Kano — Farmers in northern Nigeria have called on cellphone operators including MTN to block SIM cards that have not been formally registered by their users, saying they enable the operations of militant Islamist 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 smallholder farmers, said in an e-mailed statement on Monday.

MTN was fined $1bn by the Nigerian government 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 communicate, co-ordinate attacks and recruit youths without being detected by authorities.

Johannesburg-based MTN is Nigeria’s market leader with more than 50-million customers.

A spokesman for MTN’s local unit in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, could not immediately comment when contacted by phone.

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.

Its shares traded 0.4% higher at R122.97 at the close in Johannesburg on Monday, valuing the company at R232bn.


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