Nigerian Farmers Say MTN’s Unregistered Sims Aid Boko Haram

Nigerian Farmers Say MTN’s Unregistered Sims Aid Boko Haram

*Telco says valid customers are selling cards to unknown users

Farmers in northern Nigeria have called on wireless operators including MTN Group Ltd. to block SIM cards that haven’t been formally registered by their users, saying they enable the operations of Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

“We will stage a protest against MTN and take necessary legal action if it fails to comply with this directive within 48 hours,” Mohammed Sani, the head of the region’s association of small-holder farmers, said in an emailed statement Monday.

While all unregistered cards have indeed been disconnected, there have been reports of pre-registered SIM cards being sold on to users who haven’t provided personal data, Tobechukwu Okigbo, a corporate relations executive at Lagos-based MTN Nigeria, said on Tuesday. “To mitigate this, we at MTN put in place a number of controls, and periodically undertake audits,” he said.

MTN was fined $1 billion by the Nigerian Communications Commission regulator last year for missing a deadline to disconnect about 5 million subscribers in a security crackdown. The farmers believe that unregistered SIMs make it easier for Boko Haram to coordinate attacks and recruit youths without being detected by authorities. Johannesburg-based MTN is Nigeria’s market leader with more than 50 million customers.

The problem “isn’t only affecting MTN,” NCC spokesman Tony Ojobo said by phone from Abuja, the capital. “After meeting with operators yesterday, an industry taskforce was set up to come up with modalities to fight this menace,” he said.

Boko Haram began a violent campaign in 2009 to impose its version of Islamic law on Africa’s most populous country of more than 180 million people. Farming communities in the northeast have been among the most vulnerable to the group’s bombings, kidnappings and hit-and-run attacks.

“Unproductive youths of the region could be properly harnessed into productive use through agriculture,” Sani said. “No serious, commercial-scale and employable farming activity can take place without security of lives and property.”

MTN Nigeria’s customer numbers have been revised down from 60 million in the past six months as it refined the definition of what counts as a subscriber, the company said last week. The shares traded 0.1 percent lower at 122.86 rand at 2.23 p.m. in Johannesburg on Tuesday, valuing the company at 232 billion rand ($16.4 billion).