The Federal Government has warned that those yet to obtain their National Identity Number (NIN) risk seven or 14 years imprisonment as stipulated by the Nigerian Constitution.
It also said it would not lift the ban on new Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) registration any time soon for security reasons.
Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, stated this at the sixth edition of the ministerial briefing by the Presidential Media Team at Aso Villa, Abuja.
He said while obtaining a SIM card may be optional, NIN was mandatory and cited section 27 of the NIMC Act of 2007 where it is a criminal offence to carry out business activities without first acquiring NIN.
“The NIMC Act clause 27 states that you need the NIN number for opening bank accounts, for insurance, land transactions, voters registration, drivers licenses. So, it is an offence to transact any business activity without first having your NIN,” he said.
The minister also put the number of SIM card subscribers linked to NIN at over 150 million, adding, however, that total NIM enrolment stood at 51million as at March 31.
He said when it comes to security issues, the economy takes backstage, insisting that SIM registration carried out in the past compromised the system.
“The ban on new SIM remains in place for security reasons. We know this ban is painful but very necessary. In the past, SIM registration process were compromised, most of the SIMS were improperly registered, hence we have most of the SIM used in committing crimes in the country. So what we are doing now is matching all the SIMS with NIN, this has become necessary for security purposes. The ban may affect our economy, but when addressing issues of security, the economy takes back stage.”
Pantami said some people were found to have used the biometrics of one person to register about 100 SIMs, after people were given money, even as some SIMs were improperly registered.
Nigerians, however, reacted in anger with government’s plan to jail those without NIN for seven or 14 years.
Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre(CISLAC), Mr. Anwal Musa Rafsantander, said as lofty as the idea to have a credible database for the country was, the threat to jail Nigerians was ill-informed and a misplaced priority.
He said rather than threats, government should step up its communication strategy to enable Nigerians know the benefit inherent in NIN.
He said a lot of Nigerians living in the rural communities were not even aware that such programme was ongoing.
Human rights lawyer and former National President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu disagreed with the directive, saying the presidency does not make law, but only executes law.
“So, if the presidency is concerned about that, it should approach the National Assembly and subject such matters to a debate of the Nigerian people through their representatives. It is only when such a statement has been subjected to a serious debate by the National Assembly and approved by a way of bill that the presidency can assent to it to become law.”
He cited Section 36, subsection 12 of the Nigerian constitution which states that no Nigerian can be punished for an offence that does not exist, to drive home his argument.
Also, former president of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, said the threat was not backed by law. He said government cannot imprison anybody without an act of the Federal Government or a law of the state government prescribing such punishment.
He accused the Federal Government of taking contradictory steps that would lead to a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.
“Why does the government keep taking contradicting steps? Every day they stress the need for a limited number of people at gatherings and the need to keep a safe distance. Now, they want to stampede people to gather together. The government is engaging in approbation and reprobation,” he said.
•It’s not mandatory for voter registration –INEC
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said NIN was not mandatory for voter registration.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, made the clarification while fielding questions from journalists in Abuja, yesterday.
Yakubu said that NIN was only a means of identification for registration as listed in the Electoral Act.
“I want to make this important clarification. NIN is not going to be made mandatory for voter registration. This is for a simple reason that we are operating on basis of law establishing INEC.
“Section 10 of the Electoral Act lists identifications to be presented by prospective registrants for the purpose of voter registration to includes birth certificate, national passport, national identify card,” he said.
The INEC chairman said the list also included driver’s licence or any other document that would prove the identity and age of the applicant.
He said that the NIN card was only one of the means of identification provided for, under section 10 sub-section 2 of the electoral act.
“We cannot single that out and make it mandatory. All the other requirements are requirements of the law and we must apply the law appropriately. If you have your national ID card we will register you on presentation of the card, but we will not make it a mandatory means of identification for the exercise.”