Ghana: SIM Card Re-Registration 'Wahala'

In October 2021, the government embarked on an exercise to re-register all mobile phone SIM cards in the country to ensure sanity and security within the mobile telecommunication space.

SIM cards, known technically as Subscriber Identification Module is a removable card fixed inside a cell phone that stores data unique to the user, such as identification numbers, passwords, phone numbers, and messages.

Among other things, the regulations help law enforcement agencies identify SIM card owners, track criminals who use phones for illegal activities, and curb phone theft, hate text messaging, mobile fraud activities, and SIM Box fraud.

It was also expected to help identify subscribers using value-added services such as mobile banking, mobile money, and electronic payment services.

The exercise was to last for six months, meaning it was supposed to have been completed in March 2022. Circumstances were such that most Ghanaian mobile phone users could not re-register their SIM cards. The calls were from all angles for the government to extend the exercise to enable such citizens to complete the process. The Minority in Parliament, for instance, urged the President to intervene in the matter as there were so many mobile phone subscribers who had not been able to re-register their sim cards for various reasons, paramount among them was difficulty in securing their Ghana cards, the prerequisite for the sim card registration.

The government then extended the exercise from March this year to July last year. as the deadline for all persons to re-register their SIM cards with their Ghana Cards.

For the second time, the deadline for the exercise was thwarted by the inability of some Ghanaians to acquire their Ghana Cards and it was again extended to 30th September last year. This in effect ended an anniversary of its commencement. Meaning the exercise lasted for a whole year yet many had not been able to re-register their SIM cards. In the words of the Minister for Communications and Digitalization, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful "Any SIM card that has not been registered by the end of the extended period will be barred from receiving specific services, including voice and data services." But this was not wholly done for obvious reasons.

The very final deadline was pinned at 31st May this year. The exercise is mandatory as mobile phone users who cannot re-register their SIM cards will automatically have their numbers deactivated from the system of their service providers. According to the Ministry, persons who had failed to comply with the directive after the deadline would have had their SIM cards deactivated.

This directive occasioned an untold rush at the offices of the Telecommunications and the National Identification Authority (NIA). A high level of apprehension and anxiety also ensued among the populace. This was against the backdrop of the basic directives of the primary Ghanaian Identity Card, The Ghana Card being the sole document needed to be used for the exercise.

The Statistics are that as of January this year, Ghana had registered approximately 46 million mobile connections, up from 41.69 million in the same month of last year. The number of mobile connections corresponded to 140 percent of Ghana's total population, as one person can use multiple networks at the same time.

Much as it is appreciated that many people own multiple mobile phone lines, the number of people without Ghana card to enable them to process the re-registration of their SIM cards are also many. The Executive Secretary of the National Identification Authority (NIA), Professor Kenneth Agyemang Attafuah, has disclosed that over 15.7 million Ghanaians have received their Ghana cards as of July last year. This means over half of the population does not have their Ghana cards at the time.

This has placed an enormous responsibility on the NIA now than ever before. Even though the process of issuing Ghana cards is continuous, it is incumbent on the NIA to be more proactive and faster than before to issue Ghana cards for the citizens to enable them to beat the third deadline.

Professor Attafuah, most of the cards have even been printed, but their owners have not collected them. Some Ghanaians who have already been issued with the card have had them either missing or defaced, while some have errors and, therefore, cannot synchronize with details on their SIM cards. The need for additional centers for the processing and collecting of Ghana cards is critical, at least for this exercise.

Media reports have it that NIA offices and centers, which had been virtually besieged before the extension of the deadline, appeared almost empty at a point in time until people realized that their SIM cards had been deactivated. This is the Ghanaian mentality and attitude that needs to be changed. It is always a last-minute call, and most often, they are disappointed.

Statistics available indicate that over 8 million unregistered SIM cards have been deactivated by the various telecommunication companies after the May 31 deadline announced by the government for the registration exercise. Many people including, as per media reports, "the Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin's official SIM card has been deactivated despite undergoing the SIM registration exercise."

Not too sure whether or not this or the mad rush for Ghana cards compelled Parliament to summon the Minister of Communications, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful to appear before Parliament on Thursday, June 8, 2023. It was rather a good move as there were too many issues, some of them so ambiguous to comprehend. Her appearance on the floor.

For example, some subscribers who had gone through the re-registration process yet had their SIM cards deactivated, and some others, about 7.4 million mobile money accounts, holding an amount of about GH₵200 million, and have not been re-registered have been deactivated.

The assurance by Dr Kenneth Ashigbey, Chief Executive Officer of the Chamber of Telecommunications, to restore mobile money accounts is refreshing.

"If you do not have a Ghana Card, go to the National Identification Authority to obtain a card. Once you have the Ghana Card, dial the registration code, and register. Once you have registered, you will get your number back," Dr Ashigbey said.

Perhaps the worse and most serious was the fact that Agents of the Telecommunications firms who were assisting in the re-registration dubiously used the data of innocent subscribers to register many other SIM cards in some cases ten SIM cards linked to people's Ghana cards without their knowledge. The seriousness and the danger is that the users of these dubiously registered SIM cards may use them to commit crimes in the name of the Card owners.

It is believed that Ghanaians will take advantage of the last extension to re-register their SIM cards to avoid losing their numbers which have been more or less their identities.

Much benefit is derived from this exercise and all must endeavor to compromise for its success. Obviously, SIM card re-registration will be harder for fraudsters to hijack your data. Because telco providers now have access to subscriber information, each SIM card will have its own identity. Your SIM card data will become more secure and less vulnerable to hackers.

On the economic front, SIM Registration will enhance economic growth and gradually formalise the informal sector as people will now be able to access E-Government services and other private e-services. In addition, SIM Registration will also support financial inclusion across the vulnerable sectors. It is also to develop and build a SIM database with integrity, boosting confidence and security for the use of services dependent on the communications network.

Under the measure, mobile device users must re-register their SIM cards, whether prepaid or postpaid. This is to help curb cybercriminal activities. it will help also to address issues related to trolling, hate speech, and online disinformation.

Source: Nana Sifa Twum (All Africa- Ghanaian Times)