed that about 189 million Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) have been registered in the country, explaining that 150 million, out of this number, are completed registration while the remainder have problems of improper registration.
He also warned that those yet to obtain their NIN, risk being fined, imprisonment, or a combination of both punishments, as stipulated by the National Identity Management Commission’s (NIMC) Act.
According to him, while obtaining a SIM card maybe optional, NIN is mandatory, citing section 27 of the NIMC Act of 2007, he noted that it is a criminal offense in Nigeria to carry out business activities without first acquiring the NIN.
“National Identity is a law and it’s mandatory and for you to even conduct certain activities in this country without the number is an offence; for you to get voter’s card in Nigeria, based on section 27 of NIMC Act, it is an offence.
“For you to open a bank account without National Identity Number is an offence. For you to pay tax is an offence, for you to collect pension is an offence, for you to enjoy any government service, without having National Identity Number is an offence.
“Section 29 says if you do any of these in 27, without obtain National Identity Number you have committed a crime that will lead to fines or imprisonment, or both of them”, he said.
Pantami also added that the number of enrollment Centre have doubled; while number of computers have been tripled.
He explained that NIN will determine the total number of Nigerians that have registered because of the unique number.
He further noted that the cost of data provided by telecommunications companies has been halved since last year from about N1,200 per gigabyte to leas than N500 now.
He, however, blamed some State Governors for the high cost of data production by inflating the charges telecommunication firms pay State governments for right of way in installing their cables.
“Some states charge as high as N60,000 per linear meter whereas it should not ordinarily be more than N145”, he said.
Pantami said he had engaged the Governors through the Nigeria Governors Forum and pleaded with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to intervene in the matter; stressing that if the anomaly is corrected fully, the GSM and telecom firms companies will produce even cheaper data.
On the effect of digital economy on the nation’s economic sustenance, Pantami disclosed that it played an unparalleled role in pulling Nigeria out of recession in the last quarter of 2020, faster than had been projected by experts.
According to him, the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has started reaping the benefits of taking the initiative to diversify the economy through ICT-based ventures, citing how the growth of broadband penetration since the advent of the administration, especially since 2019, had leaped ICT ahead of other sectors of the economy.
“Under solid infrastructure, by the time the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari came on board around 2015, broadband penetration in the country was not even up to 20%. By 2019, it was 33%.
“From 2015 to 2019, there was an average increase of around 5% annually. But from 2000 to 2019, if you compute you will discover in 19 years, broadband penetration was 33%, meaning an average annual increase of 1.7%. But from August 2019 to November 2020, we were going to increase the penetration by more than 10% and this is unprecedented in the history of this country.
“In the previous years around, may be before 2015, some years, the broadband penetration was less than 1% throughout the year. So achieving more than 10% within a year is unprecedented, and this is one of the major achievements that has been attained and broadband penetration, as we all know, is key to our economy.
“A report from the United Nations particularly ITU, Ericsson, Oxford, Economists and many more, all of them claimed professionally that 10% broadband penetration will increase the Gross Domestic Product of a country significantly, starting from 1.8 up to around 6.8 as the case may be, and you will clearly see that broadband penetration has been very useful to us during lockdown.
“A country like the United States of America, after the end of last year, their economy was -19, but in Nigeria, it was even -6. Many experts predicted that we will exit recession at the end of 2021, but at the end of 2020, we exited recession. Why? With all sense of humility, it significantly depends on the success of the digital economy sectors.
“For example, a recent report released by the National Bureau of Statistics for the fourth quarter of 2020. The report stated that the most performance sector of our economy in Nigeria is ICT sector. Not only the most performing, ICT sector grew by 14.07%, followed by another sector, which grew by 3.41%. Look at the gap between 14.70% to 3.41%. ICT sector is more than four times the performance of the second most performing sector.
“Furthermore, in the entire year, between January to December 2020, ICT sector grew by 12.90%, followed by another sector which grew by 3%, meaning ICT sector perform more than three times the performance of the second most performing sector of our economy. That aside, if you look at the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh most performing sectors, six of them combined together, their gross rate is not up to that of ICT, alone.
“ICT alone grew by 14.07 as I said, while in the whole year by 12.90%. If you sum them all from the second to serve them, you will discover the performance was 14.21%, meaning ICT alone grew by more than 0.49% of all the six other sectors combined together and you will discover that where we have minus, the increase in ICT sector was more than the minus in other sectors, and by implication, ICT sector complemented the negative performance of other sectors and this played a significant role in pulling out our country from recession.
“That is why we say if we implement digital economy, we’ll definitely see wonders and this is one of them, indeed”, Pantami explained.