By Enyeribe Ejiogu, Christy Anyanwu, Henry Okonkwo (Lagos), Tony John (Port Harcourt), Laide Raheem (Abeokuta), Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri), Okey Sampson (Umuahia), Olanrewaju Lawal (Birnin Kebbi)
On Thursday, May 6, 2021, the third extension of the deadline for all GSM subscribers in the country to link their registered SIM cards to their national identification numbers would expire. By that date, unlinked SIM cards face the risk of being blocked if the Federal Government insists on not extending the deadline. Should that date hold, more than 17 million GSM numbers linked to bank accounts, shares in quoted companies, millions of smallholder farmers participating in the Central Bank of Nigeria Anchor Borrowers Programme, pensioners and others would be affected.
Also to be affected are senior secondary school students applying to write the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB. Registration for UTME will close on May 15, 2021. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of prospective UTME candidates daily throng the NIN enrollment centres, to get registered and obtain the NIN, without which they cannot get their profile code from JAMB, to begin the UTME registration process.
Back in mid-December 2020, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, in a statement gave a two-week ultimatum with December 31 deadline for linking all SIM cards to GSM subscribers’ NINs or risk having the lines blocked. The order created a nationwide stampede that broke all COVID-19 protocols as people surged to the few offices of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) across the country to register. The dire consequence of such massive turnout at the centres led the government to allow some specified offices of GSM network operators to serve as enrollment centres. It also extended the deadline to February 2021 and again to April 6. The government further extended it to May 6, being the fourth time.
As at April 1, 2021, according to Dr. Pantami, about 51 million NINs had been successfully linked with GSM subscribers’ registered SIM cards. The number of enrolment centres has also grown from about 1,060 in February to about 3,800 currently.
Despite these improvements, millions of Nigerians eager to register for the NIN are facing severe difficulties caused by inadequate logistics for bio-metric capture at the centres which is done in real time in that computers at the enrollment centres have to access the central servers at the Abuja headquarters of the National Identity Management Commission. The major problem of poor inter connectivity results in prolonged delay in concluding bio-metric capture as well as obtaining the NIN and getting a printout of the slip which serves as a temporary national ID card required for processing pension documents, opening accounts, registering for permanent voters cards, obtaining drivers license, passport and other official transactions.
With people being compelled to make repeated visits to the NIMC enrollment centres located within local government secretariats, and not being attended to, investigations showed that business centres were having easier access to NIMC servers than the NIMC offices at the local government secretariats.
Sunday Sun received no response to messages sent to the spokespersons at the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy as well as the NIMC, to seek clarification of the seeming anomaly. Neither the ministry or NIMC addressed the questioned as to why the large number of bank branches across the country which already have abundant capacity for BVN, biometric capture, were not being involved in the NIN enrolment exercise and thereby end the unnecessary and avoidable hardship Nigerians are being subjected to in the quest for NIN. Though the government said that NIN enrolment is free, it is common knowledge that Nigerians are paying money to register at NIMC offices at the local government secretariats and designated locations set aside by network operators.
In the run-up to the expiry of the fourth deadline, Sunday Sun presents a random sample of reports from states on the NIN registration exercise.
At the council secretariat of Surulere Local Government Area, a person who wants to obtain the NIN simply pays N5,000 for the biometric capture. The next day or a day after, the person will get the printout of the NIN slip, which can then be laminated and used as a temporary national ID card. However, if you would rather stay on the snail-speed lane of due process, that means you have elected to wait for three weeks to get the NIN and the printout if you have been able to do the biometric capture after spending days on the daily long queues. The frenzied demand for the NIN, caused by the deadline to link all registered SIM cards to the national identification number, has created extra income opportunity for the numerous business centres within and around the secretariat, which are lucky to be registered as NIN enrollment centres.
Usually, individuals who can afford the expedited service (known at the place as kia kia, a Yoruba parlance for quick or fast service) fill the NIN form at the business centre and pay N1,000. The centre then submits the form to it contact within the NIMC office, who is given N4,000 to process the NIN and get the slip printed out.
One good thing is that particular days have been assigned for processing different categories of people for the NIN biometric capture. There are specific days for regular people, physically challenged individuals and old people.
Notwithstanding that the NIMC has consistently stated in its public awareness messages that registration for NIN is free, many of the centres approved to capture the data of Nigerians are exploiting the quest of Nigerians to get captured and link their SIM cards as an avenue to make quick money for themselves, resulting in a new rush for registration agents.
One enrollee, Ms. Bisola Emmanuel, told Sunday Sun that she had been going to Alimosho Local Government Area secretariat for almost a week to get registered without making any headway. She disclosed that the officials intentionally slow down the process to execute their extortion plan.
“What we do here is to come every morning to collect numbers and wait in line. But at the end of the day, very few get registered. It makes me angry, because you wonder why we are made to go through all these unnecessary difficulties to register for the NIN. What we are facing here is an organized crime by their management, because it is a money making venture for NIMC staff at the local government and their friends.”
Also, Mr. Kazzem Babatunde complained about the extortion, saying: “I thought the government said that NIN registration is free, but at some centres here in Alimosho, the officials collect N2,500 from residents. It is an open secret, because they don’t even hide when extorting people. And I can swear that both the government and NIMC are aware of this, but they choose to look away. It doesn’t bother them how the people suffer to get their NIN.”
Ms. Emmanuel and Babatunde’s complaints and frustrations are similar to the situation in Agege, Kosofe, Mushin, Ikeja, Yaba and other local government areas in Lagos. Sunday Sun gathered that some of the centres charge between N2,000 to N5,000 to register enrollees for NIN. Those that pay are brought in and attended to, while others that do not pay are left in the sun to suffer the inconvenience of waiting in long queues.
For example, in Mushin, at a popular telecommunications office around the Idi-Oro axis in Mushin, where the registration is done, Sunday Sun observed a crowd of angry applicants who complained that the process takes too long to register people on the queue. Some of the enrollees disclosed that the middlemen asked them to pay N5,000 so that they could fast-track their registration. At another NIN registration centre at the bustling Ojuoye market, the agents charge N2,000 before they register anyone.
In Rivers State, the NIN registration process has remained a nightmare to the residents. But those that have the wherewithals to obtain the printout pay to get it done without the hazards of going to the NIMC state headquarters located along Port Harcourt-Aba Road. Unfortunately, poor people have no other option than spending days at the NIMC office hopelessly.
The observed hiccups in the official process has, of course, created opportunity for business centres around the city to get involved and introduce “NIN registration facilitation services” as one such operator, who requested not be identified in print, described what he does.
For people who cannot wait to be attended to at the NIMC office, Zubby Ventures, a business centre approved for NIN enrolment, which is located around Agip Junction, Ikwerre Road, Port Harcourt, offers a convenient alternative for getting the NIN registration done. A staff of the facility, Ruth, assured that people who register through the centre get guaranteed and authentic NIN printout.
She disclosed that people, who patronise business centres like Zubby Ventures, happen to be desperate and can easily afford the payment. “We do NIN registration and we charge a fee of N7,000. With the registration, you can link up your phone numbers to it and do anything you want to do with it in the country. The printout will be out after three days of registration,” she said.
Ruth added that the turnout, as at when the interview took place, had reduced compared to the initial stage when there was rush for NIN registration at the beginning of the year.
Further checks by Sunday Sun revealed that Zenith Bank branch in the area also carries out NIN enrollment. However, not all branches of the bank do NIN registration, probably because they were not allowed to charge minimal fees.
According to a staffer, who craved to remain anonymous, only designated branches register individuals and those that have accounts with the bank are usually considered first.
The source disclosed that a designated desk carries out the NIN enrollment, so that banking hall is not crowded to avoid disturbing other business transactions.
However, many Rivers residents still doubt Federal Government’s sincerity in the purpose for the NIN registration. One of the residents, a constitutional lawyer, Mr Festus Ogwuche, pointed out that the modus operandi of the registration did not show connectivity in the entire process. Though he registered at the NIMC headquarters, he expressed concern over the difficulties people are passing through to get registered.
Ogwuche said: “The experience of NIN registration was for me a harrowing one. They have given promises that the enrollment will protect both your phone and SIM card. Incidentally, I have not seen that much guarantee. The crux of the matter is that a lot of people go through a lot of pains to get registered. And a lot of people are yet to be registered, because the point of registration was not well defined. This has created a lot of uncertainty.
“What we are given is not identity card per se, but a printout that has your passport picture. It is not sufficient enough to stand as an identification card. To the best of my knowledge, that cannot go for real Identification.”
Like their fellow citizens in other parts of the country, Ogun State residents are still groaning with pain occasioned by the NIN registration migraine foisted on them by the severe shortcomings of the process. A visit to the NIMC office along Presidential Boulevard, Oke Mosan, Abeokuta, revealed that the number of people trooping to the office for registration has reduced drastically. Findings by Sunday Sun, showed that the drop in the surge is not unconnected with the licensing of some businesses by the government, to participate in NIN enrollment.
A resident of Abeokuta, the state capital, Akeem Adebari, said that though he had enrolled for NIN in 2014, when NIMC officials brought the equipment to his office, he was surprised that after seven years, he was told at the NIMC office that his registration then was not well processed, hence, his inability to get an identification number.
He stated that even when he dialed the USSD code to check the number on his phone, he was still told that he had no NIN. Adebari, however, disclosed that he had to visit one of the designated centres to enroll for the NIN, but he was yet to be given any number. He added that he was told at the business centre to come back for the NIN. He further disclosed that he had to part with a sum of N2,000 for the registration.
On her part, a banker, Folashade Adeseun, said that she had been finding it difficult to link her NIN with her two GSM lines, despite that she had enrolled and obtained the NIN. She expressed frustration at the difficulty in linking her phones to her NIN, noting that the inability to do this may affect her financial transactions if her two lines got blocked.
For Bolaji Ajijore, a student of National Open University of Nigeria, Abeokuta Campus, using NIN as a requirement for bank transactions, document processing and academic certificates, may pose serious problems as she and many of her colleagues are yet to register for NIN. She said the NIMC centre in the state has not been helping, while the designated centres collect money from the people before they enrol them.
She, however, appealed to the FG to allow the exercise to continue until everybody has been captured and given the identification number. On the allegation of collecting money from people before enrolling them for NIN, an operator of a designated centre in Abeokuta, Caleb Animashaun, denied ever collecting a dime for enrollment. According to him, every designated business centre approved to carry out NIN registration on behalf of NIMC, has been taken care of.
Animashaun identified irregular power supply as the main challenge mitigating against the seamless NIN enrollment at his centre while also noting that Internet connection sometimes hamstrings the process.
In Imo, a popular business centre in Owerri, the state capital worked out a simple way to achieve smooth and effective enrollment for NIN at the facility. One of the staff who asked not to be identified in print said they simply restrict the number of people that register per day. This she said helped them to prevent Internet network conjunction.
“This is just simple. Here we don’t register many people at the same time; the network will be so bad if we do. Notwithstanding, we do experience network issues, but we are able to contain it,” she said.
However, one network provider (names withheld) explained that it would be easy registering at odd hours when the network would be friendly and favourable.
“Everybody trying at the same time is like two or more people calling same line simultaneously. The network would be a little bit slow, but that does not mean you should not continue trying.”
Narrating his experience, Mr Lawrence Akudo, an enrollee, told Sunday Sun that staff at the office of the network provider where he had gone to register asked him to pay N1,500. Though he was willing to pay, but he could not be captured because he did not have a valid identification such as PVC, permanent voter’s card.
Whereas the NIMC offices in Abia offered reasons ranging from power supply issues, Internet access problems, shortage of manpower and non-availability of other relevant logistics, to explain their inability to register people for the NIN, business centres have been filling the gap.
As the surge of people seeking to be registered continues to increase, with the attendant delays, people resorted to patronizing business centres to get registered and it appears to be paying off for them.
Chidera Okorie, a student, lamented that for weeks she went to the NIMC registration centre in Aba, but could not be captured because of the crowd and non-functioning machines. Fortunately, her aunt then took her to one of the business centres in the city. Surprisingly, what she could not do in three weeks was done within hours at the business centre.
Recounting how it happened, she said: “My aunt took me to the business centre and because she happened to know the owner, she gave the person N1,000 and within hours, I was given the NIN card.”
But Ugo, also a student, wasn’t that lucky. She had to pay N3,000 at a business centre and equally got her NIN card the same day. On whether NIN registration done at business centres is authentic, Okorie shrugged and said: “Since I was able to link my SIM card with the NIN without hassles, I have no doubt that the registration done at the business centre is authentic.”
Although, NIN enrollment exercise is carried out in some banks premises, investigation revealed they were being done by NIMC staff at the request of the banks. This is with the view of aiding their customers who need the NIN to transact business with them. Fees ranging from N1,000 to N3,000 are charged before the issuance of the printout.
As a result of the difficulty in getting the NIN, Abia residents who lost SIM cards had been unable to retrieve their GSM numbers because of the embargo placed on the registration of new SIM or the replacement cards. But with the lifting of the embargo, Nigerians can now register for new SIM cards, if they are able to obtain their NIN. Consider the case of John Ogujiofor, an Umuahia-based businessman who lost his phone and SIM card in early February, it took him the whole month to get it replaced.
With the deadline of May 6 set for registered SIM cards to be linked to the NIN approaching, there is growing concern in the state as the queues of people seeking to be registered at NIMC and GSM providers’ offices continues to grow with each passing day. Clearly, there might not be an immediate end in sight to the sufferings of people.
There appears to be good news in Kebbi State, where the number of people on the queues in various registration centres have drastically reduced. Unlike in big cities, no private centres were given licence to register people in the state. Only the designated NIN enrollment centres and the Birnin Kebbi offices of GSM network providers were allowed to handle NIN enrollment on behalf of the NIMC.
At the MTN office, located opposite the main Birnin Kebbi Eid-praying ground, few people were seen waiting for their names to be called for the data capturing stage of the NIN registration.
While speaking with Sunday Sun, Abdullahi Umar, who was at the office to be registered said that he was attended to few minutes after arriving at the centre. “I got here at about 9:00a.m because of fasting and they attended to me about 30 minutes after. Nobody collected any money from me and I have been able to do my registration.”
Another applicant at Nagari College area, Birnin Kebbi, Bashiru Badariya told Sunday Sun: “I came here today and I have done my registration. Nobody collected money from me. I waited till today so that the queues can be reduced and that is why I registered late.”