A few days ago, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) warned that the Coronavirus pandemic was spreading very fast, with mild symptoms in some victims and severe illness and death in others.
According to the disease control agency, in the last four weeks, Nigeria has recorded a spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases. There is also an increase in the number of deaths so far recorded since the beginning of the year, with the country recording over 1,300 deaths within 11 months.
In the same vein, the Lagos State Government recently raised the alarm over the increasing rate at which its civil servants were testing positive for COVID-19. All these frightening scenarios are in addition to the news of the variants of the virus discovered in South Africa and the UK, which are more transmissible, spreading to over 50 countries. These two countries are like neighbours to Nigeria in terms of the level of interaction. Though not scientifically established, there is, therefore, every possibility that the variant would have found its way into Nigeria.
The NCDC said in the weekly review of the PTF on COVID-19 that Nigeria had reached “a critical level” where the hospital capacity would no longer cope with more serious cases of the infection. The government agency called for the protection of more vulnerable citizens, urging people to avoid large gatherings in addition to observing other known protective measures.
It is against this backdrop that one cannot understand why the Federal Government has continued to cause people to congregate in large numbers in the name of National Identity Number (NIN) registration. The large crowd of desperate people seen at the various registration centres of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), almost all without nose masks and no physical distancing is rather scary. Yet for several weeks, the government has allowed this to continue despite talking paying lip service to curtailing the spread of the deadly virus. Worse still, government officials continue to sing discordant tunes on the matter, even with the Minister of Communications sounding arrogant with his directive that mobile telephone lines not linked to NIN before January 19 would be disconnected.
If the Federal Government can postpone the inauguration of the Lagos-Ibadan rail line due to upsurge of COVID-19, is it not foolhardy of the same government to force citizens to gather in large crowds at various places across the country for the purpose of NIN registration? By compelling people to gather at the various registration centres in the most reckless manner, the government is unwittingly telling them not to take the hue and cry about COVID-19 pandemic serious. In fact, this government’s action has been fingered as one of the major reasons some Nigerians are now saying that COVID-19 is a hoax.
The reasons given by government for embarking on the NIN/SIM synchronization at this very inauspicious time is most untenable, and can hardly justify the mass sacrifice of Nigerian lives. Available information shows that the directive by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Ali Isa Ibrahim Pantami followed a meeting of key stakeholders in the communications industry last December in which the need to consolidate the achievements of 2019 SIM registration audit and to improve the performance and sanity of the sector was discussed. The meeting agreed on the imperative of urgent drastic measures to improve the integrity and transparency of the SIM registration process. In this light, citing insecurity as the reason for embarking on the exercise becomes a mere afterthought.
Even if insecurity is the reason, one fails to see how the recent directive will curb insecurity in the land if the previous SIM registration exercises have failed. Did they fail because national identity numbers were not linked to them? Moreover, bandits and kidnappers still receive ransom using the banks, even with the Bank Verification Number (BVN) policy. All the registration exercises from voters’ registration, BVN to SIM card registration all involve data capture. Is it impossible for the NCC and NIMC to work with the telecoms service providers to achieve the purpose for which Nigerian lives are being exposed to Coronavirus? Besides, in this ICT age, is it impossible to come up with a registration process that does not require human contact?
We hereby call on the government to suspend this dangerous directive, and spare the lives of Nigerians. It should stop toying with, and sacrificing the lives of its citizens in the name of SIM and national identity number harmonization. The people have suffered so much. Apart from the exposure to the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic, waking up by 3.am to go and queue at registration centres for the whole day is not a pleasant experience, not to talk of the massive extortion by the registration officers who make anyone who needs the registration number so badly to part with between N5,000 and N7,000.
Any little thinking ought to have revealed to government that a period it has alerted the citizens of the advent of the second and more vicious wave of Coronavirus is not the best time to encourage crowds to form or for people to gather in clusters to revalidate their SIM cards with national identity numbers. It ought to know that gathering in clusters invariably invalidates the protocols NCDC and other health authorities have advised everyone to keep.
Government should stop this unnecessary exposure of the citizens to the rampaging Coronavirus without further delay. It should stop the increasing perception that it is daily becoming anti-people. Nigerians already have enough threats to their lives, including terrorism, banditry, kidnapping etc and should be spared this avoidable threat.
A stitch in time saves nine.
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