Nigeria’s Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, said that any subscriber who wishes to have multiple phone numbers would have to convince the government of why he or she should have more than three mobile lines, according to a news report. However, the minister said that the government has not yet made a final decision on the maximum number of SIM cards that a subscriber can have.
The government recently asked the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) to review the SIM registration policy and possibly restrict the maximum number of SIM cards a subscriber could register to three. Pantami quoted security agents as saying that the country’s security was tied to proper SIM registration. The minister added that reports by security agents indicated that since millions of SIM cards were blocked in 2019, the number of crimes perpetrated with aid of SIM cards had declined.
We find this story interesting because in most markets, mobile service penetration is a statistic to boast about, whereas in Nigeria, we find the opposite occurring. This paradoxical situation is due to the government’s concern about SIMs being used for fraud and other crimes.
Unregistered SIMs have proved a problem in many countries, but usually the mandate is to register them or else deactivate them. In Nigeria, the government is going one step further by stipulating that even registered SIMs can be a security risk, on the logic that no one would need more than a given number (say, three), and that the desire to exceed that number would most likely stem from dishonest motives.
Penetration rates well over 100 percent are generally taken to be signs of a vigorous mobile sector. But in this case, the government believes that rising penetration has dangerous causes, and this has led to a call for limits to growth. From mobile operators’ point of view, restricting the number of SIMs that a customer can take out (unless the customer can successfully convince the government of the necessity for having more) cannot be a good thing. But the situation does give one pause to reflect that healthy growth in the mobile sector could be dependent on the general health of civil society.