Stop NIN registration, withdraw threat to block SIM cards – SERAP tells Buhari

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The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “instruct the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Mr. Isa Pantami, and Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission, (NIMC) Mr Aliyu Abubakar to stop the push for registration of Nigerians for National Identity Number (NIN), and withdraw the threat to block SIM cards.

The organisation said that the call became necessary as the data being sought already exist in several platforms, including the Bank Verification Numbers (BVN), driver’s license, international passport, and voters’ card.

SERAP further urged President Buhari “to instruct Mr Pantami and Mr Abubakar to take concrete measures to promptly ensure that the NIMC is able to faithfully and effectively discharge its statutory functions to harmonize and integrate existing identification databases in government agencies into the National Identity Database, and to use the information to update SIM card registration.”

The Federal Government had threatened that SIM cards not linked to NIN by 30 December, 2020, would be blocked, and that telecom service providers that failed to block phone numbers without NIN would have their operating licenses withdrawn.

But SERAP in a letter dated December 19 and signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare said: “No government has the right to strip its own people of their basic rights under the guise of registration for national identity number. If the authorities continue down this path, the threats to citizens’ rights such as the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, will inevitably increase, and the NIMC will remain a paper tiger.

“Instead of forcing Nigerians to register, threatening telecom service providers with sanctions, and exposing Nigerians to the risks of COVID-19, your government ought to make sure that the NIMC discharges its statutory functions to harmonize and integrate existing identification databases in government agencies, and make use of the information collected.”

According to SERAP, “The request for Nigerians to register for NIN is burdensome, unjustified and unnecessary. It would end up serving no other purpose than to threaten and violate the rights of Nigerians, and create a ‘chilling effect’ on citizens’ ability to participate in the fight against corruption in the country, and thereby seriously undermining the government’s oft-repeated commitment to transparency and accountability.”

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The letter, read in part: “There is neither a pressing legal or practical need for this registration, which threatens Nigerians’ human rights, especially at a time your government is warning Nigerians about the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.”

“Blocking Nigerians from using their SIM cards would amount to a blatant violation of their rights to freedom of expression and access to information, and have a ‘chilling effect’ on the enjoyment of other human rights.”

“We would be grateful if your government would indicate the measures being taken to stop the unnecessary registration of NIN, withdraw the threat to block SIM cards, and take concrete measures to promptly ensure that the NIMC is able to faithfully discharge its statutory functions to harmonize and integrate existing identification databases in government agencies into the National Identity Database, within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter.”

“If we have not heard from you by then as to the steps being taken in this direction, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government to implement these recommendations in the interest of millions of Nigerians.”

“One of the stated purposes of NIMC as elaborated in section 5 [a] of the NIMC Act is to harmonise and integrate existing identification databases in government agencies into a national identity database. If the NIMC cannot perform this important statutory duty, then it has failed to achieve an obvious part of its legislative purpose.”

“This push for registration will place a substantial burden on the exercise of human rights by Nigerians. It is also patently contrary to the objectives of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) as contained in Section 1[g] of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, which is to protect the rights and interest of service providers and consumers within Nigeria.’”

“These rights presumably include the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, life and personal security. The enjoyment of these rights forms the basis for a free and democratic society. A democratic government based on the rule of law is one that is responsible to its citizenry and seeks to represent their interests.”

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