MTN, Airtel to Be Able to Resume Issue of New Nigeria SIM Cards

MTN Group Ltd. and Airtel Africa Plc were given the green light to resume the sale of new SIM cards in Nigeria following the implementation of a new policy linking them to national ID numbers.

The issue of SIMs and other suspended activities can restart on April 19, the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy said in a statement Friday. Wireless operators were ordered to stop activities in December for an unspecified time, raising concerns about growth potential in Africa’s most populous country.

Nigeria has battled a deadly Islamist insurgency in the northeast of the country for two decades, and sees the tighter monitoring of mobile-phone use as a potential way to combat the problem. The regulator fined MTN more than $5 billion in 2015 for missing a deadline to disconnect unregistered subscribers, triggering a share-price crash and a year of negotiations before a settlement was reached.

MTN’s local unit is the the West African country’s biggest wireless operator, while Airtel Africa, which listed in Lagos and London in 2019, is just ahead of local operator Globacom Ltd. as the country’s second-largest. Nigeria is also MTN’s largest and most profitable market.

MTN shares climbed as much as 2.1% in early trade in Johannesburg, extending a surge that has seen the stock gain more than 50% this year. Airtel rose 0.5% in London.

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