By Elvis Eromosele
A week is a week. This is almost true in every part of the world regardless of the season. Every week is also unique. The activities, the happenings and the stories define each week. This week has been epoch-making in every sense.
This week, former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the death of George Floyd. The verdict was unanimous. He was caught on camera kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over 9mins. George in pleading for his life kept saying “I can’t breathe.”
After the verdict, Philonise Floyd, George’s brother said that he’s “able to breathe again”. The feeling of relief was widespread. It was a sigh of relief heard around the world. We can all breathe again. In Nigeria, the government lifted the ban on sales of SIM cards. Officially, it meant that the telcos could resume sales of SIM cards after months of suspension. The sector and indeed Nigerian telecom services consumers were able to breathe again.
During the ban, countless people who had lost their phones or damaged their SIM cards couldn’t retrieve them. Visitors to the country couldn’t get SIMs and businesses that depended on SIM cards sales suffered. Millions were thrown out of jobs, sales outlets shut down and operators lost revenue. The last five months was a real chokehold on the telecommunications industry.
Conservatives reports indicate that the number of connected lines dropped by over 10 million lines. Think, loss in revenue to the telecom services providers and endless pain for the customers who couldn’t connect with family, friends or business. It was a chokehold.
No wonder the sector couldn’t breathe. Little wonder the economy recorded a rise in the number of unemployed and more citizens dropped into the poverty zone. The country couldn’t breathe.
Since nature abhors a vacuum, it didn’t take long for illegal sales of pre-registered SIMs to gain ground. This is a story for another week.
The biggest loss was that the objective was lost to all but the initiators. It was a chokehold on the economy, Nigerians couldn’t breathe and nobody knew why.
First, a little context. The Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, had in December 2020 ordered the suspension of the sales and activation of new SIM cards across all phone networks in the country. Through the NCC, he directed Nigerians to ensure that their phone lines were connected to their National Identification Numbers (NIN) or risk losing the lines.
Now, the suspension was expected, at the time, to last till the completion of the NIN registration. The date fixed was early January.
Experts swore that it was an impossible mission. For in a decade, the NIMC registered less than 50 million people, how can the same organization be reasonably expected to sign on over 50 million people in under six weeks? The experts were right.
So, it was no surprise therefore that the deadlines had to be shifted repeatedly. The humongous crowd at the registration centres made Nigerians criticised the government for not making adequate provisions before the directive went into effect.
Banning SIM sales precipitated what appears to be several unintended consequences. The number of internet subscribers dropped, no doubt, limiting the chance of meeting the NCC set broadband target.
In these days of reducing average revenue per user (ARPU), it is a case of declining revenue for the operators.
While telcos can’t be expected to complain openly, the impact was an open wound. It was visible for all to see.
The pain is equally real. Job loss. Revenue loss.
At a time, when the economy is witnessing diminishing revenues, these losses also mean a reduction in taxes payable to the government’s coffers.
It is difficult to reconcile the government’s actions with its regulations. The situation is typical. The telecommunications industry is making massive contributions to the GDP, yet it was placed in a chokehold and left struggling to breathe.
Thankfully, this week, the sector can breathe again. Yes, Nigerians can breathe again.
Darnella Frazier, the teenager whose viral video of George Floyd’s murder helped the case, has been praised for her bravery. It would also be proper to laud all the analysts and writers who pushed tirelessly for the resumption of SIM sales in Nigeria.
It has been a good week.
Elvis Eromosele, a Corporate Communication professional and public affairs analyst lives in Lagos.