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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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Kenyan mob lynches ‘bloodthirsty vampire’ child killer

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His victims were drugged and drained of their blood and some of them strangled, police said (AFP/SIMON MAINA)

Kenyan villagers on Friday lynched a man believed to be a “bloodthirsty vampire” child murderer, days after the self-confessed serial killer escaped from police custody, officials said.

Masten Milimo Wanjala was arrested on July 14 over the disappearance of two children, but in a chilling confession, admitted to killing at least 10 others over a five-year period, “sometimes through sucking blood from their veins before executing them”, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) said at the time.

The 20-year-old was due for a court appearance Wednesday in Nairobi over the cold-blooded murders which targeted 12- and 13-year-old children, when officers noticed during the morning roll call that he had disappeared.

But a mob caught up with him Friday after he was identified by schoolgoing children at his rural home in Bungoma, more than 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the police station he had escaped from.

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“He comes from this area and so the children saw him and knew it was him and that is when information spread around and locals started pursuing him,” area administrator Bonface Ndiema said.

“In the end he ran into a neighbour’s house but he was flushed out and lynched.”

Police had in July described Wanjala’s arrest as a major breakthrough in an investigation into a spate of disturbing child disappearances in the East African country.

His victims were drugged and drained of their blood and some of them strangled, police said.

– ‘Submerged in sewers’ –

According to police, Wanjala’s first victim was a 12-year-old girl he kidnapped five years ago in Machakos county east of Nairobi.

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The murder of his next victim in western Kenya sparked protests, with locals torching the house of the person they suspected killed the boy.

“Unbeknownst to some of the worried families, their children were long executed by the beast and their remains dumped in thickets. Others were submerged in sewer lines in the city and left to rot away,” the DCI said in July.

The bodies of several children feared to have died at Wanjala’s hands have yet to be found.

Three officers who were on duty at the Nairobi police station where he was held were arrested this week on allegations that they either aided or “neglected to prevent” his escape.

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A court ordered their release on bail on Friday as a probe into the escape gets under way.

Police spokesman Bruno Shiosho told AFP they have launched a forensic investigation into the identity of the lynched man.

“The locals have said it is him… For now we can confirm that a man locals say is Masten Wanjala who was on the run has been lynched in Bungoma,” he said.

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Security guards held hostage as bandits attack Govt building in Nigeria

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Police officers walk at the JSS Jangebe school, a day after over 300 school girls were abducted by bandits, in Zamfara, Nigeria February 27, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo

Two security officers were held hostage on Monday when gunmen attacked the Local Government Service Commission in Nasarawa state, north-central Nigeria.

The two security guards, confirmed to be members of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), were tied with a rope by the bandits who stole valuables from the building.

Rammatu Julde, the permanent secretary of the Local Government Services Commission, who disclosed the incident, said no life was lost in the attack.

Julde said the State Civil Service Commission, which is beside the Local Government Service Commission, had also been overrun.

Two AK-47 rifles belonging to the security officers were also seized by the bandits who left the security personnel they were holding hostage, said Jerry Victor, public relations officer of the NSCDC, who confirmed the incident.

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How soldiers slaughtered civilians, raze homes in eastern Nigeria

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Videos circulating on social media show soldiers shouting "kill anyone you see" as they attack civilians and burn houses in the community. [File] Image used to illustrate the report

Three civilians were killed in a raid by government forces on the community of Izombe in Imo State, southeastern Nigeria.

At least 70 houses were set on fire in the attack that took place last weekend in the restive region where separatist movement continues.

Videos circulating on social media show soldiers shouting “kill anyone you see” as they attack civilians and burn houses in the community.

A security source who spoke to Gazette Africa said the problem started after youths burned a military van over a disagreement on oil bunkering.

“They also killed a soldier during the incident,” said the security source.

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Fleeing residents, who confirmed the incident to Gazette Africa, said violence erupted when soldiers killed one civilian and injured others.

“When the soldiers killed the young man, people got angry and burned their vehicle,” said a resident Adanne Thompson, who added that the soldiers later returned with “17 military vehicles, including armored tanks” and razed houses.

“They killed three people, other villagers are still missing,” said Francis Uchenna, who disclosed that the palace of the traditional leader of the community was also set on fire.

Violent attacks and military assaults have left many civilians dead in the eastern region of the country where government forces have declared war on secessionists who are calling for a referendum on an independent state known as Biafra.

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