Tasks before Nigeria Digital Identity Ecosystem leadership
There is no gainsaying the fact that national development requires actions, especially in the 21st Century where countries are moving at the speed of light.
From Sweden to China, Germany to the UK, USA to Japan, Singapore to UAE, and South Korea to Switzerland, one thing has been significant – the level of development remains phenomenal.
These countries are not resting on their oars yet, they have continued to back policies with actions, projecting into the future, and taking on new challenges for inclusive growth.
Going by this, the urgency to develop, especially among developing countries, Nigeria inclusive, should no longer be by paper work, else be left behind, and may forever remain a dumping ground for advanced countries.
Suffice to say that it is time for leaders in this part of the world, again, especially in Nigeria, to roll up their sleeves, shun tribalism, move beyond the rhetoric, and back policies with actions.
This speaks to the urgency needed to drive Nigeria’s digital identity project, which has been foot-dragging for more than a decade now. It is painful that despite the level of investments that had gone into it, the rate of success is still very infinitesimal.
Today, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), the agency in charge of enrolment and subsequent issuance of identity cards has only been able to issue 41 million National Identification Numbers (NIN) in a country of over 200 million people.
It is more painful to know how much lack of identity has cost Nigeria. Countries in Africa, including Rwanda, South Africa, and Botswana with proper identity management systems are fast leaving the ‘Giant’ of Africa behind.
According to an expert, Kehinde Aluko, Nigeria cannot afford to remain unperturbed about the danger of allowing smaller nations to dictate the pace in Africa.
Aluko urged the Federal Government to pay keen attention to the issue of identity management if Nigeria must resolve some of the challenges bedeviling it.
He submitted that lack of proper identity management has not only made even development tedious, it has continued to encourage corruption, even at the highest level. “There is a need to put faces behind some actions in the country,” he stated.
Luckily, the Federal Government has inaugurated a Steering Committee for the Nigeria Digital Identity for Development Ecosystem project.
The task before them is to fast-track the implementation of the Strategic Roadmap for accelerating digital identity development for Nigeria.
Inaugurating the Committee, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who also doubles as the Chairman of the Team, said Digital Identification is central and critical to realising the objective of the Government’s Economic and Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP).
He said the Strategic Roadmap, approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on September 12, 2018, “is a culmination of the enormous collective efforts and contributions of so many institutions and stakeholders, which began in the year 2015, when this Government took a decision to forge a credible and cost-effective pathway for identification management.”
To accelerate the implementation of the Strategic Roadmap, therefore, “Government considered and adopted a three-tiered institutional arrangement comprising of a Steering Committee, a Strategic Unit, an Implementation Unit situated in the NIMC, and with responsibilities for providing overall governance and coordination, ecosystem partners’ coordination and communication and day-to-day project implementation respectively.”
He added: “The Project Steering Committee was established as the highest body with the responsibility of providing policy, institutional and operational guidance towards delivering on the identification vision and promise of the Strategic Roadmap. Members of the Steering Committee were appointed by Mr. President. You are therefore charged to positively steer the Project to accomplish Government’s objectives, consolidate efforts to date and deliver goals outlined in the Strategic Roadmap.”
Members of the Committee
Aside himself as Chairman, the SGF listed other members of the Steering Committee to include the Ministers of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, Alternate Chairman/Member; Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (HAGF), Abubakar Malami; Education, Adamu Adamu; Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; and Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami.
Others are the Directors-General, National Orientation Agency, Dr. Garba Abari; NIMC, Aliyu Aziz, who is the Secretary; National Security Adviser; CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele; Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs; Chairman, National Population Commission, and private sector representatives, Dr. Joe Abah, Country Director of DAI; and Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani) of CISLAC.
Task before the members
Mustapha said the work of the Steering Committee shall be guided by the following Terms of Reference as approved by Mr President:
i. Review the legal and regulatory framework for digital identity development;
ii. Implement the strategic Roadmap;
Utilise foundational identity to access services;
iv. Determine the location of the Ecosystem Strategic Unit; and
v. Receive the report on the implementation through the DG NIMC and provide necessary guidance and approval.
Speaking further, Mustapha said the Strategic Roadmap offers “a credible pathway for the Government to develop identification, at a low cost, fast pace and in a trusted environment.
“The task before this Committee is to ensure that the Federal Government of Nigeria leverages the existing ecosystem of Government Agencies, States, and trusted private partners to carry out nationwide enrolment through a viable partnership strategy with an effective public awareness campaign.
“As a nation, we have a lot of grounds to cover and our fundamental ID goal can only be reached through joint efforts and coordinated approach.
“You would all agree with me that there is no time than now for this project, especially as it would have considerably reduced a number of challenges we are facing with identifying and locating poor and vulnerable Nigerians in effective and efficient distribution of palliatives to cushion the effect of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
“Of course, without meaning to enumerate the issues associated with the absence of a foundational ID system which you are all familiar with, the existence of a National Identification Number (NIN) for all Nigerians would improve our delivery of Government services,” he stated.
Urgency of purpose
Indeed, the task before the committee is huge, but surmountable. Therefore, there is a need for urgency of purpose. Statistically, excluding those between ages one to 16, checks showed that over 100 million Nigerians have no official identity. These include typically the poorest and most vulnerable groups, including marginalized women and girls, less-educated people, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, people with disabilities, and people living in rural and remote areas.
According to NIMC, only about 38 per cent of the population has any form of ID, owing to the fact that 61 per cent of the people live below the poverty line, while about 22 per cent of the labour force involves the unemployed youth.
The Commission noted that currently, 52.7 per cent of the population is 24 years and below, while 5.9 per cent of the population is above 60 years (pensioners).
With these gaps identified, analysts opined that inclusive and trusted ID systems can help achieve the goals of empowering individuals and enhancing their access to rights, services, and the formal economy; strengthening the transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness of governance and service delivery.
According to them, it can help in supporting private sector development and service delivery; grow the digital economy; ensure regional and global integration; generate reliable and continuous statistics to measure progress and inform policy.
Furthermore, analysts believe that good ID supports multiple development goals including access to finance; gender equality and empowerment; access to basic health and education services; child protection; migration and labour market opportunities; improved access and quality of social protection, and governance. This, according to them, should be a rallying point for the Steering Committee to come together and ensure that once and for all, Nigeria has a working identity system.
Goals of ID implementation
At a forum recently in Abuja, the NIMC DG, Aziz, informed that Nigeria’s ID implementation targets include the provision of seamless digital identity for all; extend coverage nationwide; harmonize functional identities to the NIN in phases; scale up/out the ID infrastructure for optimal efficiency.
Others include strengthening the legal and regulatory framework; reduce cost in data collection; apply trust anchors for agencies and governments to consume. The target will also include establishing robust security protocols and cyber-security safeguards; adhere to and enforce data privacy and protection regulations; subject ID system to regular audits and certifications; speed up ID delivery, and provide digital ID authentication anywhere, anytime.