SERAP Gives FG 48-Hour Ultimatum To Unblock Millions Of Unregistered SIMs

The  NCC logo and some SIM cards.

 

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the Federal Government to unblock millions of unregistered lines.

Just last week, the Federal Government directed telecommunication companies in the country to bar all outgoing calls on unlinked lines from Monday, April 4, 2022. Unlinked lines are Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMS) not yet registered and linked with the National Identification Number (NIN) by users.

While reacting to the ban via a statement issued on Sunday, SERAP asked President Muhammadu Buhari to “direct the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to immediately reverse the apparently unlawful decision to block over 72 million active telecommunication subscribers from making calls on their SIMs”.

“Blocking people from making calls undermines their ability to communicate freely, and associate with others. It infringes their rights to freedom of expression and family life, as well as socio-economic rights,” SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said.

READ ALSO: NIN: Millions At Risk As FG Orders Telcos To Bar Outgoing Calls On Unlinked SIMs

While noting that the decision will have a chilling effect, dissuading the free expression of ideas and information, SERAP argued that the move is inconsistent and incompatible with the country’s international legal obligations to respect, protect, promote and facilitate economic and social rights. The decision contradicts the tenets of the rule of law and democratic society, it said.

“Immediately reversing the decision would be in conformity with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and Nigeria’s international human rights obligations. Reversing the decision would also improve the confidence of the international community in human rights and the rule of law in Nigeria.

“The decision will cause a wide variety of harms to economic activity, and personal safety, and disproportionately affect those on the margins of society. This will directly hinder the ability of the government to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s Goal 8 on the promotion of sustained, inclusive, sustainable economic growth.

“Millions of Nigerians including persons with disabilities, elderly citizens, persons living in remote areas have been unable to capture their biometrics, and obtain their National Identity Numbers [NINs] due to logistical challenges, administrative and bureaucratic burdens, as well as the persistent collapse of the national grid,” the statement added.

“We would be grateful if the decision to block people from making calls on their SIMs is reversed within 48 hours of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions in the public interest to ensure full compliance with human rights standards.”

“The rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of association, whether offline or online promote the democratic ideal by allowing citizens to voice their concerns, challenge governmental institutions, and hold government accountable for its actions.”

“The democratic ideal rationale also recognizes the necessity of having a well-informed citizenry to participate in the democratic process.”

“We support any lawful means to address the growing insecurity across the country. However, while the authorities have a legal responsibility to protect, ensure and secure the rights to life and property, any such responsibility ought to be discharged in conformity with human rights standards.”

“While we recognize the need for your government to take measures to ensure security and safety of the people in the country, we are seriously concerned that the decision to block people from making calls appears to go beyond the restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, information, and association.”

“The rights to freedom of opinion and expression and access to information are protected under section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.”

“These rights must be protected online as it is protected offline. Any restriction on these rights must be provided by law, be necessary in a democratic society and serve a legitimate aim.”

“The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that when a state party invokes a legitimate ground for restriction of human rights, it must demonstrate in specific and individualized fashion the precise nature of the threat, and the necessity and proportionality of the specific action taken, in particular by establishing a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the threat.”

“The decision to block over 72 million subscribers from making calls on their SIMs also amounts to an arbitrary or unlawful interference with their right to family life, and socio-economic rights, as it unnecessarily or disproportionately interferes with these fundamental human rights.”

“According to our information, your government recently directed telecommunication companies in the country to block over 72 million active telecommunication subscribers from making calls on their SIMs. The ‘order’ to the telecommunications companies was apparently to enforce compliance with the Federal Government’s National Identification Number-Subscriber Identity Module policy.”

“The policy effectively restricted outgoing calls on all unlinked lines, effective April 4, 2022.”

“We are concerned that the decision to block Nigerians from making calls will have a disproportionate chilling effect on vulnerable groups that rely on such peaceful means to communicate, and convey their opinions and views.”

“SERAP is concerned that the decision appears to be arbitrary, and lack any legal framework, independent and judicial oversight. This may allow authorities to act in an unfettered and potentially arbitrary or unlawful manner.”

“The decision to block people from making calls also does not appear to be the least intrusive instrument available to the government to achieve the desired results, i.e., the maintenance of national security and public safety.”

“The decision is also not proportionate to the perceived goal to be achieved, as it is not appropriately tailored to achieve its protective function in the least intrusive manner.”

“The mass disconnection of telephone subscribers from making calls is apparently without any legal justification. It is a form of collective punishment of the people affected by the decision.”

“Under international human rights law, States including Nigeria ‘shall not engage in or condone any disruption of access to digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population.’ States must refrain from cutting off access to telecommunications services.”

There Are No Plans To Increase Tariffs, Telcom Operators Assure Nigerians

telcos
The telcos recently barred outgoing calls to those who failed to link their SIM with NIN.

 

Telecommunication operations have ruled out a review of tariffs despite the rising cost of operations. 

The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) Gbenga Adebayo gave the assurance on Wednesday.

According to him, telcos are working with other stakeholders to see the best possible way to continue business without reviewing the tariffs.

“There are no such plans; we guarantee that there will be continuous service availability to all citizens in all places at all times,” he said on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily.

“We don’t have plans for tariff reviews. We are consulting with our regulators and others in government to see what kind of sustainability we can have for the industry we have no immediate plans to review public tariffs.”


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‘The Heat Is Coming To Us’

His comment follows claims in several quarters that the telecom operators are set to increase their rates. He also spoke about the baring of unlinked customers’ lines over their failure to link their SIM cards with the National Identity Number (NIN).

The ALTON boss said since the new directive, there has been a surge in the number of persons trying to link their SIM cards with NIN.

“It has been a lot of pressure at various experience centres, there has also been a lot of pressure on the systems,” he explained.

“It has been a lot of concerns expressed by the members of the public to our various contact centres; so it appears the heat is coming to all of us at this time.

“Unfortunately, we have been on this for fourteen months, many people didn’t respond to the call to link their SIM to their NIN and so we are where we are. Certainly, the last 24 hours, has been enormous pressure on at the various experience centre.”

Banditry: Kaduna To Shut Down Telecoms Services In Some LGAs For Military Operations

A file photo of Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai.

 

 

The Kaduna State government has informed residents of the state of plans to shut down telecommunication services in some parts of the state due to insecurity. 

The state Governor, Nasir El-Rufai,  who made the announcement during a media chat with some local radio stations in the state, said the planned shutdown of telecommunication services is because of the plan by security agencies to launch a massive attack on bandits taking refuge in some parts of the state.

El-Rufai explained that the shutdown would not cover the entire state. He, however, did not mentions the LGAs that would be affected, saying it would only affect local government areas bordering the troubled Zamfara and Katsina states.

He said, “We have been advised by the military and other security agencies to shut down telecommunication services in certain LGAs but we are waiting for the security agencies to tell us which specific areas and when.

“But I want the people of Kaduna State to know that if they give us the go-ahead tomorrow, we will shut down tomorrow.

“There is no doubt that bandits and other criminals rely on telecommunication to communicate with their informants as well as with relatives of kidnapped victims so as to demand ransom.”

The governor said he had already written to the Federal Government on the shutdown which he said had been approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“I will not mention the LGAs to be affected but the local governments that are constantly being tormented by bandits know themselves,” he said.

Kaduna, like most states in the North-West zone, has been affected by banditry and kidnapping, especially in  Birnin Gwari, Giwa, Chikun, Igabi, Kajuru, Kachia, and Zaria local government areas.

According to Governor El-Rufai, due to the shutdown of telecommunication services in Zamfara and Katsina states, some bandits crossed over to neighbouring local government areas in Kaduna to make phone calls and demand ransoms.

He also disclosed that Kaduna State Government has established a task force that will go round the hinterlands to monitor compliance with some of the security measures adopted by the state to tackle banditry and kidnappings. These measures include the closure of some fuel stations and markets to strangulate bandits in the forest.

While advising residents on the need to identify and report informants or accomplices of bandits, El-Rufai urged residents to report anyone who comes to buy between 20 to 100 loaves of bread to security agents.

Reps Probe Alleged N143bn Tax Infractions In Telecoms Sector

An ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives has commenced an investigation into allegations that some telecoms companies, vendors and communication service providers in the country are owing N143.4 billion in taxes.

The Chairman of the ad-hoc committee, Rep Ahmed Abu, disclosed this at the investigative hearing which is to assess the tax compliance status and remittance of statutory contributions to relevant government agencies by telecommunication service providers.

“So far, we have 24 companies and we have a total of N143.434billion,” he said, while also disclosing that auditors were still looking at the books of others including vendors and lottery operators operating under the platform of telcos.

The committee plans to meet with the companies, so that they can defend themselves and reconcile these figures with the committee.

Chairman of the Committee, Ahmed Abu, said, “When you say tax evasion, it is criminal in nature (but) tax avoidance is legal. So, what we are trying to do here is simple; to strengthen our laws.

“There is nothing wrong if you try to avoid tax, it means there are loopholes in our laws. And what we do is to strengthen these laws and make them better for the benefit of the industry and the benefit of the country,” he said.

The lawmaker who said the total figure was interim and needed to be reconciled, called on other companies to come forward to enable the committee get a more accurate picture.

“Between today and tomorrow, we hope that some of you (company representatives) that have not come forward to provide further documents to reconcile these figures, I am pleading with you to come forward, bring documents at your disposal which we don’t have and reconcile these figures so that we can move forward,” he said.