By Job Osazuwa
“Enrolment is free. Card issuance is free. NIN is free.” This is the inscription pasted at various NIMC offices in different parts of Nigeria. And it has been so for years, until recently when the narrative seemed to have changed in many registration centres.
While the registration and issuance of the National Identity Number (NIN) to Nigerians is supposed to be free, findings indicate that applicants are paying some money to get it done in some centres.
At the moment, millions of Nigerians are complaining bitterly over the stress they go through in registering for their NIN at the various NIMC centres across Nigeria.
The various registration centres across Nigeria are besieged by crowds. Some persons leave their houses as early as 4am in order to be attended to on time. Yet, most of them end up returning home disappointed, having wasted their time without succeeding.
It is said that some officials at some of the centres have turned the exercise to a moneymaking venture. Those accused officials, who could not collect the money openly from the applicants, reportedly hire some loyalists who negotiate charges and collect the money by proxy.
Some applicants stated that they had to cough out as much as N5,000 to bribe their way through. When they pay such money, they become special candidates who would not have to go through the hassles of spending hours on the long queue. They are attended to without delay. These candidates get preferential treatment and get their slots reserved for them even when they are still sleeping in their homes.
There are different stories at the different registration points. At some centres, it is simply chaos. COVID-19 rules and regulations are flouted as people jostle battle to gain entrance into the premises.
For instance, at the designated centre in Agege, Lagos, more than 200 people were already gathered by 7am on Tuesday, January 5, waiting for NIMC officials to resume duty. In different parts of the country, some Nigerians wake up at midnight and even abandon their businesses in order to secure a place for early registration at the centres.
The story was not different at Ikeja LGA Secretariat, where more than 400 people gathered early in the morning on January 5, each face full of considerable agony laced with anger and disappointment. Those who spoke to the reporter at the centre said that some agents were demanding N3,000 from each person to facilitate their date capture.
The panic and tension pervading most registration centres in the country came following initial directives given to all network operators in the country by the Federal Government to disconnect every subscriber identification module (SIM) card not synchronized with valid NIN by December 30, 2020.
The directive to disconnect SIM cards without valid NIN came after a meeting of key stakeholders in the communications industry convened by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami. The meeting, in its resolution, insisted that all telecom operators must from December 16, 2020, require all their subscribers to provide valid NIN to update their SIM registration records.
But perturbed by complaints from Nigerians, the House of Representatives intervened and instructed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to extend the deadline for the re-registration of all SIM cards in Nigeria using the NIN, by 10 weeks.
NIN is required to obtain the National Drivers’ Licence, make some bank transactions and register for Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinationss, among others.
Those who are yet to get the NIN done have raised the alarm that the process was marred by extortion, bribery and all forms of corrupt practices. Concerned Nigerians have suggested that adequate monitoring and checks and balances should be put in place to solve logistic issues and ease the process. They also want the regulatory agency, NIMC, to ease the pains of the people and not the other way round.
Apart from the menace of racketeering and extortion, the issue of inadequate registration materials and power failure are also making the exercise frustrating for intending registrants. It was also learnt that, while some citizens have complained of extortion, some others have gladly paid because they have no time to waste.
Lamenting her bitter experience, Mrs. Adebisi Adegbite, who resides in Lagos, told the reporter that the Federal Government was making life difficult for Nigerians.
Her words: “I have spent two days in Agege Local Government Area but I didn’t succeed. I don’t see any reason for this linking of our SIMs. While I was here in the sun, some people came from nowhere and went straight inside to do their registration without joining the queue. I later heard that such people had rubbed the palms of some officials in charge of the registration. Must we turn everything to business in Nigeria?
“This is about the third time we are doing SIM re-registration and verification in Nigeria. Yet fraudsters are still committing different crimes using SIM cards without hiding the lines. When you report such criminal acts, it is still difficult for the security agents to fish out the fraudsters.”
Also complaining about the difficulties being experienced while registering for NIN, the Muslims Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos State area unit, has expressed displeasure about the process of enrolment of students for their national identity card with NIMC.
Since the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) demands NIN as prerequisite for registration, the association’s president, Saheed Ashafa, said that the students have been subjected to undue stress while applying to register for the exercise.
“We should not forget that NIN is now a condition attached to registration for JAMB, hence, NIN registration centres are congested without any hope of success in the process,” he said
In Benin, the capital city of Edo State, residents have also complained that the NIMC officials were wasting people’s time, favouring some applicants at the expense of the others.
Mr. Aigbogun Osagunvbenro, who told the reporter on the telephone that he spent the first day at the NIMC office at the Oredo Local Government Area secretariat without succeeding in getting registered, but he was fortunate the following day.
He said that there were hordes of applicants waiting to get captured. All prospective applicants had to be at the office very early in the morning to get numbers before being captured. But he said that some young men ganged up to tear the list on which people wrote their names and consequently scuttled the hitherto orderly process.
Another applicant in Benin said that many touts, who he suspected were colluding with some officials of NIMC at the centre to make money from desperate applicants, who were always in haste to get theirs done and leave the premises.
Said he: “Many people cannot wait on the queue for one reason or the other. Some of them pay N2, 000 while others pay N3, 000. Such people will even be attended to when the officials have stopped giving numbers for the day. I don’t believe in doing things through the backdoor, but sometimes, one could be pushed to the wall. So, to some extent, I won’t blame them totally.”
The NIMC was established by the NIMC Act No. 23 of 2007 with the mandate to establish, own, operate, maintain and manage the National Identity Database in Nigeria.
The commission is also to register persons covered by the act, assign a unique NIN and issue General Multi-Purpose Cards (GMPC) to those who are citizens of Nigeria, as well as others legally residing in the country.
In annoyance, a Lagos resident, who did not disclose her name, said: “I won’t come back here. If they like they should block my SIM. When we get to the bridge, we will cross it.”
But NIMC officials have raised the alarm and warned that some miscreants were swindling the registrants for selfish reasons. They also blame the alleged extortion on impatient Nigerians who always find “shortcut” in everything they do.
Officials of NIMC at some centres have reportedly complained of shortage of materials and bad network, prompting some of them to collect a little amount of money from applicants.
In Taraba State, a resident, Mrs Catherine Bulus told Daily Sun on the telephone that the residents’ major problem in getting captured was incessant power outage. She said that this has caused delay in enrolling many people in a day.
She said that the applicants sometimes tasked themselves some money to buy fuel for generator so that the officials could attend to them.
“Despite our efforts, there are other problems with the NIMC that would not allow the officials to attend to us. The frustration is too much for here in Jalingo,” Bulus said.
Recently, the Federal Government, through the minister, Pantami, directed the suspension of staff members involved in the extortion of applicants at the NIMC Bauchi and Kaduna offices.
Pantami reiterated that the disgraceful actions of those staff, if allowed to fester, have the potency of derailing the SIM-NIN integration project.
He emphasized that the enrolment for the NIN was free of charge and on no occasion should anyone pay to obtain an enrolment form or to have their biometrics captured.
The minister tasked all personnel involved in the enrolment and NIN issuance exercise to carry out their respective duties professionally, fairly and with integrity, noting that the ministry would continue to maintain its zero-tolerance stance on extortion, bribery and corruption.