Fiery human rights activist and former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Vice President, Mr. Monday Ubani has dragged the Federal Government to court over its directive to telecom networks to block all SIM cards that are not registered with the National Identity Numbers (NIN)
According to the court papers made available to CITY LAWYER and filed at the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, Ubani is seeking an order of the court “halting the said two weeks ultimatum given by the 1st, 3rd and 4th Respondents to telecommunication operators to block all SIM Cards that are not registered with the National Identity Numbers (NIN).”
He is also praying the court to direct the respondents to “extend the deadline for the registration of SIM Cards with NIN for at least 1 year or to such period of time as the court may consider reasonable for the Applicant (and millions of other Nigerians) to be able to register their SIM Cards safely without any rush that might result to avoidable loss of lives and injuries.”
Aside from the Federal Government of Nigeria, other respondents are the Attorney General of the Federation, Nigerian Communications Commission and Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.
The suit is brought under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 made by the Chief Justice of Nigeria pursuant to section 46(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
Ubani is also praying the court for “A DECLARATION that the two weeks (16th December, 2020 to 30th December, 2020) ultimatum given to telecommunications operators by the 1st, 3rd and 4th Respondents to block all Subscriber Identification Modules (SIM) cards that are not registered with National Identity Number (NIN), is grossly inadequate and will not only work severe hardship, but will likely infringe on the fundamental rights of the Applicant (and millions of other Nigerians) to freedom of expression as guaranteed by section 39(1)(2) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as violate section 44(1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which prohibits the compulsory acquisition of right or interest over moveable property.”
The vocal public commentator is equally praying for a “DECLARATION that in view of the covid-19 pandemic and the rising cases in Nigeria presently, the two weeks deadline given by the 1st, 3rd and 4th Respondents to the Applicant and over 200 million Nigerians to register their SIM Cards with NIN, will lead to a rush, thereby resulting to clustering of the Applicant and other Nigerian citizens in a NIN registration centre, subjecting him to the possibility of easily contracting the covid-19 virus, and such will amount to a violation of his fundamental right to life as protected by section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).”
Among the grounds for the suit are:
“That the Applicant is a lawyer, activist and social commentator on national issues. He uses his MTN SIM Card for business communication, social communication and interaction with other Nigerians through phone and online through the social media. Like millions of other Nigerians, the Applicant’s SIM Card enables him to exercise his fundamental right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Section 39(1) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution, and blocking the Applicant’s SIM Card will violate his fundamental right over his SIM Card (moveable property) as guaranteed under section 44(1) of the 1999 constitution as amended.
“That the short period of two weeks given for the Applicant and millions of other Nigerians to register their SIM cards with NIN (failing which their SIM cards will be blocked) is unreasonably too short and impracticable in view of the large population of Nigerians and the slow rate of registration by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).
“That the two weeks deadline will lead to a rush and clustering of the Applicant and other Nigerians in registration centre thereby subjecting him to possibility of Stamped and contracting COVID-19 virus, which will endanger his right to life as guaranteed by section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).”
In a 21-paragraph affidavit deposed by Ubani in support of the suit, he stated as follows:
“That I am a Nigerian citizen who uses MTN (one of the telecommunication operators) Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card for all my business communication and social interactions, including surfing the net, sending and receiving emails, attending online zoom meetings and conferences, and interact with family, friends and fellow Nigerians on all social media platforms.
“That like so many other Nigerians, I have till date not gotten my NIN despite several attempts as there are few NIN registration centres available, and most times the registration officials would complain of either network problem or lack of power supply to enable them function effectively.
“That the two weeks ultimatum given by the defendants for the telecommunication operators to block the SIM of all Subscribers (including myself) who have not registered their SIM with NIN is grossly inadequate, and will not only create unnecessary panic and inconveniences but will also cause severe hardship and suffering to me and millions of Nigerians who like me have not been able to get our NIN due to no fault of ours.
“That the Respondents’ directive to telecommunications operators to block the SIM of every person who has not registered their SIM with NIN after 30th December, 2020, is not a well thought out decision as same is too sudden, and will cut me and millions of Nigerians off from communication, and deny me the use of my SIM card which is my personal property, thereby infringing on my right to freedom of expression, and my entitlement to own a medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinion, as guaranteed by sections 39(1)(2), and 44(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“That the 1st Respondent who has been fighting the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria since March 2020, and who has been advocating and enforcing social distancing did not avert her mind, when she and her agencies were taking such a decision, to the fact that COVID-19 is still present in Nigeria and cases of infected persons have been rising in recent time.
“That many prominent Nigerians have lost their precious lives as a result of not observing the social distancing, and other measures laid down by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to avoid contracting COVID-19.
“That the resolution/decision of the Respondents to the effect that December30, 2020 (two weeks) is the deadline for over 180 million Nigerians to register their SIM with NIN is reckless, inconsiderate and insensitive in view of the present reality in the country.
“That the Respondents before arriving at such resolution did not check to confirm the statistics of Nigerians that do not have NIN, which if they did, their resolution would have been different.
“That no doubt, trying to meet up with the said deadline will put me and millions of Nigerians in untold pressure, and same will lead to a rush and result to non observance of social distancing measures, consequent upon which contracting the COVID-19 virus will be inevitable, thereby endangering my right life and that of other Nigerians, which is guaranteed by section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“That it will be proper and reasonable for the Respondent to extend the deadline to at least 1 year, and within that period of extension make deliberate and conscious efforts towards properly sensitizing Nigerians, and putting in place massive registration outlets in every ward of the Federation with good working facilities to ensure that easy access to registration is made possible.
“That trying to enforce this policy in a period where I, as well as most Nigerians are gearing up for Christmas festivities may lead to stamped in the process of rushing to get registered, which could lead to unnecessary death and injuries, thereby violating section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“That if the Court does not halt or order the Respondents to urgently halt their plans, this directive may result to unnecessary panic in the country which may lead to exploitation of vulnerable Nigerians, thereby causing more pain in an already pathetic situation.
“That I am aware that millions of other Nigerians are also uncomfortable, worried and complaining about the gross inadequacy of the two weeks ultimatum given by the Respondents to telecommunication operators to block all SIM not registered with NIN. As a matter of fact, the House of Representatives (that represent the people of Nigeria) has asked the 1st Respondent to extend the deadline for the provision of National Identification Number (NIN) by telecommunication service subscribers, describing the two weeks given to SIM card users by the 3rd Respondent to provide their NIN to service providers as grossly inadequate. This was reported by the Punchng.com, published on December 16, 2020. The said online report by Punch newspaper is attached herewith and marked Exhibit MOU2.”
According to CITY LAWYER sources, no date has been fixed for hearing of the suit.