A Federal High Court in Lagos State has ruled that the Federal Government cannot ban SIM cards that are not connected to National Identity Numbers from next month.
The Nigerian Communications Commission was directed by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to block all SIM cards that are not connected to a NIN by April 9, 2021.
In defiance of COVID-19 protocols, many Nigerians gathered at the offices of the National Identity Management Commission.
However, Mr Monday Ubani, a former second National Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association and human rights lawyer, filed an originating motion asking the court to stop the Nigerian Communications Commission from disconnecting all SIM cards that are not linked to NINs.
The Federal Government, the Attorney General of the Federation, the NCC, and the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy are the first through fourth defendants in the suit.
Ubani requested four reliefs, including an order declaring that the two-week deadline is insufficient and would not only cause him distress but would also infringe on his constitutional right to free expression and the right to own land, as guaranteed by sections 39(1) and 44(1) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution of 1999. (as amended).
He also requested that the court issue an order extending the date.
Justice M.A Onyetenu, who delivered the judgement on March 23, 2021, requested that the deadline be extended by two months from the date of the judgement.
The court ruled that the April 9, 2021 deadline be suspended because it is terribly inappropriate and will not only inflict serious suffering, but will also possibly infringe on Nigerians’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech, as provided by Sections 39(1)(2) and 44(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
The judge also said that, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current increase in cases in Nigeria, the deadline set for over 200 million Nigerians to register their SIM cards with NIN would trigger a rush, resulting in the clustering of Nigerian people in a NIN registration centre, exposing them to the risk of quickly contracting COVID-19.
The judgment read in part, “I therefore make the following orders: An order halting the deadline ultimatum of 9/4/21 given by the 1st (Federal Government) 3rd (NCC) and 4th (Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy) respondents to block all SIM cards that are not registered with the National Identity Numbers at the expiration of deadline.
“An order directing the 1st, 3rd and 4th respondents to extend the deadline for the registration of SIM cards with NIN for at least another two months from the date of this judgment.”
In a letter addressed to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, the plaintiff asked him to direct the relevant agencies to comply with the court judgment.
In the letter titled, ‘Notification to comply with judgment in FHC/L/CS/1834/2020’, Ubani asked the AGF to prevail on the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, to reconsider the deadline.
The letter read in part, “I therefore urge you to use your good offices to advise the Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, to respect our judiciary by complying with the above stated orders of the court. I further appeal to you to advise the honourable minister to review his stand on the ultimatum for the registration of SIM Cards with NIN beyond the duration declared by the honourable court to at least a year.”