Saturday, 9th December 2023

NIN Registration: How private centres fleece applicants, risk bank accounts

By Chijioke Iremeka
26 March 2022   |   4:26 am
The situation at the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) at Ikeja, Lagos State, and many other centres where people go to register for National Identification Number (NIN) and correct errors, among others...

Applicants at NIMC centre, Ikeja, Lagos.

Nigerians applying for National Identification Numbers (NIN) now patronise both accredited and non-accredited registration centres across the country to avoid the stress they experience at the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) offices. The Guardian gathered that the non-accredited agents attach themselves to those accredited and charge verification and handling fees as high as N3, 000 and N5, 000 even as NIMC says obtaining NIN is free and no one should pay money to get the number. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes:

The situation at the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) at Ikeja, Lagos State, and many other centres where people go to register for National Identification Number (NIN) and correct errors, among others, could be the major reasons for proliferation and patronage of unregistered NIMC centres across the country.

Many Nigerians have lamented a situation where an applicant needs to visit NIMC centre as early as 6:30am, stay throughout the day and keep coming daily until the person gets a number, or have one mistake or the order corrected. They say the situation makes many citizens to patronise roadside registration centres and, most times, get fleeced.

The situation was worse a few weeks ago when the applicants were still struggling to beat the Federal Government’s deadline to avoid their SIM cards being disconnected as threatened by the government.

The Guardian gathered that for anyone who wants to apply for NIN and doesn’t visit NIMC office or other centres at Ikeja as early as 6:30am to write down his or her name may never get attended to on that day except with an insider’s connection.

During a visit to the centre, it was observed that at about 7:45am, the officials come to the gate to meet the waiting crowd and call out names of those who would be attended to at a particular time. Later, they are filed in, including those who didn’t hear their names but are hopeful of being attended to.

Since the majority of the requests at the NIMC are for correction and change of name, an official will take applicants through what is expected to make the process seamless. If you need to make payment for change of name or corrections, there is a mini printing office situated besides NIMC where customers are charged between N500 and N1, 000 to do that.

Gaining entrance into the NIMC office is not a guarantee that an applicant will be attended to. It is most times determined by availability of network, which is usually slow when it is available. The situation is partly blamed for the large turnout of people who do not get attended to for days and weeks.

At a point, the server was off for days, and when it returned, NIMC issued a statement, saying: “We are pleased to announce that the NIN Verification Service (NVS) portal, which went down a few days ago due to maintenance by one of the commission’s network service providers, has been fully restored.

“Consequently, customers and service providers can now take full advantage of the two verification platforms – Tokenisation (Virtual NIN) and NVS – which are both effective for verification and authentication of the NIN.”

According to NIMC, Tokenisation refers to the process of replacement of actual card details with a unique alternate code known as ‘token’.

The commission’s statement added: “NIMC extends its profound gratitude to the general public and partners for their support during the NVS downtime and use of the tokenisation platform. The commission will continue to come up with innovative identity management solutions to enhance its capacity to deliver on its mandate.”

As part of the challenges applicants face to get registered or get access to other services, they have to stand in the scorching sun as there is usually limited office space to accommodate the high number of people waiting endlessly for the networks to return before they could be considered. Many of them loiter around the premises.

“I have been here since 7am and up till now (2:47pm), I’m yet to be attended to even in this hot sun. I have been in the sun, walking up and down,” said Harrison Etiku, who visited the centre for name correction.

Many people who go to the centre face different challenges, depending on what you have gone there to do. Some visited for issuance of fresh card while others are for change of name and correction of errors.

A first time NIN applicant will first obtain a free form and fill it out, after which the person will join the slow-moving queue to get a slip with which to obtain the card. The card containing the NIN will not be issued the same day of registration as the applicant needs, at least, one week to return after submission of the form to enable the commission process it.

It was gathered that for correction of errors or change of name, while they are done on the NIMC database, it takes between two to three months for them to be reflected in other Nigeria’s databases.

“I got there on Thursday and they said I would get the card after one week – next Thursday. I’m hopeful. I will wait till then and see if that is possible or not,” said one of the fresh NIN applicants, Mr. Segun Oguntade.

A father of three, Geoffrey Igboaku, was seen lamenting the time he spent at the NIMC office. He said he came for re-issuance of card slip with which he could get his card. Igboaku was done with the registration and had gotten his NIN slip earlier but misplaced it afterwards.

His grouse was that he had come severally to get the slip to no avail. He misplaced his slip with which they would have issued him a card. Hence, he needed to pay a N1000 remittance fee to activate a fresh process.

One of the private NIN registration centres at Ladipo Market, Mushin, Lagos PHOTO: CHIJIOKE IREMEKA

Chinedu Okorie, who wanted to correct an error made in his son’s NIN, has to visit Ikeja severally to get it done even with insider assistance but it would take the correction made three months to be effected in all other data bases.

“What it means is that I have to suspend my son’s visa until the correction reflects completely. If not, the discrepancy in the names would deny him a study visa to the United States,” Okorie lamented.

These and other challenges faced at the NIMC centres nationwide caused the proliferation and patronage of the registered and unregistered roadside centres, where applicants are being extorted.

Not only do the roadside centres fleece the applicants, they also make their matters worse, especially as they divulge applicants’ confidential Bank Verification Number (BVN) to strangers, making them prone to being defrauded in the future.

In Lagos, the roadside registration centres are everywhere in FESTAC, Ladipo Market in Mushin, Ojuelegba, Mile 2 and Oshodi, among other places.

“At Ikeja, it was hell but we have to do the needful. People spend days for corrections and others. They sleep and wake up there, offer bribe, baptismally referred to as ‘tips’ just to get their problems solved,” Carol Afolabi, a NIN applicant said.

This is even as NIMC, in its numerous publications, says no applicant should pay money to obtain a NIN, as the process is free. But this can only be viewed with the same lens where police say ‘Bail is free’ when in actual fact people are still paying to get bailed at police stations.

Many citizens who couldn’t stand the tortuous process of getting their NINs at the NIMC centres across the country have been forced to patronise the roadside registration centres. Perhaps NIMC knew that financial inducement would lead to faking of NIN, the commission warned the masses against paying anyone to collect NIN, else it would be a fake number.

How unregistered NIN centres operate
Investigations revealed that unregistered centres generate NIN from applicant’s BVN. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has warned against this. The applicant needs to be captured but the roadside centres do not capture anyone. They use the applicant’s BVN to generate a number, which is as good as nothing because the process will have to be repeated.

According to the CBN, divulging customer’s BVN to strangers could be disastrous as the customer’s account could be emptied if the BVN gets to the hands of identity thieves or cybercriminals. The CBN had even stressed that in the absence of a BVN owner’s consent, it’s only a court of competent jurisdiction that could order that such customer’s BVN be divulged.

NIMC also warned the masses against extortion and fraud, saying: “NIN is free. The National e-ID Card is free. Do not pay anyone to obtain your NIN or e-ID card; they are free. Beware of fake social media accounts (Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc.) posing as official NIMC or ‘fan’ pages, asking you to make payments to them to get your NIN, NIN slip or e-ID card for you – your data could be acquired and used for criminal activities.

“Beware of fraudsters posing as NIMC agents or staff. Do not pay money to anyone offering to help you speed up the NIN enrolment process or get the National e-ID card for you. You have to enroll and collect your card, when it is ready, yourself.

“Do not submit your NIN or BVN to unauthorised Apps. Beware of dubious apps collecting your NIN or BVN details. Use only apps from NIMC and clearly identifiable, authorised NIMC partners. NIMC operates and regulates matters of national identity in Nigeria with services covering National Identification Number (NIN) enrollment and issuance…”

Sadly, The Guardian learnt that it’s the same NIMC that registers the roadside centres where people get extorted and deceived, although some of them are providing genuine services. It was gathered that these centres, which collect between N1, 000 and N2, 500, are being registered by NIMC to help facilitate the registration process. They go back to NIMC for remittance.

“Don’t mind them (NIMC). They are the ones that register them and they come back to settle and submit their work to them. All the work they do outside there is being concluded here (NIMC office).

“When the deadline was short, those roadside people even collected as high as N2, 500 and they said it was free. It could be free here, but it is not free elsewhere,” Joy Balogun, who came for a fresh registration, Told The Guardian.

“I first went to them (roadside service providers) and they generated a slip for me with my BVN. But when I came here, I was told I couldn’t use it. As a result, I have to start fresh process of registering for the number,” she added.

Recently, the Nasarawa State Coordinator of NIMC, Abubakar Mohammed, raised the alarm that fraudsters were collecting money from applicants for the NIN. He alleged that some people were going to the villages with laptops, claiming to be NIMC officials and charging N2, 000 to register applicants.

Mohammed said the crime had been reported to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), which vowed to fish out the culprits. He urged applicants to stop paying anybody within or outside NIMC office to speed up the registration process. He revealed that about 193 private agents had been licensed to register more applicants across the nation.

With regard to extortion, the Managing Partner, Lawrence Ndukwe and Co., Emeka Ndukwe, said: “The punishment for extortion, if convicted, is 7 (Seven) years imprisonment as stipulated in Section 14, 20, and 21 of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) Act and Section 10 and 12 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.”

One of the non-accredited agents, who conducts his business around 23 Road and 72 Road, FESTAC Town, Lagos, Mr. Jerry Jimbez, while responding to The Guardian’s inquiries, said it would cost a fresh N8, 000 to get NIN.

Explaining the process, Jimbez said: “For a fresh applicant, you will go to your bank and print out your BVN page which has your photograph and submit it with your N3, 000. You will pay another N5, 000 for verification and it will be out within two weeks.”

On how he became a NIN agent, Jimbez, who combines his NIN registration business with passport photo production under a tree, said: “I am not an agent. I have somebody to whom I give my work. If you want to know how to become an agent, you go to the local government.”

Sequel to this, The Guardian visited the NIMC office at Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Council along 41 Road, FESTAC, but it was under lock and key. At the Lagos State office, which shares the same wall with the NIMC office (Room 18), one of the officials said: “This is a Federal Government agency and I am working for Lagos State. If I tell you that they are coming tomorrow, I may be lying. So, I don’t know anything about them. You can check another day.”

Becoming a NIN registration agent
ACCORDING to NIMC, vendor companies/contractors/persons wishing to transact business with the commission are expected to have necessary competence and possess a number of things.

Among them are certificate of company’s incorporation/registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC); company’s current three-year tax clearance certificate, Tax Identification Number (TIN); evidence of NIN registration with NIMC by company directors who are Nigerians; company’s current three years audited account.

Others are Industrial Training Fund (ITF) compliance certificate; current PENCOM compliance certificate; evidence of successful conduct of similar projects in the past, not later than five years from date of bidding; sworn affidavit indicating that the company is neither in receivership nor any of its directors involved or convicted of any fraudulent activity.

Also required are a sworn affidavit to disclose clearly if any of the officers of NIMC or the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) is a former or present director of the company; a sworn affidavit declaring that the company is not a replacement for a hitherto tax-defaulting company, and evidence of financial capability and banking support.