Nigeria’s Endless Search For Accurate Biometric Data | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Nigeria’s Endless Search For Accurate Biometric Data

Posted: Sep 8, 2015 at 1:14 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

In this special report, second  of five parts: Sylvester Enoghase, Oladunjoye Phillip, Obas Esiedesa, Emmanuel  Okwuke, Abel Orukpe, Olamide Bakare and Judith Eshemitan, takes a critical look at how a biometric-based census will eliminate multiple respondents, and ghost respondents, while making the outcome easy to audit.

Collaboration among MDAs

BiometricMachineIn its quest to implement President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive on the harmonisation of biometric database in the country, NIMC had begun consultation with other biometrics- data collection agencies as NIMC management led by its Director General, Dr. Chris Onyemenam, recently paid courtesy call to the Nigerian Population Commission (NPC).

Onyemenam particularly stated that the call by President Buhari for MDAs concerned with the collection and storage of the various biometric databases and ongoing data collection exercises in the country was the primary reason for the visit.

The Chairman of the NPC, Chief Eze Duruiheoma, proposed the setting up of an Inter-Agency committee to midwife the NPC/ NIMC collaboration matters within a defined timeline, saying that, the issue of NPC/NIMC collaboration has been a topical issue within NPC.

Onyemenam, however, ruled out the need to re-invent the wheel, stressing that NIMC had already put in place, a Harmonisation Committee (HC) comprising of representatives of the various MDAs security formations concerned with citizens data collection and usage.

Stakeholders ‘Commend PMB

Stakeholders in Nigeria commended President Buhari’s latest directive, saying the move would instill increased credibility in the country’s national databases. Information Technology and computer professionals under the auspices of the Nigerian Computer Society (NCS), said that it had become imperative, considering the huge cost implication of biometric exercises in the past, especially in terms of cost of data acquisition, personnel, storage of acquired data and cost of making such data available.

Speaking through their President, Prof. Shola Aderounmu, the professionals said current multifarious databases in the country create general inconveniences to citizens, who repeatedly have to queue long hours for registration.

Also, stakeholders are of the view that the current moves by NIMC to collaborate with NPC and subsequently with other agencies involved in data collection would go a long way in accelerating the harmonisation of the various databases currently existing in silos.

NCC, SIM Registration: How Purposeful?

A SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) Card is the card issued by mobile phone operators which provides the individual user with the appropriate number recognised by that network. A subscriber inserts the card into his or her mobile phone to access the mobile phone network.

Since the launch of the General System for Mobile Communications (GSM) services in Nigeria in 2001, SIM cards were offered to subscribers without the requirement to provide proper identification by the users.

Sometime in early 2008, security agencies approached the Commission to assist in resolving crimes perpetrated through the use of phones in which criminal elements cannot be identified with the number of the phones that they used.

Consequently, the Commission held a consultative forum involving various telecoms operators, consumer groups, security agencies, telecoms associations, dealers, the Nigerian Identity Management Commission, National Population Commission, National Census Commission, the media and a host of others.

All the participants agreed that it is appropriate and necessary to register phone users in the country. Another committee was then set up to further look at the details of the implementation of the registration programme and submit its recommendations to the NCC.

Upon reviewing the recommendations of the committee, the Board of the NCC approved the registration of all phone subscribers in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

This commenced on March 28, 2011, when the official flag off of the registration of all SIM cards was performed by Dr. Eugene Juwah, the former Executive Vice Chairman of NCC in Abuja.

The Registration of existing SIM cards officially ended in January 2012. However, Network Operators continued to register new SIM cards.

On completion of the validation, harmonisation and scrubbing of the records of all registered SIM cards, Operators were to be authorised to disconnect unregistered SIM cards from their networks.

NCC, Telcos Spent N46.1bn on SIM Card Registration In 5 Years

Investigations has shown that NCC and the four GSM  operators spent about N46.1 billion on SIM card registration from 2010 to 2015,

The breakdown of the figure showed that while NCC spent N6.1 billion, the four GSM operators, MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat, collectively spent N40 billion, with each operator spending about N10 billion.

As at 2013, MTN said it spent N5 billion on SIM card registration, but explained that the amount rose to over N10 billion in the last few weeks, since the registration exercise is ongoing.

The other three GSM operators also said they had so far spent huge amount of money, running into billions of naira on SIM card registration, but they are yet to release the exact amount so far.

It is however estimated that each of the three operators might have spent close to or slightly above the N10 billion spent by MTN, since they all started the registration exercise at the same time in 2010, thus bringing the estimated amount spent by the four GSM operators on SIM card registration to about N40 billion to date.

NCC, on its part, spent N6.1 billion on SIM card registration, between March 2011 to September 2011, This amounts to a cumulative N46.1 billion within a period of five years.

Following the need to have a central database for all telecommunication subscribers in the country, coupled with the need to identify all telecoms subscribers through a valid registration process, with a view to addressing the situation where lives were threatened and people kidnapped through the use of mobile phones for communication, the NCC compelled all telecoms operators to register their subscribers.

Although the registration exercise among telecoms operators commenced in 2010, NCC on March 2011, commenced another SIM card registration on subscribers, through its consultants across the six geopolitical zones of the country, after it got approval of N6.1 billion from the National Assembly, to do so.

NCC became involved in the registration exercise, following the perceived sluggishness in the registration exercise on the part of the telecommunications operators, who could not meet up with the initial six months deadline given to them by the NCC, to conclude the registration exercise.

NCC, however revealed recently that to date, more than 120 million SIM cards have been registered and transmitted to the central database by the operators, but lamented that out of the number, 45 per cent of the SIM cards was deemed invalid for reasons of invalid portrait image, invalid fingerprints, and incorrect/inaccurate demographic data such as name, address, among others.

According to expert opinion, the irregularities in registering subscribers by different agents from the operators and the NCC, must have led to the 45 per cent of the 120 million registered SIM cards, being declared invalid.

They blamed the situation on multiple registrations, and wondered why telecoms operators were not able to register subscribers once and synchronise the data obtained with the central database.

NCC Gives GSM Operators  7-Day Ultimatum

Worried by the seemingly intractable security situation in the country, the NCC handed down a seven-day ultimatum to GSM and other network providers to deactivate all pre-registered SIM cards or face sanctions.

This was the fallout of a meeting between Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Department of State Service (DSS), the network operators and the NCC. The meeting which took place at the NCC boardroom in Abuja, took into cognisance crimes committed against members of the public either by kidnappers, terrorists, robbers and threats to lives, through the use of such unregistered SIM cards across all the networks.

Operators were however told to notify such subscribers before deactivation of their SIM cards.

At the meeting were the representatives of the NSA, Group Captain, Ibikunle Daramola, DSS, Mr. Godwin Ometu, the immediate past NCC Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Dr Eugene Juwah, Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, Engr. Ubale Maska and representatives of MTN, Globacom, Etisalat, Visafone , Airtel and others.

A statement by NCC made to the media, and signed by Director, Public Affairs, Mr. Tony Ojobo said that: “Seven days’ notice is hereby given for deactivation of all invalid/improperly registered SIM cards; these include all SIM cards without or improperly captured facial pictures and or finger – prints. Affected subscribers are to be notified to regularise their registrations.

The meeting resolved that: Henceforth, all registrations must conform to the Data Dictionary, Technical Specifications on finger prints and facial images and the business rule agreed by all stakeholders.

That all registration records must be validated before sending to the Commission; thus eliminating all invalid records that does not conform to new registrations and indicate same in the monthly reports sent to Commission.

It was also resolved that operators will be held liable for cases for cases of pre-registered SIMs. Earlier grace of 21 days given by the Commission has lapsed.  Accordingly, the Commission has commenced monitoring from Monday, August 3, 2015.  Sanctions for default will apply in accordance with the SIM registration regulations.

On multiple registration, NCC Said: “The regulation did not set a cap for number of SIMs to be registered by individual or corporate subscribers. However, operators must ensure all registrations are valid and in accordance with the documents and specifications stated above”.

The commission also noted that unusually high number of registration by an individual should be flagged and reported to the commission.  The Commission and all operators are to embark on vigorous public enlightenment on the need/ desirability for subscribers to register their SIMs, as well as the dangers of selling /buying pre-registered SIMs.

Earlier, it was observed that: “To date, more than 120 million SIM cards have been registered and transmitted to the Central Database by the operators. Also, the validation exercise reveals a preponderance of unreliable data in terms of incomplete and/ or inaccurate demographic and / or biometric data”.

The issues relating to unreliability of data essentially borders on the operators’ failure to ensure compliance with the format and specifications that were jointly developed and agreed by the NCC,  and the operators before the commencement of the exercise in 2011.

The observation also noted that as at September 2014, about 45 per cent of the total number of registered SIMs, at that time, were deemed invalid for reasons of a) invalid portrait image only, invalid fingerprints only, invalid sportrait image and fingerprints, and incorrect/ inaccurate demographic data (name, address,).

Since the invalid records were returned to the operators in September 2014 for correction, less than 30 per cent of the invalid records have been resubmitted.

These resolutions were part of the ongoing efforts by government to nip in the bud the incessant occurrences of threats via telecommunications networks and the danger they portend for psyche of the citizenry.

NCC Fines MTN, Airtel, Others N120 Million

The NCC fined four of Nigeria’s leading telecom operators, MTN, Etisalat, Airtel and Globacom a sum of N120.4 million for having incomplete and pre-registered SIM cards in their systems.

This is coming on the heels of a 7-day ultimatum given by the NCC to all telecommunications operators (Telcos) and other network providers to deactivate pre-registered SIM cards and complete registration of improperly registered SIM cards in their systems.

The notice of the fine was contained in a document titled, “Re: Monitoring of Status Compliance with Stakeholders Resolution of August 4, 2015 on Deactivation of Incomplete and Improperly Registered SIM Cards-Notice of Sanction.”

The document which was jointly signed by the head of compliance and monitoring unit, Efosa Idehen and head of legal and regulatory services, on behalf of the Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Prof Umar Danbatta, requested the telcos to variously pay N120.4 million for failing to fully comply with the commission’s directive.

A breakdown of the N120.4 million combined fine, showed that while Globacom will pay N7.4 million, Etisalat will pay N7 million. MTN will pay a total of N102.2 million, while Airtel will pay N3.8 million, totaling N120.4 million fine for all the four GSM operators.

According to NCC, its monitoring team discovered 37 pre-registered SIM cards on the Globcom network, while it discovered 35 pre-registered SIM cards on the Etisalat network. The team also found 19 per-registered SIM cards on the Airtel network, and 109 pre-registered SIM cards on the MTN network. It however, also discovered additional 402 incomplete and improperly registered SIM cards on the MTN network.

The NCC Regulation 19(1) and 20(1) of the Registration of Telecoms Subscribers, stipulate a fine of N200,000 for every pre-registered SIM card and for every incomplete and improperly registered SIM cards found to be active on any telecoms operators’ network.

The 37 active pre-registered SIM cards on the Globacom network, amounting to N7.4 million; the 35 active pre-registered SIM cards on the Etisalat network, amounting to N7 million, the 19 active pre-registered SIM cards on the Airtel network, amounting to N3.8 million; the 109 active pre-registered SIM cards on the MTN network amounting to N21.8 million as well as the 402 incomplete and improperly registered SIM cards on the MTN network, amounting to N80.4 million, gave a cumulative total of N120.4 million fine that would be paid by all the four GSM operators to NCC on or before September 7, 2015.

According to separate letters dated August 26, 2015, addressed to the CEOs of  MTN, Airtel, Globacom and Emerging Markets

Telecommunications Services Limited, also known as Etisalat, the NCC said “The Commission, in consideration of the prevalence of infractions and the impact of the contravention on the national database of telecommunication subscribers, hereby impose sanction on all the four GSM operators.”

The letters were signed by the Head, Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement at NCC, Mr. Efosa Idehen, on behalf of the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Professor Umaru Danbatta.