Reverse directive to block Nigerians’ phone lines or  …SERAP tells NCC

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has threatened to sue the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, unless the commission immediately reverses what it called unlawful directive to network providers to bar the phone lines of millions of Nigerians who have linked their SIM cards to their National Identification Numbers, NINs.

NCC had recently ordered telecommunications companies to bar the phone lines of millions of citizens including those who allegedly “did not submit a good NIN or didn’t get a cleared or verified NIN by February 28.”

SERAP wants Dr. Aminu Maida, the Chief Executive Officer of NCC, to “restore the phone lines of these Nigerians, and to urgently establish a mechanism for effective consultation to provide Nigerians who are yet to link their SIM cards to their NINs with the appropriate support and infrastructure and adequate time and opportunity to do so.”

In the letter dated March 9, 2024, by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “The directive to the network providers to bar Nigerians who have linked their SIM cards to their NINs is an appalling violation of citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, information and privacy.”

SERAP said: “No agency has the right to strip the citizens of their basic constitutional rights under the guise of failing to properly link their SIM cards with their NINs or failing to do so timeously.

“The blocking of phone lines of Nigerians must only be a last resort measure, and strictly in line with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], international human rights and due process safeguards.”

“The arbitrary barring of people’s phone lines is never a proportionate measure as it imposes disastrous consequences and severely hinders the effective enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights.

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“Blanket measures of barring the phone lines of millions of Nigerians are inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties to which the country is a state party.

“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel the NCC to comply with our request in the public interest.

“The arbitrary directive and the barring of the phone lines are extreme measures which must meet the strict legal requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality.

“The NCC has also apparently failed to conduct an impact assessment of these extreme measures in order to avoid their arbitrary or excessive effects.

“These extreme measures go against the regulatory objectives of the Nigerian Communications Act and violate Nigerians’ fundamental human rights.

“The NCC has clearly failed to abide by the Nigerian Constitution, human rights standards, democratic processes, the rule of law and due process safeguards.

“Over 40 million telephone lines have reportedly been barred allegedly for failing to link their SIM cards to their NINs, and face the risk of being forfeited.

“The NCC has threatened that ‘If the barred lines are not acted upon in the next 180 days, they won’t be able to receive calls but will only be able to text and make calls.’

“Over 70 million bank account holders face the risk of being barred from accessing their accounts.

“Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression. Article 19(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes the right to freedom of opinion without interference.”

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