SIMs: Are they now tools for crimes?
If nothing, something must be done now. Otherwise, the wave of armed robbery, kidnappings and several other crimes fraudulently perpetrated by criminal elements with the aid of pre-registered and improperly-registered Subscriber Identity Module (SIM), will soon assume a frightening dimension.
The statistics on the number of innocent Nigerians who have fallen prey, been victims of or defrauded by kidnappers, robbers, and internet scammers, is quite staggering. It is a statement of fact that criminals mostly thrive on the use of phones and the internet.
According to a police report, kidnapping ‘maestro’, Chukwudubem Onwuamadike, who is notoriously known as ‘Evans, had 126 SIM cards, all pre-registered and purchased at the Computer Village, in Lagos. With these listless numbers of SIMs, Evans reigned supreme (for years) in the terror-inducing business of abduction for ransom.
Meanwhile, it was nine years after the game-changing GSM services berthed in Nigeria, that NCC, who is the service providers’ regulator, woke up to the necessity of mandatory registration of all SIM cards. Among other objectives, the SIMs registration project was solely driven by the need to mitigate security issues of tracking the criminal use of telephones, while also creating a comprehensive, central data base of SIM card subscribers to facilitate and back up the national identification system.
In fact, SIM card abuse is still a major problem, and extremely rampant in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, one can confidently posit that through laxity, complacency of the security agencies and the connivance of service providers, NCC is still battling to implement its compulsory SIM registration policy.
Nevertheless, NCC, security agencies and other critical stakeholders must resolve to tackle the menace of illegal SIMs’ proliferation, while also prosecuting the hordes of tech-savvy criminals in the country. Meanwhile, NCC should ensure that the dishonest mobile operators and registration agents they have already arrested should be summarily prosecuted. The need becomes imperative, especially now that the country is contending with all sorts of crimes perpetrated with the aid unlawful SIMs. NCC, again, should stop the registration of individuals with over five SIM cards, just as the need for the Commission to lobby for the criminalization of mobile phones SIM infractions by the National Assembly, cannot be over-emphasized.
Through adequate funding, the Federal Government can help security agencies to invest heavily and develop immense capabilities to monitor communications and through it, track and bust criminal and terrorist networks. Since millions of Nigeria are both connected and are active phone line users, it becomes expedient that stricter control measures are imposed over the sale of SIM cards. In furtherance of NCC’s ban on open registration, there should be a moratorium on the open sale of SIMs on the streets, markets and make-shift stalls. Henceforth, let SIMs be sold only at properly managed outlets, while the service providers should be held responsible for every SIM card issued. Equally, NCC should swiftly launch consumer awareness programmes across the six geo-political zones to sensitize telecom consumers on the dangers of patronizing pre-registered SIM cards.
To this end, stringent punitive laws should be made to facilitate criminal prosecution of complicit officials and telecom companies. To achieve 100 percent law enforcement, NCC should as a matter of utmost importance, collaborate with government agencies such as Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), the judiciary, Mobil Network Operators (MNOs), together with the telecom consumers.