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‘Digital identity crucial to access social services’


Aliyu Aziz

The Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Aliyu Aziz, has identified digital identity as a critical factor for individuals to access social benefits including subsidies and entitlements.

According to Aziz, since public and private sector agencies require proof of identity as a prerequisite for providing services to individuals, failure to prove identity forms a major barrier barring people from accessing social benefits.

In a keynote paper entitled ‘Digital Inclusion: Opportunities, Challenges and Strategies’ he presented at the 27th yearly conference of the Nigeria Computer Society, in Ibadan, last week, noted: “Inability to prove identity is one of the biggest barriers preventing access to benefits, subsidies, exercise of basic rights as well as claiming entitlements,” adding “without knowing who the people are, no government or private sector will be able to effectively deliver important services such as social safety net, elections, agriculture, pension and education, among others.”

According to him, “identity is a pre-requisite for a country’s economic, social and political progress and development,” because “good identification works hand-in-hand with greater use of internet, payments and skills for a vibrant digital economy.”

Emphasising NIMC’s role of offering “digital identification through the enrolment and issuance of a unique identifier National Identification Number (NIN), Aziz stated that “beyond the term ‘digital’ inclusion are issues about quality of life, democracy, exclusion and who gets what, when and under what circumstances.”

To actualise digital inclusion with attendant benefits for the citizens, Aziz called on information and communications technology experts as well as government and private sectors to “be prepared.”

He charged: “Construct robust high-speed broadband networks, create incentives for investment in new technologies, build required human capital for productivity growth, and rethink curricula to emphasise digital skills.

“When negotiating trade agreements, make sure issues of data privacy and cybersecurity feature prominently – strike a balance between protecting individual rights and remaining open to digital flows.

“Rather than relegating old debates about digital inclusion, it is time to accept the reality of the new era of digital economy and work to maximise its benefits, minimise its costs, and distribute the gains inclusively. Only then can its true promise be realised,” he advised.

He listed the benefits of digital inclusion to include social interaction and cohesiveness, wellbeing, personal health, economic and life changes, self-efficacy, skills and capabilities as well as civic engagement and participation.

Aziz explained the term ‘digital divide’ as “patterns of unequal access to ICT based on income, race, ethnicity, gender, age and geography that surfaced during the mid-1990s when the internet made steady progress.”

He explained that redefining the term ‘digital divide’ as consisting of ‘multiple divides’, namely: an access divide, a skills divide, an economic opportunity divide, and a democratic divide allowed researchers to study the experiences or attitudes of the disadvantaged groups in relation to intervention programmes.”

While quoting the United Nations pledge to get everyone online by 2030, Aziz said “millions of world citizens need help, including Nigeria,” if they are to meet the UN’s 2030 aspiration.

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