Nigerian lawmakers are looking into problems surrounding the implementation of a US$39 million SIM card registration project that was marred by scams.
So far more the 110 million subscribers are said have to have registered their SIM cards, though Nigeria only has 95 million mobile subscribers, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). In addition, most of the captured data is said to have been lost by telecom operators, raising fears that the data may have landed in wrong hands.
There are allegations of multiple registrations, using different names, for individual SIM cards. Critics say the issues stem in part from problems with synchronization and integration of data regarding registered subscribers.
Several countries in Africa including Gambia, South Africa and Botswana have successfully implemented SIM card registration projects, but Nigeria is facing a host of problems with its own initiative.
Apparently, fraudsters have taken advantage of the confusion and bought SIM cards in bulk, registering them under fictitious names and selling them on the streets as pre-registered SIM cards. The confusion has led to an unending registration exercise, with the deadline for the project having been shifted twice. There is no deadline in place by NCC at this point.
The National Assembly, which endorsed the project and approved the budget for the initiative, is readying investigations into how the money that was released by the federal government was spent and why there have been implementation problems.
Like many African countries, Nigeria embarked on the SIM card registration exercise in a bid to curb crimes committed using phones. The country has over the past years experienced attacks by the country's militant Islamic sect, called Boko Haram, that have claimed hundreds of lives. There has also been series of kidnappings of foreign oil workers by different militant groups who demand ransoms for captives.
However, the objectives of the SIM card registration have so far not been achieved, raising fears that kidnappings and militant attacks will continue unabated.
So far, the NCC has insisted that the exercise will soon be concluded successfully.
"There is no delay in SIM card registration," Reuben Muoka, NCC's head of media and public relations, told the media last week.
Muoka said the delays in the project were strategic, so the NCC could ensure that data from all parties involved in SIM card registration were uploaded to the NCC's back-end server.
In the process of uploading the data however, Muoka said, "the NCC uploaded 15 million registrations above the actual 95 million subscribers in the country, a situation that suggests multiple registrations."
But the indefinite extension of the registration exercise by the NCC appears to be creating confusion among the consultants hired by the NCC and telecom operators including MTN, Airtel and Etisalat.
The parties are unable to check multiple registrations because of data synchronization problems. Subscribers that had earlier registered with telecom operators embarked on a second and third registration exercise with the same operators in different locations. Also, the networks are compelling subscribers to register with them even if they had already registered with NCC.
The problems surrounding SIM card registration in Nigeria started in the early stages of the project two years ago, following controversy that surrounded the award of the tender to consultants by the NCC. The House of Representative is currently probing how the tender for the project was awarded to the consultants.
With Zambia preparing SIM card registration next month, the Nigerian situation is raising fears that Zambia may also fail to implement the project if the selection of consultants for the project is compromised.
"Zambia should learn from the confusion in Nigeria, which started from the selection of consultants. So Zambia has to be careful," said Amos Kalunga, telecom analyst from Computer Society of Zambia.
The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) has announced the project will start toward the end of next month.