Telecommunication companies have lost about N75.78bn as subscribers struggle to link their National Identification Number to the Subscriber Identity Module, about 22 days after the Federal Government directed telecom companies to bar defaulting consumers from making outgoing calls.
On April 4, the Federal Government directed telcos to restrict outgoing calls on all lines that had not linked their SIMs to NINs after the deadline for the verification exercise expired on March 31.
As a result, about 72.77 million active telecom subscribers were barred from making calls on their SIMs. Voice revenue is a major source of revenue for telecom companies. In 2021, MTN made N819.74bn from voice revenue, while Airtel made N397.91bn from voice.
According to the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, the industry Average Revenue Per User was N1,420 in 2020. This translates to about N1,041.33 per subscriber in 22 days.
According to the statement announcing the directive, subscribers whose lines are restricted can have them unrestricted once they link their SIMs to their NINs.
Meanwhile, sources in the telecom industry have said the process has not been seamless and that it is also impacting telcos’ revenue stream.
A source in the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria said the verification exercise had become a major challenge for the operators and the Nigeria Identity Management Commission.
The source said, “This ban is significantly impacting on the revenue stream of telcos. If almost half of your subscribers are cut down, that is, they cannot make calls; of course, this will impact revenue.
“From the telcos’ side, we have no challenge. The challenge is with the Nigeria Identity Management Commission, with verification.
“They have a lot of subscribers who want to verify their NINs. And without these verifications, we can’t activate these numbers. A lot of people have tried to link but because they have not been verified, they are still blocked. There are still certain numbers of verifications that can be done per day, and this is technology.
“So in-between those periods there may be downtime, issue of non-access, and more. I cannot tell you offhand how many verifications we can do per day. The major challenge we have now is that of people trying to unblock their numbers. There is a surge, and sometimes they are overwhelmed. That is what is happening presently, but all the stakeholders are trying to do their best.”
A high-ranking source in one of the telecom companies said there was nothing the companies could do as they needed NIMC to give a go-ahead before they could unblock numbers.
The source said, “A lot of the issues we have are from the NIMC end. There is nothing anyone can do. If this problem is from the backend, it means every network subscriber is likely to be facing this challenge.
“One thing is for operators to regularise from their side. Another thing is for the NIMC to do their part. Sometimes it gets to them, and they have downtime and maybe server issues.”
According to the source, when subscribers submit their NIN for verification, it gets sent to the NIMC, which has to send feedback before the numbers can be unbarred. The source added, “So, after telcos accept the numbers and verify, we need to wait for feedback from the NIMC, this is where there is a problem.”
The President of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers, Adeolu Ogunbanjo, stated that the capacity for NIMC to accept uploads was not particularly adequate. He added that congestion in the past couple of days had aggravated the situation.
He said, “Subscribers are trying to link their lines, but they are still being barred. The capacity of the NIMC to accept the upload is not particularly adequate. Now, there are so many people who want to upload all their data so that the NIMC will verify.
“That is not happening because there is so much congestion right now. And unfortunately, the relevant ministry does not want to listen. They are still saying, through the NCC, that they are not going to extend it anymore. This is why we would be joining SERAP by end of this month in its suit against the government.”
Ogunbanjo further said that subscribers were paying as much as N10,000 to get their numbers verified within three to four days at NIMC centres.
He stated, “It is a problem. Go to the NIMC centres, it is a mess. Again, if your NIN and Number are verified within three to four days, you would have to pay N10,000. People are paying because they are frustrated.
“We are still appealing to the agencies to give at least another three-month extension. Let them unbar subscribers so that sanity can be restored to the centres. Another 90 days won’t make any difference, it would only give us time to regularise.”
Efforts to reach the Head, Corporate Communications at the Nigeria Identity Management Commission, Mr Kayode Adegoke, proved abortive.
Calls and WhatApp messages sent to him were not responded to as of the time of filing this report. PUNCH