Nigeria: Muhammadu Buhari pushes for National Identity Number with threat to block SIM cards

President Muhammadu Buhari
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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to stop the push for registration of Nigerians for National Identity Number (NIN), and withdraw the threat to block SIM cards.

The Human Rights group in a statement on Sunday asked the President to “instruct the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Mr Isa Pantami, and Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission, (NIMC) Mr Aliyu Abubakar to stop the move.

SERAP explained that the data of Nigerians being sought already exist in several platforms, including the Bank Verification Numbers (BVN), driver’s license, international passport, and voters’ card.”

The Federal Government last week issued an ultimatum to all telecommunications operators in the country to block all Subscriber Identification Modules (SIMs) without National Identification Number (NIN).

It also ordered the network operators to ask all their subscribers to provide valid NIN to update their records and suspend SIM registration.

SERAP in a statement signed by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said, “No government has the right to strip its own people of their basic rights under the guise of registration for national identity number. If the authorities continue down this path, the threats to citizens’ rights such as the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, will inevitably increase, and the NIMC will remain a paper tiger.”

The group explained that instead of forcing Nigerians to register, threatening telecom service providers with sanctions, and exposing Nigerians to the risks of COVID-19, the Federal Government ought to make sure that the NIMC discharges its statutory functions to harmonise and integrate existing identification databases in government agencies, and make use of the information collected.

“The request for Nigerians to register for NIN is burdensome, unjustified, and unnecessary. It would end up serving no other purpose than to threaten and violate the rights of Nigerians, and create a ‘chilling effect’ on citizens’ ability to participate in the fight against corruption in the country, and thereby seriously undermining the government’s oft-repeated commitment to transparency and accountability.

“There is neither a pressing legal or practical need for this registration, which threatens Nigerians’ human rights, especially at a time your government is warning Nigerians about the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country,” the statement read in part.

SERAP said blocking Nigerians from using their SIM cards would amount to a “blatant violation of their rights to freedom of expression and access to information, and have a ‘chilling effect’ on the enjoyment of other human rights.”

The organisation also urged President Buhari “to instruct Mr Pantami and Mr Abubakar to take concrete measures to promptly ensure that the NIMC is able to faithfully and effectively discharge its statutory functions to harmonise and integrate existing identification databases in government agencies into the National Identity Database, and to use the information to update SIM card registration.”

They also the Federal Government to “indicate the measures being taken to stop the unnecessary registration of NIN and withdraw the threat to block SIM cards.”

SERAP also threatened to take legal actions to compel the government to implement these recommendations “in the interest of millions of Nigerians.”

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