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Why identity matters for nation’s development

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Director-General, NIMC, Aliyu Aziz

Globally, identity management is central to the development of any country in order for governments to cater adequately to the needs of the people.

In other words, proper economic planning, adequate intelligence gathering and functioning internal and external security architecture will be difficult to achieve in the absence of a robust national identity system.

Today, in Nigeria, the task of providing identity to about 200 million Nigerians resides in the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).

Indeed, the commission was established in 2007 pursuant to the NIMC Act to create, manage, maintain and operate a unified National Identity Database for Nigeria. To this end, the NIMC, which replaced the defunct Department of National Civic Registration, is required to carry out the registration of all registrable persons in Nigeria and thereafter issue a General Multipurpose Identity Card (“National Identity Card”) to each registered person.

True to the tasks before it, NIMC has been marshalling out efforts towards ensuring that Nigerians are identified, but it appears the commission still has huge grounds to cover, as many Nigerians are yet to get the National Identity Number (NIN) not to talk of the identification card proper. This is owing to various challenges confronting NIMC in the country.

Why identification matters?
Checks have shown 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 labour force involves the unemployed youth.

The commission noted that today, 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).

But having identified all these, 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. 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, experts believed 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 labor market opportunities; improved access and quality of social protection, and governance.

Gaps in Nigeria’s drive
Statistically, the Director-General, NIMC, Aliyu Aziz, at a forum recently, noted that there is an estimated population in Nigeria of about 200 million, which has a yearly growth rate of about 2.6 per cent or 5.2 million, but empirically 26,039 new births on Jan 1, 2020, which could amount to about 7.6 million per annum at 20 per cent discount.

Aziz said between 2012, when the commission began the national identity project to date, only 41.5 million citizens and legal residents have been enrolled into the National Identity Database (NIDB) and issued a unique NIN; an average of 5.2 million enrolments per annum

Going at this rate, Aziz posited that it will take a long time to enrol the remainder of the people currently living in the country, and by that time, however, about 292 million more people would have been added.

Hence, the DG NIMC, said there is a need for a strategy to enrol the entire backlog within the shortest possible time, thus the idea of a strategic roadmap and the birth of the ecosystem approach.

According to him, after many challenges over the years, putting the regulatory framework together, building the NIMS infrastructure, the commission embarked on an enrolment strategy, which has grown exponentially since 2015. He said the current goal is to enrol the entire population within three to five years using the ecosystem approach.

Nigeria’s ID implementation target
Aziz informed that the country’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 cybersecurity 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.

Slow operations confront targets, Nigerians are worried.

Though, there are promises on the part of NIMC to scale up production and the issuance of both NIN and the eID, peoples’ experiences in terms of getting registered thus far, has not been satisfactory.

While the commission claimed to have increase enrolment centres from 431 to about 1100, in the last two years, there are still complaints by Nigerians of inadequate registration points. These inadequacies have resulted in centres getting congested by so doing making enrolment tedious. People also complained that some officials of NIMC involved in the enrolments, at some centres, had to be financially induced before they register people.

Last week, the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), the umbrella body of all computer practitioners in the country, decried the slow pace of the exercise.

NCS therefore offered to help NIMC and governments at all levels, in expediting action in the registration process and issuance of NIN.

The President of NCS, Prof. Adesina Sodiya, said the progress of work on the NIMC project was not good enough and that the management of the current COVID-19 pandemic could be better managed with a good and acceptable National Identity database.

Sodiya said NCS shall support NIMC to create a framework for issuance of temporary National Identity Number using complex data matching algorithm and facial recognition.

According to him, “This will allow Nigerians to register for NIMC by themselves, using simple mobile phones. The application will be capable of working offline with upload to the central server when the network is available. Nigerians can get their NIN in a “Do It Yourself” framework and from the comfort of their homes. NIMC can still collect and add fingerprints later for the temporary NIN to be permanent if the fingerprint is important.”

Sodiya said NCS and associated organs and partners would collaborate to deliver the platform for NIMC within 180 days, and that NCS would also deliver a robust platform for the management of aids, foods, materials, among others, during this pandemic period.

NIMC explains challenges

According to NIMC, all hands are on deck to address identified challenges and ensure that a larger percentage of the people have, most importantly the NIN, and then the eID.

The Guardian gathered that challenges including limited public awareness and Mobilization; talent retention and stifled innovations; safety and security of staff and equipment; limited funding for power, connectivity and toner; stakeholder collaboration, and staff motivation, welfare and palliatives, are what the commission currently face.

Giving more insight on this, NIMC DG, who said one of the greatest achievements was increasing the enrolment figures from seven million in 2015 to 39 million by the end 2019, stressed that enrolments have reached 41 million Nigerians through sheer determination and hard work.

Aziz however, stressed that the challenges facing NIMC has been there for years.

According to him, ‘‘power issues at Enrolment Centres (ERCs), Sensitisation and awareness to the general public, inadequate enrolment centres and enrolment devices, maintenance and support of our IT infrastructure, consumables etc. All of these issues affect our operations and require a lot of funding to address. We will continue to do our best to address them in consultation with all the relevant stakeholders, Government and with the help of the media.’’

Any hope of nationwide enrolment?
Aziz said government and NIMC have made a significant stride to scale up enrolment for the issuance of NIN. He said in September 2018, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved a strategic roadmap for accelerating the development of digital identity in Nigeria using the ecosystem approach (leveraging the capabilities and facilities of public and private sectors to speed up enrolment).

He disclosed that government has also got commitment and approval from three development partners – the World Bank, Agence Francaise de Development (AFD) and the European Union (EU) – to fund the roadmap implementation in the tune of $433 million.

According to him, the project preparation is currently on-going and full implementation was originally scheduled to kick start by June 2020, but with the COVID 19 pandemic, it may extend to September or December this year. The target is to have at least 4000 enrolment centres across the nation, which will translate to one enrolment centre per 50,000 people.

The NIMC DG disclosed that the Federal Government has approved NIN as the only valid means of identification for government services by Law.

‘‘As a foundational ID, everyone must register and obtain a NIN. People must do so to avoid any restrictions on use or access to government services in the future. The process takes less than 10 minutes and can be further reduced if you pre-enrol online. More enrolment details are on www.nimc.gov.ng. The law provides punitive measures for those who fail to comply with or disregard the law,’’ Aziz stated.

The NIMC DG said the NIN is a valid means of ID for government services, it is the responsibility of every individual on the soil of Nigeria or of Nigerian descent to register and obtain the unique ID.

According to him, enrolment commenced since the year 2012, that is eight years ago, and the NIN is issued instantly upon complete registration.

“Eight years is enough time for people to present themselves for registration in accordance with the NIMC Act. We should not always wait for the last minute or for the government to resort to aggressive enforcement and punitive measures for people to do the right things. NIN is issued free of charge and to everyone, children and adult alike. Do not wait to be told you cannot transact or access service to register,” he stated.


In this article:
Aliyu AzizNIMCNIN
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