Tackling kidnapping via enhanced NIN-SIM integration policy

“There is no synergy among the security agencies. There is high-level of individualism among the agencies. There is inter-agency rivalry,”

Tackling kidnapping via enhanced nin-sim integration policyBy Usman Aliyu 

Kidnapping has become very common in Nigeria with people abducted on the highways, Railways, schools, and even their houses.

While some get to return home after huge sums are paid, others get killed while some victims are turned into wives, sex toys or slaves of their abductors in the forests.

For families of victims, it is usually a litany of galling tales.

Very often, affected families spend so much to ensure that the victims are released. Stories have been told of families that sold practically everything they had, including even the house they may be living in.

In many cases, communities pull resources together while others borrow from just any source to meet the greedy needs of the abductors.

Stories have also been told of people who conveyed ransom getti80ng arrested by the abductors while delivering the negotiated monies or, in some cases, motorcycles, food items, or even animals.

One of such families is the Aziegbemi family in Benin City, whose member was recently abducted in the city while returning from a meeting.

The victim, Dr Tony Aziegbemi, the Chairman, Edo chapter of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was whisked away in the midnight. The bandits later demanded for N500 million as ransom.

“We were asked to produce an amount that was beyond our entire life savings. How could we ever have gathered such a fortune?”, a family member fumed.

In Ilorin, the capital of Kwara, the family of Abdullahi Saadu found itself grappling with a similar nightmare when Aisha, a student, was taken. The poor family found the ransom too high and didn’t even know how to start the negotiation.

“Kidnappers must be treated as terrorists”, Tinubu insists

Sa’adu, a peasant farmer, recounts his ordeal.

“We work tirelessly every day to put food on the table. How could we ever come up with such a colossal sum? It was a hopeless case for us.”

In Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, the family of Akadiriya faced a similar ordeal when five sisters, alongside their father, were taken into captivity. The ransom demanded was far beyond the family’s meagre resources, plunging everyone into a nightmare.

Luckily, Prof. Isa Pantami, former Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, and some neighbours, mobilised resources to secure the release of the victims. Tried as they did, not all of the victims came back as one of the siblings was murdered.

Enhanced digitalised ID system as a solution

To address this breach in security, Nigeria has, in recent time, been at the forefront of efforts to establish a reliable national digitised ID system through the National Identification Number (NIN), and Subscriber Identity Module (SIM), linkage policy.

The primary goal of this policy, according to the Federal Government, is to create a secure and inclusive digital society while enhancing overall security within the country.

In spite of these efforts, however, Nigeria still faces significant challenges such as the failure to properly identify some of these criminals while accessing telecom services to negotiate for ransoms.

According to Mr Gbenga Adebayo, Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), there are about 224 million active lines in Nigeria as of February 2024. 12 million of them have, however, not been linked to NIN.

Pantami, the former minister, under whom the policy was introduced, identifies complexities involved in coordinating with multiple stakeholders, including telecom companies and citizens, as one of the constraints on the path of a seamless compliance with the policy,

“We are aware of the hurdles hindering the effectiveness of the policy, and we are committed to addressing them to strengthen our national security framework,” he said recently.

Similarly, Dr Emeka Nwosu, a cybersecurity analyst, points out the technical challenges faced by telecom operators in verifying and linking millions of SIM cards to NINs within the stipulated time-frame.

Nwosu says the sheer scale of the task, coupled with the limited infrastructure and resources, poses significant hurdles for the industry.

The cybersecurity expert recommends enhancement of the verification process during SIM card registration to ensure that individuals provide accurate personal information linked to their NIN.

This, he says, can help in tracing the origin of anonymous calls made by kidnappers.

He adds that there is also a need to strengthen collaboration between telecommunications companies, law enforcement agencies and relevant government bodies to facilitate the timely sharing of information related to suspicious phone calls or activities.

“By establishing a streamlined communication system and data-sharing mechanism, authorities can quickly track and investigate ransom calls made by perpetrators,” he adds.

While emphasising the critical role of a robust national ID system in enhancing the operations of security agencies, particularly to curb criminal activities, a retired AIG, Ambrose Aisabor, corroborates the importance of effective collaboration among the relevant agencies of the government, security forces and telecommunications sector to make the policy more effective.

“Security agencies, particularly the police, need a unified approach to leverage technology in combating threats to national security and safeguarding the lives of our citizens. This can hardly be done without the cooperation of other sister agencies.

“Inter-agencies rivalry among our security architecture is one of the challenges impeding the full benefits of the policy and its implementation,” Asiabor added.

Asiabor makes a case for education of security agencies on basics of intelligence, saying the policy is not yielding the desired result due to poor planning.

“It is flawed because the basic rudiments of intelligence are not incorporated in the policy.

“Before you can fight insecurity, intelligence must be there. The policy looks poorly planned, even though it is a good policy. Before you do something like that, some of the security agents are supposed to be trained.

“There is no synergy among the security agencies. There is high-level of individualism among the agencies. There is inter-agency rivalry,” he fumed.

Robust digital verification system

Sharing a similar sentiment, Nwosu advocates streamlined registration and verification processes that deploy advanced technological tools such as artificial intelligence and biometric authentication systems for a robust system.

This, he says, will not only enhance the accuracy and efficiency of linking NINs with SIM cards, but also bolster the overall security architecture of the country.

To Mr Adebayo, an engineer and the chairman of ALTON, enhancing public awareness and engagement is crucial to drive compliance and adoption of the NIN-SIM policy.

“Educating citizens about the significance of a national digital ID system in safeguarding their personal information and enhancing security can foster a culture of proactive participation and support for the initiative,” he says.

Adebayo regretted that the level of compliance among the citizens was somehow low, blaming the situation for the observable lapses largely contributing to the ineffectiveness of the policy.

The telecom expert describes the policy as good for the country, but calls for a strict compliance to sequence and procedures, to make the innovation result-oriented.

“While the intention is good, I think compliance remains a major problem. People have not really complied with the sequence and procedures,” he said.

Adebayo clarified that telecom operators in the country usually provide information to security agencies, but what the agencies do with the information, he said, was out of place.

“We give information to security agencies, but what they do with it is not in our control,” he said.

Also to entrench a robust system, Mr Tunde Adeleke, a telecom expert, calls for a continuous monitoring and evaluation of the NIN-SIM integration policy to identify loopholes and address shortcomings in the system.

By regularly reviewing the implementation process and soliciting feedback from stakeholders, says Adeleke, the policymakers can make necessary adjustments to strengthen the effectiveness of the initiative in combating kidnapping and other criminal activities.

Analysts, while acknowledging that the policy is good to strengthen the digital identification system, observe that it is important to adopt a multi-faceted approach that combines technological solutions and collaborative efforts among key stakeholders.

They also call for public awareness campaigns and continuous monitoring and evaluation.

By implementing the recommendations, they feel authorities can enhance their capabilities in identifying, tracking and apprehending individuals involved in kidnapping activities and ultimately contribute to the safety and security of citizens.(NANFeatures)

 

This report is produced under the DPI Africa Journalism Fellowship Programme of the Media Foundation for West Africa and Co-Develop.