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Mobile Operators Defy Government, Deepen Insecurity



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  • Mobile Operators Defy Government, Deepen Insecurity

Despite the danger the illegal sale of pre-registered Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards portends to the nation’s security, the practice has continued. Investigation reveals that virtually all the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are involved in the illegality.

Agents clad in the aprons of the service providers have been spotted in the Lagos areas of Island, Ikeja, Airport Road, Ikotun, Ojuelegba, Yaba and Oshodi, and in Mararaba Nyanyan, Berger and Wuse in Abuja.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) views the sale or use of pre-registered SIM cards as an offence attracting a fine or jail term or both. An indicted telecom company risks a N200,000 fine for every pre-registered card.

MTN was fined about $5.2 billion in October 2015, after it was discovered that some 5.2 million lines on its network were not properly registered. Other operators including Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat (now 9Mobile) were also fined about N100 million four years back.

Investigations showed that competition among the operators is a major factor fuelling the menace. But also, some Nigerians, ignorant of the dangers they are courting, prefer to simply buy pre-registered cards, rather than spend a few minutes inputting their details into a computer.

According to an Abuja-based security expert, Chukwuma Alozie, the purchase of such cards would appeal to criminal elements. He urged relevant authorities to monitor the service providers closely. He regretted that ignorance and the high rate of joblessness in the country were causing many unsuspecting youths to be lured into attaching their biometric details to multiple SIM cards.

“Hardly do they know that very soon they would be held for high crimes committed by those who bought the cards. They are not even aware that when many criminals use these cards, it confers the status of ‘hardened criminal’ on the unsuspecting registrants. They risk spending their lives in jail or dying at the gallows for crimes they did not commit,” said Alozie.

At a recent workshop in Gombe, organised by the NCC for law enforcement agencies on telecommunications matters, Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris described the sale and use of pre-registered SIM cards as a grave threat to security and governance.

According to him, “Criminal activities, including the use of pre-registered SIM cards, should be of concern to all of us. As a law enforcement officer, it is my belief that in addressing these challenges, we must re-strategise on our noble programme of community policing across communities and give our communities greater stake in securing national assets.”

The June subscriber statistics from the NCC showed that the operators have connected 243.9 million telephone lines with 162.8 million active. On this, MTN controls 40.9 per cent, amounting to 66.5 million customers; Globacom has 40.1 million subscribers and enjoys 24.7 per cent market share. Airtel with 39.9 million subscribers earns 24.6 per cent market control, while 9Mobile with 9.7 per cent market share services 9.7 million customers. The country has a teledencity of 116 per cent.

The problem is a recurring embarrassment to the industry, said Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, president of the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS), urging the NCC to take drastic action.

He said some operators, who give permission to agents to start registering their (operators’) SIMs are to blame. “Because these agents want to register more and make some money, they just register anyhow, put a face on the profile and that is it,” he said.

According to him, the sharp practice is fuelled by competition among the operators. “They are the ones that should ensure due diligence is done. Perhaps, they should stop registration or start registering one person or two and keep a tab on them in the rural areas. But in the cities, they have enough customer care centres. Rather than them giving authority to some small boys, who would put them into trouble, they can get educated agents and ensure they supervise them regularly.”

The NATCOMS president also stressed the need for the enforcement arm of the NCC to step up its work.

The chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, in an email response to The Guardian enquiry on the matter, said: “We need to continue to ensure compliance and sanctions on established willful infractions.”

Responding to The Guardian inquiry on what his office is doing to curb the menace, the Minister of Communications Adebayo Shittu said handling the problem was the responsibility of the NCC, “while the ministry handles the formulation of broad policy issues.”

The executive vice chairman, NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, on his part, maintained that selling pre-registered SIM cards is an act of illegality that undermines national security.

Danbatta, who did not rule out sanctions for any operator found culpable, urged Nigerians that rather than patronise criminals who peddle pre-registered cards, “the public should report them to law enforcement agencies, as part of their responsibility, not only as subscribers but also as good citizens.”

Describing the menace as grievous, he noted: “Our Compliances Monitoring and Enforcement Department is currently going round the country with a view to fishing out the perpetrators.”

Late last year, farmers in northern Nigeria urged wireless operators to block SIM cards that had not been formally registered, saying they aided the operations of Boko Haram.

An online news platform had quoted the head of the region’s association of small-holder farmers, Mohammed Sani, saying: “We will stage a protest against MTN and take necessary legal action, if it fails to comply with this directive.”

But MTN Nigeria’s General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Omasan Ogisi, in an email, said the telecommunications firm condemns any illegality including the sale and distribution of pre-registered SIM cards.

For her, the firm always takes punitive actions against agents found engaging in the illicit activity. The measures include blacklisting and withdrawal of SIM registration devices used for such an illegality.

“SIM registration kits/devices have been tagged to specific agents. And as such, we are able to tell which kit and agent is responsible for registering a SIM card and hand over such to law enforcement authorities for prosecution,” she said.

According to her, MTN has established partnerships with law enforcement authorities in places where such activities are prevalent. “By virtue of such partnerships, we are able to point them in the direction of such locations, so that they can apprehend the culprits and let the law take its natural course,” she said.

For her, the firm engages in periodic/continuous public awareness campaigns, highlighting the need for subscribers to desist from purchasing such SIM cards and ensures that they personally register the SIM cards they intend to use.

Also, 9Mobile’s acting director, Regulatory and Corporate Affairs, Seyi Osunsedo, said the firm strictly enforces rules that limit the ability of its trade agents to pre-register SIM cards.

She said: “We have since implemented the NCC’s rule mandating telcos to block any registered SIM card, which is not used within 48 hours after registration. This helps ensure that even if a line is pre-registered, the agent is unable to keep it on sale for more than 48 hours.

“In addition, our registration systems are designed to ensure that only validly registered lines are activated and if a line is not validly registered; such is unlikely to be activated even if purchased.”

Noting that pre-registered lines are typically listed using false details, she said: “9mobile continuously explores ways to further strengthen existing checks, to help prevent the pre-registration of lines. 9mobile also conducts spot checks, which have led to the arrest and prosecution of individuals found to be selling pre-registered 9mobile lines.

“9mobile also continuously educates its subscribers on the risks associated with purchasing pre-registered lines and the need to ensure that their lines are registered in their names and with their details.”

Airtel and Globacom were yet to respond as at press time.

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.


Nigerian Brand, JR Farms Acquires 11% Stake in Rwandan Firm




Nigerian Brand, JR Farms Acquires 11% Stake in Rwandan Firm

JR Firms, an agribusiness firm with headquarters in Nigeria, has announced partnership with Sanit Wing Rwanda through the acquisition of 11 per cent stake in the company.

The CEO of the company, Mr Rotimi Olawale, explained in a statement that the partnership was in furtherance of its goals to ensure food security, create decent jobs and raise the next generation of agrarian leaders in Africa.

The stake was acquired through Green Agribusiness Fund, an initiative of JR Farms designed to invest in youth-led agribusinesses across Africa.

Sanit Wing Rwanda is an agro-processing company that processes avocado oil and cosmetics that are natural, quality, affordable, reliable and viable.

The vision of the company is to become the leading producers of best quality avocado and avocado by-products in Africa by creating value across the avocado value chain.

With focus on bringing together over 20,000 professional Avocado farmers on board and planting of three million avocado trees by 2025 through contract farming, the company currently works with One Acre Fund in supply of avocado to its processing facility.

The products of the company which include avocado oil, skin care (SANTAVO), hair cream and soap are being sold locally and exported to regional market in Kenya.

With the new partnership with JR Farms- the products of the company will enjoy more access to markets focusing on Africa and the European Union by leveraging on partnerships and trade windows available.

Aside funding, the partnership comes with project support in areas of market exposure, capacity building, exposure and other thematic support to grow the business over the next four years.

JR Farms has agribusiness operations in Nigeria, Rwanda, United States and Zambia respectively.

In Nigeria, the company deals in cassava value chain processing cassava to national staple “garri” which is consumed by over 80 million Nigerians on daily basis, while in Rwanda, it works in the coffee value chain with over 4,000 coffee farmers spread across the East Central African country.

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Shut Down Depots Selling Petrol Above Approved Price – Marketers




Shut Down Depots Selling Petrol Above Approved Price – Marketers

The Federal Government should close down depots that are selling petrol above the approved price, oil marketers said on Thursday.

National President, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Sanusi Fari, said the sale of petrol above government approved price by depot owners would soon lead to a hike in the commodity’s pump price.

Fari told journalists in Abuja that the government through its agencies such as the Department of State Services and the Department of Petroleum Resources should curb the development to avoid crisis in the downstream oil sector.

He said some private depot owners were selling at N165 per litre to independent marketers, way above the government stipulated price of N148 per litre.

Fari said, “Our challenge is the inconsistency in the pricing of petrol. Up till a week ago, government was still insisting that the February price for petrol remained unchanged.

“And most of the private depot owners are selling above the government stipulated price. As at today ( February 25, 2021) private depot owners are selling at N165 per litre to independent marketers.”

He added, “In the last six years, only NNPC imports refined products into this country and these tank farms buy their products from NNPC under a controlled price.

“This has affected our businesses seriously because government is insisting that we sell at the rate of N165, which is not going to work.”

The IPMAN president said filling station owners buy the product at N165 per litre from the private depots and incur other expenses such as transportation, rent, etc.

“So government cannot expect us to sell less than what we buy,” he said.

Fari added, “This is why we are calling on government and agencies that are saddled with the responsibility to control petrol pricing to urgently clamp down on depots that are selling above the stipulated price.”

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the country’s sole importer of patrol, recently stated that it never hiked the cost of petrol to depots.

It also enjoined the depot owners to sell the product at the approved rate and called on the DPR to enforce the stipulated price across the depots.

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Nigeria Will Benefit Less From African Trade Deal – NESG



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Nigeria Will Benefit Less From African Trade Deal – NESG

Nigeria and other resource-based countries will benefit less from the African Continental Free Trade Area than economies that are more diversified, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group has said.

The NESG, a private sector-led think-tank, said in its 2021 Macroeconomic Outlook that Nigeria could reap more gains through export diversification away from crude oil.

It said trade in Africa remained dominated by raw materials and less processed products, adding that on average, minerals and agriculture accounted for 44 per cent and 16 per cent of intra-African trade respectively between 2007 and 2017.

The NESG said, “Evidence has shown that African economies that are more diversified and have improved transport infrastructure, would benefit more from the trade pact than others that are resource-based and agricultural dependent.

“Putting this in context, South Africa currently accounts for 40 per cent of intra-African manufacturing imports. On the other hand, resource-based countries, such as, Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria – which collectively account for approximately 50 per cent of Africa’s GDP – contribute only 11 per cent to intra-African trade.”

“Another bone of contention is the issue of ‘rules of origin’, which constitutes a significant risk factor. This implies that protectionism practices by some countries could constitute a setback for the establishment of the ambitious single market for Africa. But there are several reasons to be optimistic,” it added.

The group said the World Bank estimates revealed that the AfCFTA would promote manufacturing exports over natural resources, agricultural and services exports, and that manufacturing exports would account for one-third of the projected total exports of $2.5tn by 2035.

It said, “Nigeria could reap more gains through export diversification away from crude oil, as manufacturing exports currently account for an average of nine per cent of the country’s total exports.

“This suggests that efforts should be directed at strengthening domestic value chains, particularly the agro-allied industrial base.

“To achieve this, there is a need to attract private capital, most especially, FDI, that would allow for knowledge and technological transfers.”

According to the NESG, for Nigeria to maximally benefit from the trade deal, there is an urgent need to also address transport infrastructure bottlenecks and provide improved logistics.

It said, “Finding a lasting solution to the Apapa gridlock by creating similar ports in other regions of the country, so as to ensure speedy clearance of consignments needs to be prioritised.

“Nigeria also needs to set standards for locally-made goods to enhance their attractiveness in the regional market.

“The Nigerian government as a matter of urgency needs to operate an efficient and corruption-free land border system, so as to guide against the importation of low-cost sub-standard products into the country.

“It is only when these and many more reforms are implemented that Nigeria can begin to reap the benefits of the trade deal.”

The group noted that owing to the outbreak of COVID-19, the implementation of the AfCFTA was postponed from July 1, 2020 to January 1, 2021.

It said, “The key goal of the free trade pact is to expand the volume of intra-African trade, which stood at 16 per cent in 2018 .“Till date, 36 countries, including Nigeria, have ratified the agreement. The trade deal is expected to create a single market with a combined GDP of $2.5tn and total population or market size of 1.2 billion.”

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