Sami Olatunji, Edidiong Ikpoto, Deborah Tolu-Kolawole and Temitayo Jaiyeola
8 February 2022
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The technical hitch in the National Identity Number verification portal of the National Identity Management Commission has yet to be resolved about seven days after the unfortunate development, The PUNCH has learnt.
This came as top officials of NIMC met with telecommunications service providers with a view to findings solutions to the glitch, which has left many telecoms subscribers stranded.
The PUNCH had reported on Monday that thousands of telecommunication subscribers nationwide seeking to retrieve their lost Subscriber Identity Module cards or acquire new lines temporarily were left stranded, following the technical glitch in the NIMC portal that has grounded SIM-related services.
The affected NIMC portal enables telecom firms, the Nigerian Immigration Service, banks, and other organisations to verify the National Identity Number of their customers before attending to them, in line with the Federal Government’s directive.
However, The PUNCH learnt on Monday that the hitch affecting the NIMC’s NIN portal was caused by a technical problem with the Hosting Service Platform of Galaxy Backbone Limited, a Federal Government agency that provides Information and Communications Technology services.
Among other services, Galaxy Backbone is also mandated to manage the Internet facilities and websites of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government
A reliable source informed The PUNCH on Monday evening that many MDAs were also affected by the platform service breakdown.
The source, a top government official who is close to the situation, said, “A lot of Ministries Departments and Agencies are affected but we are gradually bringing them up. I don’t have the full information of the ones that have been restored but a number of them will be restored.”
Agencies such as Nigerian Immigration Service, Nigeria Police Force, and the Federal Road Safety Commission were among the government agencies affected, according to officials.
Chinese, Indian manufacturers join Galaxy Backbone in marathon repair sessions
Meanwhile, it was learnt that Galaxy Backbone’s technical teams, supported by Original Equipment Manufacturers from India and China, were currently working round the clock to fix the snag.
Another source further confirmed that the technical teams at Galaxy Backbone, an agency mandated to provide Internet infrastructure to government agencies, were joined by the foreign partners over 72 hours ago, to resolve the problem.
The source said, “The team has been working for over 72 hours, trying to fix the whole thing. The agency is working with some guys from India and China to resolve the issue.”
In a statement from the Twitter page of Galaxy Backbone, it was disclosed that the agency is having some technical challenges with its Hosting Service Platform, which has affected services the agency hosts for some of its customers.
The statement read in part, “Galaxy Backbone is currently experiencing some technical challenges with its Hosting Service Platform which has affected services being hosted for some of our customers.”
The Galaxy Backbone said its team was working to ensure that the service is fully restored, adding that it regrets the service disruptions.
The statement further read, “This incident has been assigned the highest priority classification, and Galaxy Backbone’s technical teams, supported by its Original Equipment Manufacturers partners, are currently working round the clock, with good progress being recorded, to ensure that affected services are restored as soon as possible.
“In the meantime, GBB has continued to reach out to all its customers and will continue to do so to provide the necessary updates needed, until all affected services are fully restored.
“The Management of Galaxy Backbone regrets all services disruptions and inconveniences being experienced by our numerous customers.”
However, the statement was later deleted from the Twitter page but our correspondent had taken a screenshot of it.
Meanwhile, findings revealed that telcos could not attend to subscribers seeking to retrieve the lost, damaged or stolen SIM cards due to the telecom firms’’ inability to verify their customers’ NIN.
Service centres could not attend to telecoms subscribers due to the lingering problem.
The PUNCH reported on Monday how thousands of subscribers nationwide seeking to retrieve lost SIMs or acquire new ones temporarily had become stranded, following the glitch in the NIN portal.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to speak on the matter, an official at MTN centre in Lagos, said, “No. we didn’t attend to anybody today (Monday). The problem with the vNIN is that it cannot be generated for someone whose phone has been stolen (alongside a SIM card registered with the NIMC network). For customers who have lost their SIM. You have to go to NIMC office to get your vNIN code. That alternative doesn’t work. Nobody has been able to use it.”
NIMC, however, insisted that telcos were meant to use an alternative platform via tokenization provided by the commission.
The spokesperson for NIMC, Kayode Adegoke, told our correspondent that the commission have two platforms, querying why the telcos had refused to migrate to the alternative platform the agency had provided.
He said, “We have two platforms. Ask the telcos why they are not using the other platform.”
NIMC, telcos meet again, plan to adopt tokenisation
However, the NIMC officials and telcos management held another meeting on Monday to discuss the issues surrounding the verification of subscribers amid the lingering technical glitch.
This was disclosed by a top official of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria. According to the source, even though the NIMC has advised telcos to use the digital tokenisation system to verify subscribers, the process has been very slow.
The source said, “We are using tokenisation. NIMC is having problems, and this is also affecting the tokenisation. We just finished a meeting this evening and the NIMC has told telcos to continue to use the app. The commission added that they were working on temporary arrangements.
“They want to improve the USSD experience. Although this service is available, they are working on it seriously. Presently, telcos cannot really register their subscribers even with the digital tokenisation system. The registration is slow and NIMC’s service provider-Galaxy Backbone Limited-is down.”
According to the source, NIMC relies on Galaxy Backbone for its server services.
The official, however, noted that organisations usually rely on more than one service provider, wondering why this was not the case with NIMC.
The source said, “Because everything still relies on NIMC’s main servers, the tokenization is also slow. We don’t know what is wrong since we do not deal with Galaxy Backbone. Telcos are supposed to continue working, we are in business and NIMC is delaying us; we are not making as much as we are supposed to make. We cannot onboard new subscribers because the process is slow, but they are working round the clock to ensure they rectify the problem.”
Also speaking on the development, a top official of one of the telcos, said, “The tokenisation is only accessible to certain categories of people. These are smartphones used by a small percentage of people in the country. So, this has shut out many people. And it also involves a lot of costs that the NIMC should have done, but hasn’t. However, at the meeting today, there was an agreement to adopt USSD to ease the process.”
NIMC has since advised telcos to temporarily revert to its vNIN platform until it is able to sort out its technical difficulties.
However, telcos officials insisted NIMC was only trying to shift attention from the main issue. According to the source, using the digital tokenisation system has almost been impossible for providers.
The source said, “This problem is NIMC’s problem, but what they are trying to do is just to pass the buck that operators have another alternative.
“This is not true. But we cannot talk, or throw them under the bus since they are the government and we do not want government issues. If the digital tokenisation system works, nobody will tell us to go and use it. We would know there is something we can use.
“I think there is a problem with it. But the fact remains that these problems are with NIMC. It has been impossible for NIMC to conclude the NIN-SIM harmonisation because they do not have a back end at all. So, they keep extending the deadline to cover up. This is aside from the current problem with Galaxy Backbone
“Operators can only give them the data we have registered, but if we don’t have a handshake from the backend, it is useless. They can’t do that. They don’t have the means.
“If the digital tokenization were that easy to use, we would use it. But NIMC knows that there are challenges with it, but they are deflecting the blame. The problem is with them.”
The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, Gbenga Adebayo, however, said the Monday meeting resolved that telcos should use the digital tokenisation system on a temporary basis until the technical difficulties with the NIMC portal are resolved.
He said, “The meeting will continue tomorrow. However, our conclusion is to work with tokenisation which is the process that requires the subscriber to dial a particular code and obtain a temporary NIN and use it for whatever application they want to use it for. That is what they are now pursuing.”
He, however, noted that for persons looking to retrieve their lost phone lines, the tokenisation option might not be available to them since generating these tokens will require dialling a shortcode with the registered SIM card belonging to the applicant.
“For those who have these exceptional cases, they will have to wait for this matter to be resolved. Eventually, when this matter is resolved normalcy will return. This tokenisation is supposed to complement the existing process. What we are saying is that it is not a total halt of the system. Things will continue to work. We will now explore the option of using the tokenisation in the meantime to do the work. The meetings continue again tomorrow, and we are hoping that as the technical matters are being dealt with, we will continue to explore other alternatives to ease the problem that NIMC current has.”
“Let me emphasise that because we are in one digital ecosystem, the problem of NIMC is our problem as stakeholders. Therefore we are assisting as best as we can in cooperating with them to ensure that this matter is resolved.’
JAMB rules out postponement of 2022 UTME registration amidst hitches
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board has ruled out possibilities of postponement of the 2022 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and Direct Entry examinations amidst the news of the temporary suspension of the verification of NIN by NIMC.
The board also allayed fears of parents, guardians and prospective candidates over the registrations scheduled to commence on Saturday, February 12, 2022.
The spokesperson of the board, Dr. Fabian Benjamin, disclosed this in an interview with The PUNCH on Monday.
He said, “There is no cause for alarm, there is no postponement, the registration will commence as planned. NIMC has the capacity, the competence, they have what it takes to address any challenge that will arise. We do not shift dates when we announce them. The registration will go on as planned”.
Meanwhile, the board the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, says it plans to introduce self-service registration outlets in Abuja and Lagos to leverage the digital competence of its computer-savvy candidates.
JAMB disclosed this in its Weekly Bulletin from the Office of the Registrar, on Monday in Abuja