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National Identity Card: Another bumpy road to building national database

By Onyedika Agbedo
09 November 2019   |   4:15 am
Five years, two months and 12 days after the launch of Nigeria’s national electronic identity card, the project has remained unimpressive. Apart from the paucity of registration centres across the states

Director-General of NIMC, Aliyu Aziz

Five years, two months and 12 days after the launch of Nigeria’s national electronic identity card, the project has remained unimpressive. Apart from the paucity of registration centres across the states, the process has been cumbersome and uninspiring even as many of those who have succeeded in enrolling are yet to receive their cards many months, if not years, after.

The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) was established by the NIMC Act No. 23 of 2007. The NIMC has the mandate to establish, own, operate, maintain and manage the National Identity Database in Nigeria, register persons covered by the Act, assign a Unique National Identification Number (NIN) and issue General Multi-Purpose Cards (GMPC) to those who are citizens of Nigeria as well as others legally residing within the country. The new national e-identity card, which abolished the old one, is therefore a project of the NIMC.

Former president Goodluck Jonathan had launched the scheme on August 28, 2014. Jonathan, who received the first biometric card on that date, had underscored the imperativeness of the card. “The card is not only a means of certifying your identity, but also a personal database repository and payment card, all in your pocket. I have taken keen interest in this project, primarily because of the pervasive impact it can have on every facet of the socio-economic fabric of our dear nation,” he had said.

After the formal launch, the NIMC went ahead to establish enrolment centres across the 36 states of the federation. Many Nigerians were eager to acquire the card and besieged the centres but the process was not as easy as they envisaged. Soon, frustration overtook the process and the enthusiasm vanished.

The result was that in September 2016, not up to one per cent of eligible Nigerians had been enrolled. A statement by the Commission’s Head of Corporate Communications, Mr. Chika Ogbonna, had hinted that only about one million National e-ID Cards were printed while over 400,000 issued to their owners across the country. Ogbonna also disclosed the Commission’s target in the statement, saying: “By 2019, it is projected that NIMC should have over 100 million unique records at the central database. At that time, we will have commenced the enforcement of the mandatory use of the National Identification Number (NIN) for all services and transactions requiring the authentication and verification to confirm individual’s identity. At that time also, whoever that has not enrolled (and is not a child) will be required to pay a token in order to get enrolled for the NIN. So, it is advisable for everyone to get enrolled and get the NIN before that time comes.”

True to the Commission’s projection, the NIN is now a compulsory requirement to obtain the Nigerian International Passport even as it is mandatory for all workers under the Contributory Pension Scheme to produce their NIN as part of their pension requirements. But with 52 days left to the end of 2019, only 38 million people have been registered by the commission.

Director General of the Commission, Aliyu Aziz, who made the disclosure last Monday, said the country would need the “collaborative commitment” of all stakeholders to meet the sustainable development goal of providing legal identity for all by 2030.

“The world is focusing on digital identity as can be seen in the Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 (provide legal identity for all, including birth registration by 2030). This means that we have just about 11 years to the deadline,” he emphasised.Nigeria’s population is presently estimated at 200 million. With 38 million registered in five years, an average of 7.6 million per year, it means the NIMC would only be able to register another 83.6 million Nigerians by 2030, which would bring the total to 121.6 million. So, if no extra measure were taken, about 79 million Nigerians, excluding those that would be born between now and 2030, would still be off the NIMC database. So, what have been the challenges and what are the likely solutions? The reports below seek to answer both questions.

Mixed Feelings Trail Exercise In Lagos
By Maria Diamond and Kelechi Okoye

In Lagos State, so many residents said they did not see the need for the new national identity card, hence their nonchalant disposition to the exercise. But there are those who expressed willingness to enroll into the scheme simply because the Federal Government has started tightening the noose on those who don’t possess the document. To the latter, they could have continued to make use of their other means of identification but for the new development.

However, they bemoaned the cumbersome nature of the exercise in the state even as they condemned a situation whereby officials of the NIMC extort registrants under the guise of contributing money to fuel generators. A resident, Faith Ifeayinchukwu, told The Guardian that she was yet to register because of the difficulty associated with the process.

Ifeanyichukwu, a teacher, said: “I think I probably would not need it since I have my voter’s card which I usually present as means of identification at the bank. I don’t have plans to travel out, not now or in the future. So, I really do not see the urgency at the moment. Perhaps in the future when the government figures out a way to make the registration and collection process easy, such that I can just walk in without having to be at the centre as early as 5:00a.m to join a long queue for hours without success as I hear people do, then I might enroll. But now, I’m not sure I have the luxury of time and the energy for an ID card I really don’t need.”

On his part, Osareme Oyemah said: “I applied about five years ago at the Ikotun council secretariat. I was referred to Lagos State University (LASU) for collection. But on getting there, I was told that they could not access my details and that I should go back to the secretariat for proper documentation. I returned to the secretariat and was told alongside others that there was no electricity and we would have to pay a token to fuel the generator.

“I complained to the woman that I had already gone through the process and paid N200 for fuel when I registered initially, but was referred back because I was not properly documented. But she said she would only attend to people who pay N200 for fuel. I got upset and just walked away. I had not gone back ever since. However, if Federal Government now wants to make the NIN compulsory, I think I have to comply especially now that it is required for the processing of the International Passport.”

When The Guardian visited one of the NIMC registration centres in the Lekki axis of Lagos State, a lot of people were there waiting to be registered. There were very few seats available at the centre, which was also poorly ventilated. Some people said they got there as early as 5:30a.m. so that they could get a chance to be registered. 

Mrs Adaku Nwachukwu recalled that on the first day she decided to go for the registration, she got to the centre at 8:00a.m, adding that when she wanted to put down her name, she realised she was number 303. “I didn’t bother to wait. I just went back home,” she noted.

Speaking in the same vein, Mr Chidi Okorie said the very first time he wanted to register, he got there by 10:00a.m but was told that they had got the required number of people they could attend to in one day. “I decided to go home and come back the next day. Even though I got there by 6:30a.m. the next morning, I was number 63 on the list,” he said.

According to him, the registration officials came by 9:30a.m but the generator did not come on until about 11:00a.m. Giving her own account on the process, Miss Precious Adebiyi said she paid N50 to get the form and also N100 for lamination. An official of NIMC, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian that the exercise was poorly funded, adding that the Commission was also understaffed.

“We are just two doing the registration here and we attend to more than 200 people in a day. Sometimes, we end up not allowing people to put down their names, as we cannot attend to all of them in one day. Again, we also face the issue of poor internet connectivity, which makes registration very slow. The entire process is very cumbersome, both to us the staff and to the people who are coming to register. So, the government should provide more funds and employ more hands,” the official said.

Registration Bottlenecks Undermine Process In Anambra
From Osiberoha Osibe, Awka

In Anambra State, residents have been reluctant to acquire the NIN and General Multipurpose Cards (GMPC) issued by the NIMC. It was gathered that majority of the residents were not keen on obtaining the card due to the bottlenecks encountered in the process. But others are reportedly shunning the exercise in order not to ‘expose’ themselves.
These were parts of the findings by The Guardian after checks at the headquarters and some other registration centres in the state. Apart from the state headquarters, local council headquarters and some banks serve as alternative registration centres.It was however observed that the registration centres witnessed an influx of registrants unlike before, as students who intend to sit for the forthcoming Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) are required to have a NIN to complete the forms and sit for the exams.

At the state headquarters of NIMC, beside NTA station, Enugwu-Agidi, Njikoka local council of the state, 90 per cent of those who were seen waiting to be registered were ‘Jambites.’Observations at the centre showed that a registrant must present a means of identifying him/herself before a registration officer to qualify for the exercise. Among the acceptable documents are certificate of birth or sworn affidavit, voter card, proof of residence, local government identification letter, driver’s license, international passport, valid staff identity card and National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Card.Minors (those who are under 16 years of age) are enrolled on the presentation of birth certificate, evidence of parents/guardians’ place of birth and nationality and parents/guardians’ NIN.

A source at the office told The Guardian that failure to produce these documents does not preclude a registrable person from being captured. “Such a person shall be registered, but shall not be entitled to a GMPC, provided that a statement of the inability shall be included in the registered particulars,” the source said. On completion of registration, a registrable person would be issued with a Transaction Slip that day or told to return before 45 days for collection.

The Guardian learnt that the inability of the NIMC to issue on-the-spot National Identity Smart Card discouraged people who had been captured not to return for collection.It was also discovered that lack of facilities like standby generators was hampering the process. At the state headquarters of NIMC, there is only one generator. Recently, the centre suspended registration because there was no fuel to power the generator. The development forced some registrants to contribute money for fuel before they could be registered. Many prospective enrollees also bemoaned the delay encountered in the process.

A parent, and past Assistant Governor of Rotary International, District 9142, Chuks Nweke, said the delay was not in the best interest of prospective UTME candidates who should be concentrating on the forthcoming examinations.“Our children want to take JAMB, but they insist they must compulsorily register and get NIN before they would be permitted to sit for the UTME. The system is not working, but frustrating the young ones. The authorities should sit up. I call on the authorities to rescind the decision and find a better option,” he said.

An activist, Tony-Anthony Aniebonam, said people were skeptical about enrolling into the scheme because they were afraid the information could be used to track them.“How can a country that has continued to show its dishonesty in national population census exercise get it right with National Identity Card numbering?” he queried.

Abia NIMC Enrolls 11,000 Persons Monthly 

From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia

The NIMC in Abia State has disclosed that it enrolls an average of 11,000 persons monthly into the national identity database.The state acting Coordinator of NIMC, Mrs Nkechi Fidelis-Ndubisi, however, told The Guardian that the monthly average enrollment figures in Abia was low when compared to those of neighbouring states.

She stated that there had been improvements in the enrollment figure of late following the state government’s support, noting that the government had been drawing the attention of residents to the importance of the NIN. According to her, there are about 30 registration centres in 15 of the 17 local councils, adding that they also undertake mobile enrollment by taking it to the doorsteps of the people.

When The Guardian visited the state headquarters of the Commission in Umuahia on Tuesday, less than 100 registrants were seen there. When interviewed, the registrants had no complaint against the process. But findings showed that many of those that registered as far back as 2014 had not collected their e-identity cards.The state acting coordinator however attributed the delay to logistics challenges, maintaining that those affected would get their cards when they are ready.

She explained that once one is enrolled, one’s data is automatically uploaded to the national database while he/she would be issued a slip, which serves as an evidence that he/she has been enrolled. She added that the slip contains the registered person’s NIN that would be same with the card when it’s ready.

Plateau Communities Provide Facilities For Smooth Registration

From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

There was large turnout of people who wanted to be enrolled into the national database by the NIMC in Plateau State when it was introduced about five years ago. But what people noticed at that time was that the Commission did not have adequate facilities at its state headquarters at Lamingo community in Jos North local council of the state.

The Commission later decentralised the registration points to the headquarters of the local councils. Also, temporary centres were opened in some communities that were ready to cooperate with the Commission. The development fostered the registration of reasonable number of people in the state. However, the temporary registration centres were shut after a while leaving only the local councils and state headquarters centres, which discouraged a lot of people from embracing the exercise.

However, with the NIN now a requirement for sitting for the UTME, the turnout has become so large that the NIMC staff are always busy.The Guardian, however, observed that there were not enough machines and even manpower to register prospective enrollees, resulting in a long queue in most of the centres. Also, many of the centres visited did not have sufficient stationery even as there were no funds to buy petrol/diesel for the generator in the absence of power failure.

The practice in the state now is that communities liaise with the NIMC to open a registration centre in their area. But such communities must on their own tax registrants to part with a stipend to fuel the generator and the maintenance of temporary facilities.Findings also showed that some of those who registered since 2014 and were given their slips had not been given permanent cards.

Poor Enlightenment Impairs Exercise In A’Ibom
From Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh, Uyo

Despite the importance of the National Identity Card, many persons in Akwa Ibom State are yet to enroll into the programme. Although the state has a population of over six million, checks at the state office of the NIMC revealed that less than one million persons have so far registered.When The Guardian visited one of the commission’s registration centres at the Federal secretariat, many persons, mostly young ones, were seen queuing to register. On inquiry, it was revealed that, the turnout increased because most of those seeking to register want to use the NIN for their UTME. One of those waiting to be registered, Ekemini Effiong Okon, had to register because JAMB requires the NIN for the processing of the UTME form.

“Before now, I never knew that people of my age register with the NIMC. What I knew was that it was for adults,” he said. Another enrollee, who identified himself as a worker in one of the state ministries, but refused to give his name, said he never attached any importance to the exercise.“Nigeria is a country where nothing works. So, what is the essence coming to wait for hours for something which will not be useful at the end of the day,” he said.

When reminded of the importance of the NIN in the country presently, he replied: “I’m not a politician or a business man. I am just doing this so that when I retire, I will not have problems in drawing my pension.”When The Guardian visited a registration centre in a shopping mall along Ikot Ekpene road, the registration officer didn’t have many enrollees. When when asked why people were not many at his centre, he said: “Today is one of those days that we do not have many persons coming. On a good day, we can record as many as 50 persons.”

A social commentator in the state, Mr. Sharer Ukpong, told The Guardian that Nigerians always display nonchalant attitudes towards national programmes like the national identity card project.“Government should do what JAMB is doing now. That is only what will drive Nigerians to show interest in this exercise. But my fears are that the human rights organisations may want to misinterpret the intentions of government,” he said.

In his reaction, Mr. Etorobong Inyang said sometimes Nigerians needed to be forced before they could do what would be of benefit to them, noting that government should embark on massive sensitisation through the National Orientation Agency (NOA). Speaking on the workings of the programme, the state Coordinator of NIMC, Mr. Fred Iwok, said the Commission has about 29 centres in the state, saying the turnout in the state was not encouraging despite the Commission’s sensitisation exercises.

“It has not been encouraging at all at those centres owing to a number of factors, chief among them being apathy, because in this part of Nigeria, we always wait for things to get out of hands before we take the necessary steps to get ourselves registered or involve

ourselves in government programmes.
“We have done our bit in terms of sensitisation, going around the council areas through town halls meetings, where we met various stakeholders to let them know the importance of this exercise. But unfortunately, most of the people you see coming out now from this office are people who are stuck somewhere, maybe while trying to do bank transaction or with UTME registration going on now. If you notice, most of them are younger persons because of JAMB requirement. “Sadly, with a population of six million, we have not done up to 600,000 as we speak. It is a far cry from the total population we have in the state,” he lamented.

Apathy Bedevils Exercise In Enugu
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu

To lessen the burden of traveling long distances, the NIMC in Enugu State has designated several centres to register residents of the state. In one of the centres located inside the Government House, Enugu, though two staff of the Commission were seen on duty, there was not much for them to do, as many had not shown interest to enroll. For the over 45 minutes The Guardian spent at the centre, no person was enrolled. A prospective enrollee who showed up said he came to make enquiries and would return at a later date.

The enrollee, who gave his name as Ikechukwu Nweze from Mmaku in Awgu local council of the state, said he decided to enroll into the scheme “because it is good to have some of these things”.“I am not using it for anything special because I have other means of identification. I just want to have it, after all no fee is attached to it”, he said

Nweze, however, queried the motive behind several data capturing being done in the country, stressing that it could be one of the factors hindering most Nigerians from identifying with the scheme.“We register for driver’s license, International Passport, voters card, bank verification and others. At a point I began to ask myself what these things are used for? So for me, I just want to have it, nothing more,” he stated.

Jennifer, a student the Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Enugu campus (UNEC), said she registered because “as a student, our leaders have a funny way of denying you something because of a little thing. They can come tomorrow and say you will not write exam until you register and that means you will now be moving from one place to another, trying to find where to do it. That is why I registered.”

She said the process of registration was “very simple”. “The machine did not reject me and besides, what they did was to capture me and take my fingerprints. I was to go back one week after to collect the card but I did not go. But I have collected it without hassles.”

It could not be confirmed the number of cards yet to be collected in the state. But an official of the Commission at the Emene office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that though the Commission has “minor challenges in processing the card, there are many yet to be collected here. Some people register and don’t come back and there are those who have registered long ago but still return to pick them. So, as they come, we are available to attend to them.”

NIMC Yet To Issue Permanent Cards In Imo Since 2015
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

Imo Indigenes and residents who registered with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) since 2015 at the state headquarters were still holding temporary national identity cards at the time of filing this report. It was learnt that the national headquarters of the Commission was yet to send the permanent cards to the state for onward distribution to registrants.

Also, findings showed that it is difficult to register at the 27 local councils headquarters due to dysfunctional equipment.The Guardian gathered that not up to 11 councils had functional NIMC equipment and manpower to capture registrants. Another problem faced by intending registrants is alleged bribe demands from the officials.

An official of the commission who pleaded anonymity said: “The Commission is yet to start issuing permanent national ID cards since 2015. Any time we receive such from the headquarters, we will send alerts to those who have registered. Anyone who registered about 2015 and received the laminated temporary cards should continue using them.”On the registration centres, she confirmed that not all the local councils were registering because of dysfunctional equipment.

“In Imo, Owerri Municipal and few others are the only areas registering. There are challenges of equipment,” she said.An intending registrant, John Igwe, said he was finding it difficult to register, adding that each time he visited the Owerri office, the officials gave one complaint or the other. “I need the national ID card, but I am yet to register. They (officials) always turn me around any day I go there. I need someone who can assist me to register. Banks and some public places always demand it before they can do anything for you,” he lamented. 

Cross River: Inactivity Pervades Registration Centres
From Agosi Todo, Calabar

Most NIMC registration centres visited in Cross River State lacked robust activities except for the main office along the Muritala Mohammed highway in Calabar.When The Guardian visited the office, few people were seen there who came to either collect their cards or make a new enrollment. The centre at Ishie Town Hall just by Ikot Ishie market in Calabar Municipal local council was not open as at 11.30a.m. last Tuesday. No prospective enrollee was seen there waiting.

One Mr. Robert Edfiom-Desuoza, who was at the Calabar office to collect his card, said he was enrolled since 2013 and had been using the slip as a means of identification when needed.He said: “I enrolled in 2013, just before I was transferred to Uyo where I work currently. I am just collecting it now because I have not been in the state since December 2014. So, that is why I’m just collecting it now and I am happy about it. Before now, I have been using the slip, which they gave to me. I laminated it and I have been using it but because the permanent card is ready and smaller, I thought I should find time and collect it.”

Edfiom-Desuoza, who said he was surprised to see a handful of people at the NIMC office, noted: “I understand that they have offices in various local councils. So, I think they are actually registering people at those centres so people don’t need to come to the state capital to do their registration. But in terms of the general low turnout, you know a lot of people actually don’t work in the formal sector. And again, perhaps people are busy just trying to make ends meet. Except they really need it for something, they may not come out. But I think it is necessary.”

Jonah Etta, who came to enroll, said: “I came today to enroll for the ID card. I want to use it in my company because my company needs it. The process wasn’t difficult and they didn’t give me a specific time to come and get it. They only said I should come back in a week’s time to check if mine is ready.”

On his part, Jimmy Bajie, who also was there to enroll, said: “Sometime ago, there were speculations that these people are demanding for N5000 before they can enroll you but when I came here today, the situation was different. Nobody asked me for money. It’s possible that those that came with the intention of getting the card that same day are the ones they are asking for money. You know what our country is like. As you can see, I just finished with the enrollment. You just go through the process and they ask you to come back to check in a week’s time. The most important thing is to be patient; it will get to your turn.” 

But Dr. Boniface Abua had a different experience that made him not to go back for the enrollment. His words: “Why I don’t feel like enrolling for national ID card was because eight months ago, I went to NIMC by the highway and I was treated badly by those officials. On that faithful day, after going through the necessary procedure, they told us to contribute money for them to buy fuel to enable them work. That pissed me off and I angrily left and never went back again.”

New ID Will Create Positive Values For Nigeria, Says Olateju
By Daniel Anazia

An Associate Professor of Project Management, Department of Management Technology, Lagos State University, Ojo, Dr. Olateju Olawale Ibraheem, has described the compulsory acquisition of the National Identification Number (NIN) as a welcome development. He stated that the idea would help the country in getting an updated database, particularly for planning and development.

“For you to have an egalitarian society, a perfect environment where things work and monitor activities of the citizens in terms of what they do, the criminals in the society, there is need for us to have an adequate database.“Though we are yet to get there, we must start from somewhere. Nigeria as a system has recognised the importance and need of having a database that is working. The 200 million-population figures of the country being quoted cannot be relied upon because we have to be sure of the source of the information. As at the last census, that was not the figure that was given out but we keep on assuming that on yearly basis Nigerians are increasing in terms of population. Nobody has been able to compare the death rate and the birth rate. So, that figure is not realistic,” he said.

Olateju posited that “with the NIN number linked to your international passport, bank transaction and other national activities just like the Bank Verification Number (BVN), it would help ascertain the number of Nigerians within the country and monitor their activities anywhere they are all over the world.

He added: “The developed countries (Western world) that we rush to often are that way because they are able to organise their database, which has helped them to plan for development. You need data to share resources and distribute dividend of democracy at whatever level. If adequate data is not available, there is no way anybody in governance can perform; they will only be doing trial and error.”

Olateju further said the national database would help the country in dealing with the challenges in the power sector, stressing that power is often supplied to the wrong places, as it not based on the capacity needed by each region. “People move from one point to the other without due information. For instance, we don’t how many people are residing in Lagos, Delta, Rivers, Kano, and even Abuja. Hence it is difficult for the governments (both federal and states) to make adequate infrastructural plans for them. It is important for the government across all levels to have the birth rate and death of the citizenry yearly so that they can be able to make adequate plans for them. Government can only plan when they know you exist.”

According to the university don, the NIN policy would curb the influx of infiltrators, who enter the country unchecked and undocumented especially during the electioneering period.“If it works in other places, it is going to work for us. It is going to create positive values that enrich the country and make us better citizens. It will also give us respect within the international communities. It is will help us to know those who are true Nigerians and those who are foreigners,” he added.Commenting on the experiences and displeasure expressed by Nigerians in the process of enrolment, Olateju said it’s part of the Nigerian factor.

“The constraints are borne out of corruption and they are doing it to extort the citizens. Whatever the constraints, let us continue. The more people are being registered, the lesser the number becomes and the positive impact of the project. One day, all Nigerians will get it. The constraints are not enough to stop the policy.”

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