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Nigerian govt accused of extortion with USSD service fees

Nigeria , 12 Jan 2021

In December 2020, ITWeb Africa reported that telecommunications subscribers in Nigeria had been directed to connect their National Identification Number (NIN) with their SIM cards to avoid losing access to their lines.

The development has not been without controversy. Several days after the government announced that subscribers can now retrieve their NINs through a dedicated USSD service for a fee of NGN20, it was accused of using the service to extort money from citizens, considering the government could raise several millions of dollars using the USSD service alone.

This prompted Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, to announce the suspension of all USSD and verification charges.

In a statement, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) said the charges have been suspended until the expiration of the deadline for the NIN-SIM integration which is expected to end on 19 January 2021 for subscribers with NIN, and 19 February 2021 for subscribers without the NIN.

But since the charges were removed, telecoms subscribers noted that the USSD service has become less efficient.

At the NIMC registration centre located within the University of Ibadan, a faculty member of the institution told ITWeb Africa on condition of anonymity that he was unable to retrieve his NIN using the platform after trying for three days, forcing him to eventually visit the NIMC office for help.

“For three days it kept saying ‘your request is being processed’ while the deadline gradually approaches. This is why I am here with the hope that they will help me out,” he said.

Aside from the funds already made from the USSD platform, the NIMC has also confirmed that it will be generating revenues from those that want to renew their national cards and those that want to correct any entries regarding their NIN details.

The NIMC’s Regional Coordinator, Funmi Opesanwo, said while NIN enrolment is free, there will be charges for card renewal and/or amendment of details.

“So, people misconstrue this to mean that in NIMC they are asking them to pay money. No, those are for services,” said Opesanwo.

Several government agencies have said that NIN will be a prerequisite for accessing their services.

These agencies include the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the Corporate Affairs Commission (which registers companies in Nigeria), the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Independent National Electoral Commission, the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board and the National Health Insurance Scheme.

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