MTN to Aid Nigerian Effort to Link Phones to National IDs

MTN Group Ltd. will work with the Nigerian authorities to implement a regulatory requirement that all mobile lines be linked to residents’ identity numbers by the end of the year.

As part of a push by Africa’s most-populous nation to tackle rising insecurity in a country where only one in four people have official identification, telecommunications companies have been ordered to link SIM cards to national identity numbers by the end of the year. Subscribers who are non-compliant by Dec. 31 risk having their phones cut off, with millions of lines at risk.

“We embrace and support the government’s push to broaden national identification numbers, or NIN, enrollment and will continue to engage with relevant authorities on the matter to establish implementation processes and time-lines for execution,” Group Chief Executive Officer Ralph Mupita said in an interview. The NIN is used to match a person with his or her biometric data and other details in the National Identity Database during verification and authentication.

MTN shares rose 2.7% at market close in Johannesburg on the news, valuing the company at 113.5 billion rand ($7.8 billion). The gain “is a positive response to the investor call the company had on the national identification number directive by the regulator,” says Tajudeen Ibrahim, analyst at Chapel Hill Denham.

Nigeria has granted MTN and other operators a license to register identities of citizens. “This will enable us to enroll NINs on behalf of the National Identity Management Commission and validate information against their database,” MTN Nigeria Chief Operating Officer Mazen Mroue said on an investor call.

“It is a license and capability we have been seeking for some time,” Mroue said.

MTN executives will form part of a high-profile team with other operators and the government that will assess the practicality of the two-week deadline. The Johannesburg-based company has ordered 14,000 new devices to enroll and capture NINs, which are expected to arrive in Nigeria in two weeks.

Africa’s largest-wireless carrier by sales is experiencing an increase in call-recharge activity and other services in the country that will assist it in reaching double-digit growth in service-revenue despite complying with an order to stop registering new lines, MTN Nigeria CEO and incoming Group Chief Risk Officer Ferdi Moolman said on an investor call.

In a bid to clamp down on the use of unregistered lines, the Nigerian Communication Commission in 2015 fined MTN for failing to disconnect undocumented SIM cards as part of a security crackdown. The matter was resolved a year later, when the company paid 330 billion naira ($859 million) after extensive negotiations.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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