A well-meaning attempt by the government to link SIM cards with national identity numbers (NIN) has resulted In millions of Nigerians being cut off from their network providers

Back in December 2020, the Nigerian government began an ambitious new strategy to link SIM cards to individuals via their NIN, suggesting that the move would increase the transparency of registration process and help block loopholes in current policy. As such, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ordered a temporary suspension of the sale and registration of new SIM cards, asking citizens to come forward to correct records and verify their current SIMs.

The deadline to register has been extended numerous times, with the nation’s operators ordered to terminate services to those SIMs that could not be verified. 

Naturally, the scale of this task is enormous. Nigeria has grown steadily in mobile usage since the millennium, seeing subscriptions rise from 270,000 in 2001 to 185 million in 2019. Now, Nigeria has a population of around 200 million, with an estimated 198 million active mobile lines. However, only around 41.6 million had a NIN by the end of 2020, following their introduction back in 2012. 

The process itself quickly came under fire for being impractical. While online platforms were introduced for registration, those with poor access to connectivity were left with little options for registration, leaving them almost certainly disconnected in the near future.

Last month, the ban on SIM registration was lifted, but the damage was done. 

Now, data from the NCC suggests that the country’s tele-density (the number of connections for every 100 individuals living in an area) has dropped by 6.34 per cent.

Specifically, this translates to a loss of around 12 million mobile subscribers, due in a large part to subscribers unable to retrieve lost SIM cards and improperly registered SIMs being removed from networks. 

Airtel Africa lost around 5.25 million subscribers between December 2020 and March 2021, seeing its total customer base from from 55.6 million to 50.3 million. MTN’s 80.7 million users fell by 4.8 million in the same period, while Globacom lost 1.92 million and 9mobile around 131,766 subscribers.

Naturally, the SIM registration initiative was not the only factor in this decline. The disposable income of the average Nigerian has slipped in previous months as the economy itself continues to struggle, with a decline in broadband penetration also notable, falling by3.84% in the same period.

Nonetheless, these are a large number of subscribers to lose for Nigeria’s operators and are likely to have a significant impact on their strategies going forward this year. 

It is suggested that the new registration requirements will lead to more loyal and long term customers for the operators, as it become more tricky to simply buy a SIM, use it until the data expires, and then discard it for a new one. Whether this will ultimately make up for the drop in subscriber revenues from the past four months, however, remains to be seen.


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