SERAP gives FG a 48-hour ultimatum to unlock millions of unregistered SIM cards

The NCC logo and some SIM cards.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Responsibility Project (SERAP) has issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the federal government to unblock millions of unregistered rows.

Just last week, the federal government ordered telecommunications companies nationwide to ban all outgoing calls on unbonded lines beginning Monday, April 4, 2022. Unbonded lines are caller ID modules. subscriber (SIMS) not yet registered and linked to the national identification number (NIN). ) by users.

While reacting to the ban via a statement issued on Sunday, SERAP called on President Muhammadu Buhari to “order the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to ‘immediately reverse the apparently illegal decision to block more than 72 million active telecommunications subscribers from making calls on their SIM’.

“Preventing people from making calls compromises their ability to communicate freely and associate with others. This undermines their rights to freedom of expression and family life, as well as socio-economic rights,” SERAP Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare said.

READ ALSO: NIN: Millions at risk as FG orders telcos to ban outgoing calls on unlinked SIM cards

While noting that the decision will have a chilling effect, deterring the free expression of ideas and information, SERAP argued that this decision is inconsistent and inconsistent with the country’s international legal obligations to respect, protect, promote and facilitate economic rights. and social. The decision contradicts the principles of the rule of law and democratic society, he said.

“Reversing the decision immediately would be in line with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], and Nigeria’s international human rights obligations. Annulment of the decision would also improve the international community’s confidence in human rights and the rule of law in Nigeria.

“The decision will cause a wide variety of damage to economic activity and personal security, and will disproportionately affect people on the margins of society. It will directly hamper the government’s ability to achieve Goal 8 of Agenda 2030 on promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

“Millions of Nigerians, including disabled, elderly, people living in remote areas, have been unable to enter their biometrics and obtain their national ID number. [NINs] due to logistical challenges, administrative and bureaucratic burdens, as well as the continuing collapse of the national grid,” the statement added.

“We would be grateful if the decision to stop people from making calls on their SIM cards is reversed within 48 hours of receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you here, SERAP will take all appropriate legal measures in the public interest to ensure full compliance with human rights standards.”

“The rights to freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of association, whether offline or online, promote the democratic ideal by enabling citizens to express their concerns, to challenge government institutions and hold the government accountable for its actions.”

“The logic of the democratic ideal also recognizes the need for well-informed citizens to participate in the democratic process.”

“We support all legal means to combat growing insecurity across the country. However, while authorities have a legal responsibility to protect, secure and secure the rights to life and property, any such responsibility must be exercised in accordance with human rights standards. »

“While we recognize the need for your government to take action to ensure the safety and security of people in the country, we are seriously concerned that the decision to block people from making calls appears to go beyond beyond restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression. , information and association.

“The rights to freedom of opinion and expression and access to information are protected by Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, Section 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Law).

“These rights must be protected online as they are protected offline. Any restriction on these rights must be provided for by law, be necessary in a democratic society and serve a legitimate purpose.

“The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that when a state party invokes a legitimate ground for restriction of human rights, it must demonstrate in a specific and individualized manner the precise nature of the threat, as well as as the necessity and proportionality of the specific action taken, in particular by establishing a direct and immediate link between the expression and the threat.

“The decision to prevent more than 72 million subscribers from making calls on their SIM card also constitutes an arbitrary or unlawful interference with their right to family life and their socio-economic rights, as it unnecessarily or disproportionately to these fundamental human rights.

“According to our information, your government recently ordered telecommunications companies in the country to prevent more than 72 million active telecommunications subscribers from making calls on their SIM cards. The “order” given to the telecommunications companies was apparently to enforce federal government policy regarding the National Identification Number and Subscriber Identity Module. »

“The policy effectively limited outbound calls on all unbound lines, effective April 4, 2022.”

“We are concerned that the decision to bar Nigerians from making calls will have a disproportionate chilling effect on vulnerable groups who rely on these peaceful means to communicate and convey their opinions and views.”

“SERAP is concerned that the decision appears to be arbitrary and lacks any legal framework, independent and judicial review. This can allow authorities to act in an unrestricted and potentially arbitrary or illegal way.

“Nor does the decision to block people from making calls appear to be the least intrusive instrument available to the government to achieve the desired results of maintaining national security and public safety.”

“The decision is also not proportionate to the perceived objective to be achieved, as it is not appropriately tailored to perform its protective function in the least intrusive way.”

“The mass disconnection of telephone subscribers to make calls is apparently without any legal justification. It is a form of collective punishment of those affected by the decision.

“Under international human rights law, states, including Nigeria, ‘shall not engage in or tolerate any disruption of access to digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population’ . States must refrain from cutting off access to telecommunications services.

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