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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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Markets, roads closed in southeast Nigeria in solidarity with Kanu

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Cemetery market in Aba, Abia State

Residents of south-eastern Nigeria have closed markets and some entry points into cities in solidarity with Biafran pro-independence leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who is now before the Federal High Court in Abuja for trial.

Some international markets in Abia, Onitsha, Nnewi and others, including entry points to some cities, were closed in the early hours of Monday July 26, 2021.

The separatist leader who had fled to Israel in 2017 when his home was raided by soldiers who killed many civilians in an attempt to assassinate him, faces charges of treason and other unfounded crimes, for calling for a referendum on the independent state of Biafra in the east of the country.

Nnamdi Kanu

He was seized in Kenya and illegally repatriated to the Nigeria.

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US citizens arrested in Nigeria for taking photos during Kanu’s trial

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Nigeria's Department of State Services personnel

ABUJA — Two foreigners suspected of being American journalists were arrested Monday July 26 in Nigeria for having taken photos on the eve of the trial of Biafran pro- independence leader Nnamdi Kanu.

According to the report, the two men were arrested by the country’s secret service — Department of State Services at a hotel, Treasure Suites, opposite the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court.

The Peoples Gazette reports that a phone belonging to another man in the hotel was seized by the DSS, who accuses him of following the trial of the separatist leader from the hotel.

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“They even entered the hotel and got the manager to show them their CCTV footage to be able to locate one of the men and seized his phone,” a police officer told Peoples Gazette at the scene.

The Nigerian had announced banned on international and other media from covering the trial of Mr. Kanu in court.

A statement signed by Chief Information Officer, Catherine Oby Christopher on Monday noted that the DSS has only accredited 10 Nigerian media organizations, namely: ThisDay, Premium Times, The Nation, Daily Independent, The Herald, National Television Authority , Continental Television, African Independent Television, Daily Post and Channels Television.

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No reason was given by authorities who refused to comment on the sudden violation of press freedom and citizens’ rights to monitor a trial.

Nnamdi Kanu, human rights activist is currently being held in the Nigeria’s Department of State Services detention center in Abuja after being seized in Kenya and illegally repatriated to the country.

The separatist leader who had fled to Israel in 2017 when his home was raided by soldiers who killed many civilians in an attempt to assassinate him, faces charges of treason and other unfounded crimes, for calling for a referendum on the independent state of Biafra in the east of the country.

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Man accused of trying to kill Mali president dies in custody

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Goita was whisked away by his security detail, and later appeared on state TV to say he was doing "very well", downplaying the significance of the assault.

A man accused of trying to kill Mali’s military strongman Assimi Goita, the figure behind two coups in less than a year, has died in custody, the government said on Sunday.

The suspect, whose identity has not been revealed, had been taken into custody following the assassination attempt at Bamako’s Grand Mosque on Tuesday.

“During investigations… his health deteriorated” and he was then hospitalised, but “unfortunately, he has died,” the government said in a statement.

It added that an autopsy had been immediately ordered to determine the cause of death.

A man armed with a knife lunged at Goita after prayers for Eid al-Adha on Tuesday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Goita was whisked away by his security detail, and later appeared on state TV to say he was doing “very well”, downplaying the significance of the assault.

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“That’s part of being a leader, there are always malcontents,” he said.

“There are people who at any time may want to try things to cause instability.”

His attacker, a young-looking man dressed in jeans and a white shirt, was apprehended at the scene and taken away by the Malian intelligence services.

The suspect was never presented to judicial authorities, a source requesting anonymity told AFP on Sunday.

His identity was not revealed, but commissioner Sadio Tomoda said late Tuesday that he was a teacher, without elaborating.

Prosecutors had opened an inquiry into the incident.

On Sunday, the government said the suspect’s death was not an obstacle to continuing the investigation, “especially since preliminary evidence and intelligence gathered indicate that he was not an isolated element”.

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– Political instability –

The attack capped months of political turmoil in a country that has rarely enjoyed stability since gaining independence from France in 1960.

Goita, a special forces colonel in his late thirties, headed a putsch last August that ousted elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after weeks of protests over graft and a bloody jihadist insurgency.

The junta, in the face of international condemnation, handed power to a civilian-led transitional government that promised to restore civilian rule in February 2022.

But in late May, Goita, who was vice president in the transitional government, ousted president Bah Ndaw and premier Moctar Ouane, saying they had sought to “sabotage” the handover.

In June, with Goita as interim president, a new government was unveiled, with military figures in key roles.

As the African Union and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS piled on pressure, Goita vowed the government would uphold all commitments and pledged to stage “credible, fair and transparent elections”.

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Mali’s neighbours and allies have been viewing the crisis with disquiet, fearing the impact on efforts to stem a jihadist insurgency that is unfurling across the Sahel region.

The bloody campaign erupted in the north of Mali in 2012, and has since spread to Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.

France, the mainstay of the anti-jihadist operation, has been especially critical of the military takeover in Mali.

It suspended military cooperation after the second coup and then announced a major drawdown of its 5,100-man Barkhane mission.

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