N6.1 Billion Sim Registration Tears House Apart in Nigeria
The House of Representatives last week witnessed another rowdy session following the disagreement amongst lawmakers over a proposal by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) to expend the sum of N6.1 billion for the registration of mobile phone SIM cards in the country. The proposal which formed an integral part of the N69.3 billion expenditure the Commission plans to make in the 2010 fiscal year was thrown out during the preliminary consideration of the budget last week, but some members attempted to smuggle it into the budget again yesterday.
Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business set the dangerous ball rolling when he moved a motion to have the House rescind its earlier decision on the SIM Card registration. According to Enang, re-instating the project in the budget will be needed to "balance" the figures in the proposed budget tally. The motion however met stiff resistance as the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs and Narcotics, Honourable Rabe Nasir put up a vehement opposition, insisting that the NCC Act did not require the regulator to register SIM cards.
Nasir argued that the task of SIM card registration ought to be the responsibility of the operators and not the regulator and expressed reservations about the quantum of funds being earmarked for the project.
Proceedings of the House were stalled for about thirty minutes as lawmakers argued on different sides of the divide. Although, the Chairman, House Committee on Communications, Honourable Dave Salako explained the rationale behind the proposal, his explanations could not assuage the growing anger of the protesters many of who saw the idea as a rip off.
According to Salako, the NigeriaCommunications Commission proposed the project because of the security implications of not having a clear database of phone subscribers on the various networks operating in Nigeria . Salako stated that though the initial idea was for the operators to register SIM cards linked to their individual network, the NCC offered to embark on the project following complaints by the telecommunications firms that they lacked the necessary platform to do it giving the cost of procuring the basic equipment required to register the SIM cards and the time it will take.
Deputy Speaker, Usman Nafada put the question twice but each time could not rule on the matter. It was not until he had threatened to divide the House that the voice vote clearly gave it to those who opposed the SIM card registration project.
Objections to the NCC budget began on Wednesday, June 30, 2010 the lawmaker's commenced debate on the general principles of the budget bill. The Nigerian Communications Commission had submitted its 2010 budget proposal alongside the budget proposal for the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), a subsidiary of the regulatory agency.
The lawmakers said the proposal was curious as the NCC being a regulator ought not to have any business with registration of SIM cards as such exercise should be the responsibility of the service providers. Some lawmakers also accused the NCC of flouting the stipulations of the 1999Constitution with respect to revenue generation and remittances, alleging that the agency has been generating revenue without remitting same to the Federation Account. The NCC was also accused of not remitting to the Federation Account unspent funds totalling N10billion in 2007 and 2008. Some lawmakers argued that there was an urgent need to amend the Act establishing the Commission to bring its operations and powers within the confines of the Constitution.
They also raised questions on the N4.2billion proposed by the NCC as capital expenditure in the current fiscal year, just as some lawmakers argued that the NCC ought to avoid unnecessary expenses in the name of capital votes and concentrate on its regulatory functions.