Since the Federal Government stopped registration and activation of new Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) cards in December 2020, telecommunications operators have recorded loss of 7.6 million telephone lines within two months

The January edition of subscribers’ statistics, released by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), yesterday, showed operators woes compounded by loss of 4.3 million active subscribers. The service providers had earlier in December lost 3.3 million active subscribers to the halt in new enrolments.

The directive, which took effect from December 15, 2020, hindered telecoms operators from activating new SIM cards and even affected SIM swaps.

Consequently, subscribers who lost their telephone lines during this period are unable to retrieve them, as most users are yet to register for their National Identification Number (NIN), while those with NINs are yet to link them with their SIMs.

The financial implication of 7.6 million inactive telephone lines, showed that based on the industry Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) of N1,420 for 2020 obtained from the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), the operators must have lost about N10.8 billion within the last eight weeks. ARPU is a measure used primarily by consumer communications, digital media, and networking companies, defined as the total revenue divided by the number of subscribers.

It is a measure of the revenue generated by one customer phone, pager, etc., per unit time, typically per year or month.

Analysis of the NCC data showed that while active telephone lines were 204.4 million in December 2020, it fell to 200.2 million by January. It showed that the quartet of MTN, Airtel, Globacom and 9mobile lost 4.3 million subscribers.

Further analysis of the latest statistics showed that the teledensity also fell by 2.55 per cent. It moved from 107.1 per cent in December 2020 to 104.8 per cent in January.

Internet subscription was also impacted as operators shed 3.1 million users. In December 2020, there were 154.3 million Internet users via the narrowband (GSM platforms), but it dropped in January to 151.2 million.

Specifically, MTN lost 1.37 million subscribers. Its Internet subscribers in December 2020 was 65.3 million, it fell to 63.9 million in January. Airtel lost 1.25 million. It fell from 41.3 million in December 2020 to 40 million, a month after. Globacom lost 110,888 subscribers, having fell from 40.1 million to 39.9 in a month. 9mobile, with 7.1 million users in December 2020, lost 239,995, and fell to 6.8 million January.

Giving insight into the drop in active subscriptions, Nigeria Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, said the dip showed strong correlation between the SIM registration directive and subscription numbers.

“However, the more relevant and measurable data is the drop in voice due to migration to OTT voice application and waning consumer spend as a contributor,” he said.

Further, about 37.2 million MTN subscribers have thus far submitted their National Identification Number (NIN) for verification. MTN stated this in its audited results for the financial year ended December 31, 2020.

“We have made significant progress in this regard. To date, over 37.2 million subscribers have submitted their NINs, representing 48.7 per cent of our subscriber base. We are working with NIMC to complete bulk verification of the NINs collected. This requires improved integration with the NIMC database, the development of which has reached an advanced stage,” MTN stated.

To support the Federal Government’s effort to ensure that every Nigerian has a valid NIN, MTN said it has been granted a NIN enrolment licence and have commenced enrolment in 36 centres across the country. The South African owned telecommunications firm further said it is also working with NIMC and the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to expand enrolment centres and provide an access point for as many Nigerians as possible.

To this end, MTN has acquired over 15,000 enrolment devices, which are being configured for this purpose, and placed orders for additional ones.

Meanwhile, An advocacy group, the Digital Economy Media Support Volunteers Network (DEMS Volunteers Network), a non-governmental group of media practitioners, has urged the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, to review the current ban on new registration or renewal of SIM cards.

In a statement Acting Director-General of DEMS Volunteers, Prince Stan Okenwa said his organisation recognised the genuine interest of the Minister to verify and ensure compliance by MNOs, with the set quality standards and requirements of SIM card Registration, as issued by the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission.

He, however, noted that with the successes recorded with regards the National Identification Number, (NIN) and SIM card integration, the Minister should consider reviewing the suspension, to give room for those with NIN to register new lines, or re-activate their lost SIM cards.

Okenwa said the continued suspension of SIM registration, and/or renewal, has led to untold hardship on the part of individuals, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), whose means of livelihood are dependent on digital/online transactions.

“The other day, a man nearly committed suicide because, his business had almost gone down the drain. He lost his phone/SIM Card to a robbery incident and when he approached the telco, he was told ‘their hands are tied’. That is just one case out of many.

“What we are suggesting is that the Minister issues a new directive for those with ‘credible means of identification’, especially, NIN, to be able to register new SIM cards, or renew their old ones and continue their businesses. We believe that building the digital economy is a collective effort, hence, we are making this appeal to the Minister,”,Okenwa stressed.