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  Following pleas from Nigerians that the April 6, 2021 deadline for SIM-NIN linkage be extended again by the government, a Federal High Court in Lagos on March 23, 2021, barred the government from blocking SIM cards not linked come April 9.
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It will be recalled that the Nigerian Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy through the Nigerian Communications Commissions ordered operators to block SIM cards not linked on April 6. To express the dissatisfaction of Nigerians, 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 hinder the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) from disconnecting SIM cards not linked to NINs when it is April 6. The Federal Government, Attorney General of the Federation, the NCC, and the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, make up the first to fourth defendants in the suit filed by Ubani. Mr Ubani in the suit sought four reliefs, including an order that the two-week ultimatum is not adequate and will bring about hardship alongside infringement of his fundamental human right to freedom of speech and right to property ownership as made provision for under sections 39(1) and 44(1) of the amended 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The human rights lawyer also sought an order from the court that will extend the deadline.
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Justice M.A Onyetenu while delivering judgment on March 23, 2021, ordered the government to extend the deadline for SIM-NIN linkage by two months from the day judgment was passed. In its ruling, the court noted that the April 9 deadline be halted owing to the fact that it is grossly inadequate and asides from causing severe hardship, it is likely to infringe on the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens to freedom of expression which is guaranteed under  Section 39(1)(2) and Section 44(1) of the 1999 Constitution. Also, the Judge noted that owing to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country, the deadline that was given to over 200 million Nigerians is inadequate as it will see them rush to registration centres, flout COVID-19 rules, and be subjected to contracting the virus easily.
‘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.’ Justice M.A Onyetenu
Furthermore, the plaintiff in a letter to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice asked that all relevant agencies be directed to comply with the court ruling. In a letter titled ‘Notification to comply with judgment in FHC/L/CS/1834/2020,’ Ubani asked the AGF to intervene in the matter and see to it that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, reconsider the April 6 deadline.
‘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.’ Monday Ubani
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This article was first published on 31st March 2021

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