Telcoms Can Reassign Inactive SIM Cards without Reference to Old Users, Says NCC

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the telecoms operators (Telcos), have given reasons for reallocating dormant Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards not in use for a validity period of 180 days, to another subscriber even without the knowledge of the original subscriber.

According to them, SIM cards are a national resource, just like telecoms’ spectrum, which no subscriber can claim ownership of, even though the SIM card is registered in the subscriber’s name.

They therefore said telecoms operators had autonomous power to reassign any SIM card dormant for 180 days to another subscriber, without recourse to the initial subscriber.

Their explanations came against the backdrop of the furore generated by the detention of a trader based in Delta State, Mr. Anthony Okolie,  for 10 weeks by the Department of State Services (DSS) because a SIM card belonging to the daughter of President Muhammadu Buhari, Hanan, was reassigned to him without the knowledge of the president’s daughter.

The trader has sued the DSS at the Federal High Court, in Asaba, demanding N500 million as compensation.

Speaking on the matter, the Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Dr. Henry Nkemadu, said the issue of 180 days validity period, bordered on regulations, which NCC is empowered to make and publish after due consultations with industry stakeholders, which is consistent with Section 70 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 (NCA 2003).

He, however, said it would not be economically viable for an operator to keep a dormant SIM card on its network, since it cost a lot of money to build and maintain telecoms infrastructure, including maintenance of every SIM card on the operators’ network.

“If we must change and extend the validity period of SIM card from 180 days, it has to be deliberated upon by all stakeholders and captured in the regulatory policy of the NCC,” Nkemadu stated.

The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, however, said the operators were not under any obligation to inform the subscribers that their SIM cards had become dormant after 180 days of being inactive on the network, adding that subscribers do not have ownership right over the SIM card.

According to him, telecoms operators pay procurement cost for each SIM card as well as recurrence cost for each SIM card that is registered to a subscriber, and as such it would not make economic sense to retain any SIM card that is inactive on a network that it cost so much to maintain.

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