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‘Nigeria digital identity project on course despite challenges’

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Director-General, NIMC, Aliyu Aziz

As Nigeria steps up the goal of identifying every citizen within its shores, the Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Aliyu Aziz, during an online interaction with journalists, addressed a number of burning issues. ADEYEMI ADEPETUN was there.

Where is Nigeria regarding the National Identification Number (NIN) enrolment and issuance?
The Federal Government’s statement was first made in 2018, upon the Federal Executive Council’s approval of the strategic roadmap for accelerating digital identity projects using an ecosystem approach.

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The target of the year 2022 was on the premise of partnership with public and private sector agencies to support the Commission in data capturing services and making NIN enrolment centres easily accessible to the people. The Commission is on course to meet the target of enrolling all Nigerians and legal residents within a time frame subject to availability of funds and the ongoing pandemic easing out. So far, we are making progress in this respect.
 
As at now, the total enrolment and successfully-generated NIN is 46 million. You of course know that in late December 2020, we reported a figure of 43 million NINs issued. So, we have added an additional three million records between December 2020 and January 2021.  The Commission is still working tirelessly to populate the database and has licensed over 203 agents for the intervention enrolment drive of the government.

Federal Government’s directive last December on NIN-SIM linkage has brought thousands to NIMC offices nationwide in clear violation of COVID-19 protocols. What should be done to stem this tide, given that NIMC still has just 1000, instead of the projected 10,000 enrolment centres in the country?
First, the NIN-SIM integration is a policy of the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, due to the improper registration of SIM. So, the directive by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy to link SIM with NIN was in compliance with the NIMC Act 2007, and Regulations 2017, which stipulate mandatory use of the National Identification Number (NIN) as a valid means of identification for service delivery in Nigeria.

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On the issue of the COVID-19 protocols, the Commission works with relevant government’s agencies such as the Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC), and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to institute, ensure compliance with all Covid-19 safety protocols, and guard against the spread of the virus within and around our office premises and special centres. It is pertinent to state that the NIMC received support from donors such as the Red Cross, Dantata, World Bank, Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy etc for the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Items donated include hand sanitizers, water dispenser buckets, hand washbasins, thermal scanners, disinfectants, face masks, mops, and information banners to raise awareness about the COVID-19 protocols that must be observed by applicants before, during and after visiting any of our offices. The Commission will continue to do its best and comply fully with the set protocols on the COVID-19. Likewise, citizens have a responsibility to adhere and observe the Federal Government’s directives on COVID-19 protocols for their own safety and wellbeing. It is a collective responsibility for us all. 
  
To reduce the crowd besieging our offices for enrolment, the Commission introduced a number booking system which allows only persons who have been pre-booked for a particular day to visit our offices; this system took effect from December 30, 2020, even though most applicants failed to comply by showing up anyway without booking. We also encouraged NIN application through the pre-enrolment portal on the NIMC official web page- www.nimc.gov.ng. In terms of enrolment expansion and extension, it is projected that by the end of the first quarter of this year, 2021, given the speed at which our licensed enrolment vendors are setting up, especially the Telcos, the existing 1,000 enrolment centres would have been tripled. 

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Why is NIMC so slow in enrolling Nigerians?
NIMC started enrolment and issuance of NIN since the year 2012 (over nine years ago), and our enrolment and registration centres have been functional and open all year round to provide identity services to the general public. It is quite unfortunate that a large number of citizens and legal residents did not take advantage of those years to enrol for their NIN. Based on the above, it is unfair to state that NIMC is slow in enrolling Nigerians. What you are witnessing is a sudden surge of applicants showing up for enrolment because of the SIM-NIN linkage deadline. As with any complex national project that is targeted to the entire population, there would be challenges, constraints and unforeseen issues. The Federal Government is fully aware of the challenges and doing its best to resolve them especially in the area of power supply, broadband connectivity, awareness and sensitisation etc. The Commission is also collaborating with the private and public sectors in order to leverage their capacities and facilities for a cost-effective, faster and better-coordinated implementation of identity services delivery.

NIMC has licensed over 203 agents – public and private sector operators for NIN enrolment, to help fast-track enrolment in the National Identity Ecosystem project. Have these agents started enrolment?
There are certain processes involved and conditions required before a licensed agent can commence data capture operations. So far, some of the licensed enrolment agents have fully met the laid-out conditions which include procurement of enrolment equipment, certification of equipment, training of enrolment personnel etc, and have started data capture services. Some of the agents are at various stages of configuring their devices, training of enrolment agents, and setting up of enrolment equipment to ensure people, technology and processes are aligned with the standards and specifications of the overall National Identity Management System architecture. From all indications, all of the licensed agents may not be able to start at the same time; however, as many centres are set up for operations, we shall be updating the general public through our various media platforms.

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As the regulator of the identity sector, NIMC has built in the necessary clauses into the MoU signed with the licensees to ensure the timely roll-out of enrolment operations and periodic performance evaluation for licence renewal. The issue of obtaining a licence and not going further to fulfil the terms and obligations of the licence is foreclosed by these time-based conditions.

Do you foresee the new deadline given by the Federal Government on NIN-SIM card linkage being further extended, because as things stand, NIMC centres have not increased beyond the 1,000 you have, and it is clear the crowd that throng your offices may not be fully enrolled by that given deadline?
National Identification Number (NIN) enrolment is an ongoing exercise. The NIN-SIM integration exercise is a Federal Government policy, and there is a standing Committee and Ministerial Task Force responsible to see that the tenets of the policy are implemented to the letter. This Committee meets from time-to-time to review the progress and challenges of the policy implementation. So, it is their prerogative to either advice for extension of the deadline or otherwise. It is not in the hands of the National Identity Management Commission to extend or halt the process. It is instructive to note that this policy was not just announced in December 2020 as many have been led to believe. This Policy was officially announced in February 2020 by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. The announcement in December 2020 was a reminder to the effect of the deadline.

Many people, rightly or wrongly, have alluded that NIMC has gulped hundreds of billions of Naira since it started, but with little to show in terms of identity card issuance, and now the NIN enrolment. How much will you say has been invested into NIMC so far?
The Commission has institutionalised accountability and probity in its financial dealings. All budgetary allocations and releases to the Commission can be verified from the Budget Office of the Federation and the Accountant General’s Office. We should speak with facts and these facts are easily accessible to everyone. Since 2007 when NIMC was established, the Commission has made it a duty to publish its Annual Financial Statement and Audited Accounts. There, you can find total appropriated funds and actual releases to the Commission since inception. And on the issue of how much needs to be invested into the Commission in order to have a robust identity database, it is not possible to sit and announce any figure. Progress has to be measured yearly, with budget tied to necessities. This is how we operate each fiscal year.

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Additionally, the strategic roadmap for accelerating the digital identity project using ecosystem approach is a public document on our website and has detailed the cost of registering and issuing NIN to the population, scaling up the infrastructure, safeguarding the identity infrastructure, rolling out nationwide authentication services, providing linkages with all stakeholders for identity utilisation in service delivery amongst others. I want to encourage the general public including members of the media to visit the NIMC website to read and fully understand the project and what we are doing.

What is the situation with the World Bank loan of $433 million meant for the Digital Identity Ecosystem project?
Since the approval of the Strategic Roadmap for Digital Identity project by FEC in September 2018, a lot has happened with the Development Partners’ Board approval of the loans and the Federal Government’s approval of the financing agreement between Nigeria and the Development Partners for the funding to the tune of $433 million.
  
The funds, which will be domiciled in the Accountant General’s Office is subject to certain effectiveness conditions to the Financing Agreement. One of them is the enactment of a Data Protection Law in Nigeria, which primarily seeks to establish an effective regulatory framework for the protection of personal data, regulate the processing of information concerning data subjects and safeguarding their fundamental rights.
 
Furthermore, it is instructive to also know that not the entire $433 million is to be expended on increasing the number of registration centres and NIN issuance. Other components that stand to be strengthened from the funds include supporting the usage of digital ID by building linkages between NIN and additional key services; ensuring the cybersecurity of the ecosystem; strengthening the infrastructure for e-government and digital signature; and linking civil registration with national identification through the provision of NIN at birth.

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The approved institutional arrangement is a Project Steering Committee with overall oversight and guidance on the project; an Ecosystem Strategic Unit with responsibility for coordinating the ID partners on the project, and a project implementation unit in NIMC for the day-to-day implementation of the project components.

NIMC commenced Diaspora enrolment last year. How far have you gone with this, and in how many countries so far? How do those enrolled abroad fit into the NIN-SIM linkage especially for Nigerians who may visit home?
Our Diaspora enrolment commenced in April 2019, and tremendous progress has been made in enrolment and issuance of NIN to Nigerians in Diaspora. Presently, we have started enrolment operations in about 16 countries where we have successfully licensed private sector companies to partner with us.

The countries include – Austria; Benin Republic; Canada; China, Ghana; Germany; India; Ireland; Italy; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; South Africa; Togo; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; and the United States of America. In some countries, we have offices in two or more cities, depending on the location preference of the licensed agents.

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