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Fear and frustration in Nigeria as millions at risk of phone suspension

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“If I don’t have my phone, I don’t make money,” said Raphael Ajih, resting on a rusty metal chair, his hands clenched on his lap.


The government of Africa’s most populous country has ordered telecom operators to block the SIM cards of anyone who fails to register for a National Identity Number (NIN) by February 9.

Across the country, many like Ajih are trying to comply with the directive, only to be frustrated by days-long waits to do the paperwork, often in large crowds despite the Covid pandemic.

The idea behind the NIN is to create a single ID database for Nigeria’s 200 million people, replacing the hotchpotch of documents, from drivers licences to voter cards, that citizens use to identify themselves.

A unique number for each person, which in turn will unlock their national ID card, will help to smooth out problems in policy-making and budget planning, the government says.

The change will also fight Nigeria’s rampant crime, goes its argument. By linking the ID number to a SIM, this will weed out unregistered cards used by crooks and jihadists.

Ajih, 38, sells goods via WhatsApp and Amazon and works as an Uber driver in the capital Abuja — jobs that enable him to financially support his two younger brothers and sister as well as extended family members.

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He sends money to relatives by mobile transfer, something he may no longer be able to do if he fails to get a NIN and submits the number to his mobile operator.

He has already tried twice to enrol but was taken aback by the throngs of people, many not wearing facemasks and not social distancing.

“Covid is real, and yet they are telling people to do this, and there’s no control,” said Ajih, who decided not to join the crowds.

“If I fall sick, I don’t make money… so my health comes first.”

– ‘It’s unfair’ –

Nigeria’s health ministry did not respond to AFP’s questions about the gridlock reported at enrolment centres. The spokesman of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) which runs the process declined to comment.

In addition to the crowds, many people have complained that the process to register is too slow and too complicated.

On a recent Monday morning outside the Grand Ibro Hotel, which rented out space for the enrolment, men and women of all ages were sitting on the pavement, waiting.

As a man hesitantly walked out the main entrance to call out a name handwritten on a scruffy piece of paper, a man in the crowd started shouting.

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“They say they can only do 50 people a day while we have thousands standing here! It’s unfair!” said Ugochukwu Ofor.

“We are finding it difficult, very very very difficult. This is the 7th time that I come for this.”

“I came all the way from Suleja, Niger state (about 70 kilometres / 44 miles away). Around 5:15 am I arrived in Abuja, and up until now I still don’t know if it’s going to work. It’s unfair!”

“Yes! He’s right!” people clamoured around him.

“This is very frustrating. I left my kids at home, I couldn’t take them to school today,” said Otitoju Funmi.

In a statement, the Nigerian Communications Commission, the independent regulatory authority for the country’s telecoms said “linking NIN to SIM(s) is for the common good of all Nigerians” and will have “far reaching benefits.”

At one registration centre that AFP was able to visit, in Karu, about 50 people were waiting outside in the heat, uncertain they would make it inside that day.

The decrepit room where the enrolment took place was about 12 square metres (130 square feet). Inside, only two employees were taking people’s details, typing away on two old computers as a noisy fan whirled above their head.

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– Last resort –

In Nigeria, personal data and biometric information is collected separately by a dozen federal agencies as well as state agencies.

The government has been trying to centralise all that information for over 10 years, with the NIN.

By linking the process to people’s mobile phones and fixing a deadline, it found a way to encourage registration.

“I believe that the deadline is to make people take the process seriously,” said Ike Nnamani, president of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, a non-profit organisation that represents telecom operators.

But it is a mammoth task.

The number of active phone subscriptions in Nigeria is 208 million.

Due to the difficulties encountered at enrolment centres, about two weeks ahead of the February 9 deadline, between 16.8 million and 64.6 million were yet to be linked with a NIN, according to data released by the NCC.

Nnamani insists that the suspension of lines is the “very last resort”.

Ajih will try to register again, he says, but whatever happens, chooses not to be defeated.

“If push comes to shove and I don’t get my NIN, I’ll survive.”

He has no other choice.

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Ivory Coast police rescue 68 children working on cocoa farms

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FILE PHOTO: A farmer prepares to cut cocoa pods at a cocoa farm in Agboville, Ivory Coast April 24, 2017. REUTERS/LUC GNAGO

Police in Ivory Coast have rescued 68 children working on cocoa farms, most of whom were trafficked from neighbouring Burkina Faso, authorities said.

The West African country is the world’s top cocoa producer and has close to 1 million children working in the sector despite years of efforts to end child labour.

At a care centre in the southwestern region of Soubre, one of the rescued children told Reuters his father had brought him from Burkina Faso at the age of 13 to work on his uncle’s cocoa plantation and had left him there.

“I’ve been working in cocoa for two years, since I arrived in Ivory Coast,” said the shy Nounfo, who was found by the police splitting open cocoa pods with a machete.

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Police said Nounfo’s family links were not clear to the purported uncle who was among about 25 suspected traffickers arrested and now facing up to 10 years in prison.

The issue could weigh on exports to the European Union, which is considering new laws to ban the import of commodities linked to human rights abuses.

The operation involved around 100 police officers last Thursday and Friday and was the first since 2014 in Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt.

More action is hampered by a lack of funding, said Luc Zaka, a police commissioner in charge of the special unit on child labour.

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“We lack the means to be more efficient and to achieve the expected results, but each time we are in the field we manage to save children and arrest suspects,” he said.

Brahima Coulibaly, a member of the national monitoring committee on child labour, said authorities will conduct operations in another region in a few months.

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UGM: Governor imposes curfew from 7pm-6am in Rivers

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Nyesom Wike

Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has imposed a new curfew aimed at curbing attacks on government forces by those described as “Unknown Gunmen (UGM).”

Seven policemen were killed last week Friday in a new attack by unidentified gunmen who had killed at least 12 government forces in attacks on police formations.

“As a further step towards enhancing our collective safety we have reviewed the existing night time curfew across the 23 Local Government Areas, which will now start from 7 p.m. and end at 6 a.m. until further notice from tomorrow 11th May 2021,” said Wike in a state-wide broadcast on Monday.

The governor also ordered law enforcement agencies to deal decisively with any person or group who violates or attempts to violate the curfew.

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Meanwhile, government forces blocked all roads leading to their facilities across the state, causing a traffic jam that left many people stranded and forced to walk a long distance before reaching their places of business and homes.

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ISIS imposes taxes, recruit children in northern Nigeria

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"The Islamic State is plundering parts of Nigeria now, they manage to impose the Islamic tax of Zakāt at least in some regions at this point"

Images, posted on social media on Saturday, show members of the Islamic State terrorist group collecting taxes and recruiting children in northern Nigeria.

Children are recruited by terrorists under the guise of a humanitarian gesture by distributing them each N500 (five hundred naira), as well as food, shows images posted on Twitter by Pieter Van Ostaeyen, a Belgium reporter, analyst and historian.

“The Islamic State is plundering parts of Nigeria now, they manage to impose the Islamic tax of Zakāt at least in some regions at this point,” Ostaeyan said in Saturday’s report, which confirmed reports that earlier claimed that ISIS had infiltrated Nigeria.

The United States, alongside others, had said that Islamic State was trying to infiltrate the oil-rich African country already being ravaged by Boko Haram, ISWAP and Fulani herders.

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