Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, on Thursday warned that Nigerians who do not have National Identity Numbers risked imprisonment.
He also ruled out lifting ban on issuance of new SIM cards soon.
The minister said it was a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for any Nigerian to transact business like opening a bank account and paying taxes among others without having NIN.
Pantami spoke at the weekly State House Press Briefing at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He warned that ‘those yet to obtain the NIN risk seven or 14 years imprisonment’.
He said, “Based on the requirement of the law, each and every citizen and legal resident must obtain his/her National Identification Number, which is being coordinated by the National Identity Management Commission.
“It is a requirement by law but many citizens ignore it.
“What we achieved in the area of enrolment from the time Mr President directed me to supervise NIMC till date is unprecedented and we will continue to ensure that in the next few years, we have an almost complete data base of all our citizens in the country.
“No country will be successful in education, health, budget planning or national planning without data base of its citizens in place.
“What I inherited in the database was less than 20 per cent of our population. But we want to ensure that before we leave office, we would look at the database and be proud of our country.”
The minister also disclosed that as of Wednesday, 51 million NINs had been fully enrolled.
The minister also said 189 million Subscriber Identification Modules had been registered in the country out of which 150 million registrations had been completed.
The others, he said, had issues of improper registration.
Pantami said there was no plan to lift the ban on new Subscriber Identification Modules registration any time soon.
He attributed the decision to security reasons.
According to the minister, when it comes to addressing the issue of security, the economy takes the back stage.
He insisted that SIM registration carried out in the past were compromised.
He said, “The ban on new SIMs remains in place for security reasons. We know this ban is painful but very necessary.
“In the past, SIMs registration process were compromised; most of the SIMs were improperly registered, hence we have most of them used to commit crimes in the country.
“So, what we are doing now is matching all the SIMs with NIN. This has become necessary for security purposes.”
Pantami however admitted that the ban was capable of affecting the nation’s economy.
He added, “The ban may affect our economy, but when addressing the issue of security, the economy takes the back stage.
“People used the biometrics of one person to register about 100 SIMs, after people are given money, this is even as some SIMs were improperly registered.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions taken as a minister. It is a very painful decision, but we had to take it.”
On whether the deadline for linking NIN with SIM cards will further be extended, the minister said, “On the issue of whether deadline will be extended or not, we have a meeting with all the stakeholders today.
“After the meeting, we will make our suggestions to Mr President. Mr President works from anywhere, we will make suggestions to him and convey our position and when Mr President is satisfied with the position, we will go ahead and make it public.”
On the criticism that has trailed NIN, Pantami said, “As government officials, we are not just worried of any criticism except if it is a valid one.
“A criticism that should be certified because we need attitudinal change in Nigeria; we need positive change; nobody wants to change.
“For me to make sacrifice, nobody wants to do that. No country will be successful with that attitude; we must be able to make sacrifice from our own angle so that our country will be great.”
Pantami claimed that the cost of data provided by telecommunications companies had reduced by half about N1,200 per gigabyte to less than N500 since 2020.
He, however, blamed some state governors for the high cost of data.
He said such state governors kept inflating the charges telecommunication firms paid for right of way in installing their cables.
“Some states charge as high as N60,000 per linear meter whereas it should not ordinarily be more than N145,” he said.
Pantami said he had engaged the governors through the Nigeria Governors Forum and pleaded with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to intervene in the matter.