Exclusive! Dumped MTN sim cards raise security questions in Lagos

Ogunsakin Mustapha
11 Min Read

By Mustapha Ogunsakin, additional reports by Ibrahim Jibril Ikowe

On Wednesday, November 16, 2023, Clement Arenri, a commercial bus driver that plies Oshodi-Abeokuta Expressway was trying to cross the road at Abukon Bus Stop when he noticed a black nylon bag on the floor at the concrete divide. It was in the rush hours when many people hurried to go about the day’s business. He noticed that the polythene bag was different. He could see a yellowish object beneath the nylon which increased his curiosity. He picks the bag and to his amazement, packets containing MTN Sim cards dropped out of the tattered bag.

He quickly gathered himself together, picked the dropped Sim cards and left the scene, for a more private enclave. He counted the Sim cards and they were 204 in number. Another stage of curiosity. What are 204 Sim cards doing on the floor at a bus Stop. Who dropped them? For what purpose?. At this point, he knew it was something that would be hard for him to handle. So he called his friend, a journalist with Gavel International at www.gavelinternational.com.ng Ibrahim Jibril Ikowe and shared his experience. Ikowe called his boss, the publisher of Gavel International, Mustapha Ogunsakin who directed that both should take the Sim cards to the nearest MTN office.

On Friday November 18, 2023, Ikowe told Arenri to proceed to Agege where he located the MTN office at Agip Bus Stop. At the office, he was told that the Branch Manager, one Mr Chris, was not around since it was Friday. He was asked to come back on Monday. However, the man on duty took one of the sim packs, checked the information contained therein and made a call to the person who registered it. It was discovered that the same person registered all the 204 sim packs. It was also discovered that they were all ready to use. Thirdly, it was also discovered that all the packs were registered in Jigawa State. The man on duty attempted to call the man who registered the sim packs but his phone was switched off.

On Monday afternoon, Ikowe followed Arenri to the MTN office where they met Mr Chris, the MTN branch manager. He told them that the office cannot manage the kind they brought. “What we do here is link of sim to NIN, call failure, data problems and such other minor works”, he said. He then directed them to the Falomo, Ikoyi office headquarters of the MTN or to call 300 to talk to the customer service.

Meanwhile, Arenri after his first call to the MTN office, had reported what he found to the police at Alakuko Divisional Police Station. At the station he met the Divisional Crime Officer(DCO), Mr Balogun who told them to either report the case and leave the sim packs with the police or carry them to MTN. Arenri handed the packs to Balogun, who handed the case over to an Investigative Police Officer (IPO), Mr Chetachineke Daniel who took his statement.

Mr Clement was asked to go, but with assurance that if MTN requests to see him, he will be contacted. He is however worried and wants the Lagos State government to be aware of this for security reasons. “Why should 204 registered MTN sim cards from Jigawa, where Boko haram activities are high, be found in Lagos? I personally believe there is something fishy. I have found 204 Sims cards. What about if other Sims that were not found were even more than what I picked? This is where the call for security agencies to be on their feet comes in. I am not a policeman, I drive a yellow bus between Alakuko Oshodi, but I am concerned.

Mr Clement Arenri, the commercial bus driver who found the Sim cards

Gavel International contacted MTN spokesperson, Funsho Aina who found the story curious. After narrating the story, he asked how we knew that the sim cards had been registered, and how we knew that they were registered in Zamfara ( this reporter had inadvertently mentioned Zamfara rather than Jigawa). After telling him that his Agege office actually took a look at some of the sim cards and divulged the information, he said the Agege office is not in a position to divulge such information. He therefore warned that we should be careful with the story while promising to get in touch soon. He did not. Rather an information technology expert in the same organization, MTN, who would rather have his name protected explained what could have happened.

He said: “We have a provisioning system. There is something we call pre-activation so the fact that they see those lines there doesn’t mean that the customers can use it. On sim packs, there are usually some numbers. These lines are usually pre-activated before you start using dynamic sims, but it doesn’t mean these lines are available for customer use, they still need to be registered in their names before they can be used”.

A communications expert who prefers to remain anonymous also explained that such sim cards as these ones found are usually used by criminals to carry out their nefarious activities. He mentioned kidnappers, and terrorists as people with criminal tendencies who used such Sims. “They usually register such sim cards with fake names and innocent person’s pictures, even sometimes with pictures of animals so that they could not be traced. It is a good thing that the man who found them reported to the police. But it would’ve been better reported to the National Communications Commission(NCC), the communication industry regulatory body, who has the capacity to investigate, and compel the service provider to act on it. The man who found it may even be at risk because if anything happens, the police may arrest him and those connected and probe whether they know more than what they reported”, he said.

Chief Reuben Mouka, Director of Public Affairs, NCC

In a telephone chat the Chief Reuben Mouka, NCC Director of Information said that the more important thing would be to find out if they were properly registered, and to whom, and are all the sim packs registered in one name or in other names, because there is a limit of 4 sim cards per network that can be registered to one name/person. Could they have been stolen for fraudulent registration? Because sometimes, they can break into offices of authorized persons and cart away with them. Or could it be that the sim cards were improperly registered which fraudulent people are selling in the streets?, he asked rhetorically.

He went further: “Another question is, are those sim cards passable in the network and capable of making and receiving calls? These questions must first be answered before we begin to probe into how they came into Lagos. Hence, our position would be that the matter needs to be properly investigated, because it is curious in the sense that we do not know if it is registered in the same name or otherwise, because they could have been stolen for the purpose of making money illegally, because right now, sim cards are so cheap;

The biggest problem is that they probably dumped it there and maybe one person registered it for whatever purpose, fraudulently, but again, it is important to find out if the lines can make and receive calls, especially in light of the fact that NINs must be registered with sim cards and it could be because of this directive that some people who fraudulently registered were now trying to offload them”.

Chief Mouka said that it is actually the responsibility of MTN as operators that are concerned to unravel the issue of the sim cards. “This is because if it is also brought to our office in Lagos, our compliance monitoring and assessment would have also forced the operators to give details about those sim packs and then we would know what it was all about. I would also talk to our Compliance team to also try to investigate the matter”, he concluded.

Meanwhile the 204 sim cards still sit with the police at Alakuko Police Station.

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