The ban on the sale and registration of new Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards has created a huge black market for the sale of pre-registered SIM cards with prices ranging as high as N15,000 for a card.
On December 9th last year, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Ibrahim Pantami ordered a ban on the sale and registration of new SIM cards. Government threatened to mete out heavy sanctions on them including revocation of operating licences should any of them be found on the side of infractions.
The Nation’s review at the weekend however showed that as long as the ban persisted, sellers took advantage to market their pre-registered SIM cards in various regions. Even with the lifting of the bank last week, the black market remained active, although the announcement of the lifting of the ban led to a significant crash in the cost of pre-registered SIM card from about N15,000 to N2,000.
From Ibadan, Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Kontogora, pre-registered SIM cards for the mobile networks were still on sale, especially through decentralised outlets.
An Abuja based young techpreneur said he had to pay N10,000 to stay connected because the legal way to acquire a new SIM card had been blocked.
Another US returnee in Lagos said he paid about N15,000 to get a SIM card to be able to link up with his families across the country and back in the states.
“Men, I got to be connected. I can’t imagine being blacked out indefinitely because the government ban had no timeline attached to it. So, I had to help myself. Thank God. I am going to destroy the SIM when I am going out of the country because it must have performed its duties,” he said.
But at the weekend, a SIM card seller on the outskirts of Lagos said he has no new SIM cards that are not pre-registered. “I just have the SIM card of one of the network service providers with me and it is already pre-registered. I heard the government has lifted the ban on the sale of new SIM cards but I am yet to hear from the agent I work for. The price of the SIM card I have now is N2000. It has dropped from about N10,000 last two months to N2,000 may be because of the new government directive,” he said.
In the Wuse area of Abuja, a SIM card retailer on condition of anonymity, said while the sale of SIM cards is still ongoing, registration has been suspended.
“We were instructed to stop registering new SIM cards until further notice but we were not told not to sell the (pre-registered) SIM cards we have,” he said, ostensibly ignorant of the illegality of his action.
The sale or use of pre-registered SIM card carries a fine or jail term or both, according to the NCC.
For a telecom company, each pre-registered SIM card attracts a penalty of N200,000 and for a user an imprisonment.
A SIM card and airtime seller at Oshodi area said the government’s action will only boost the sale of pre-registered SIM cards in the black market.
“What the government is doing will only boost black market sales. It is because of sudden change in policies like this that many SIM card sellers always have pre-registered lines for anyone that is in desperate need of a SIM to the extent of willing to pay more for it,” she said on condition of anonymity.
According to her, while there may be merit in the government’s decision, it is hurting people who rely on the sale of SIM cards to earn a living.
During the ban, countless people who lost their phones or damaged their SIM cards inadvertently couldn’t retrieve them. Visitors to the country couldn’t get SIMs and businesses that depended on SIM cards sales took a terrific hit.
Millions were thrown out of jobs, sales outlets were shut down while operators lost revenue. “The last five months was indeed a real chokehold on the telecommunications industry,” a sector analyst said.
According to market research, teledensity has decreased from its highest peak of 108.92 per cent at the end of November 2020 and a drop in the number of mobile subscriptions from nearly 208 million to 200.2 million.
Additionally, active internet subscriptions have dipped from nearly 155 million at the end of November 2020 to about 151.2 million at the end of January 2021.
This represents a loss of 3.6 million active internet subscriptions within two months – after over a year of steady growth in active internet subscriptions.
Voice over internet protocol (VoIP) also suffered a similar fate with active subscriptions dropping from 429,121 to 387,169 within the same period.
Furthermore, between November and December 2020 broadband penetration decreased marginally from 45.07per cent to 45.02 per cent. However, between December 2020 and January 2021 Nigeria experienced a major decrease in broadband penetration when it fell to 42.93per cent after the number of broadband subscriptions dropped from nearly 86 million to less than 82 million.
Fixed wired active internet subscriptions in Nigeria continued with steady month-on-month growth from 9,866 at the end of February 2020 to 11,545 at the end of January 2021.
The government had lifted the ban last week with stringent registration conditions of presenting NIN, a decision it said was in line with the country’s revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration.
“An earlier policy was approved on the 4th of February 2020, while the Revised Policy was developed in early March 2021. The final amendments to the revised Policy based on the directives of Mr President to make the use of NIN mandatory for all SIM registration were completed yesterday, 14th of April, 2021,” read an excerpt from Dr Pantami’s statement.
The NCC however said it has started to clampdown on suspected SIM card registration fraudsters engaged in the sale of pre-registered SIM cards as five persons were arrested and handed over to law enforcment agencies.