Public information postings on its website show that the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) established by the NIMC Act No. 23 of 2007, has the mandate to, among other responsibilities, register Nigerian citizens as well as others legally residing within the country covered by the Act, assign a unique National Identification Number (NIN) and issue them with General Multi-Purpose Cards (GMPC).
So far, it has succeeded in registering about 36 million out of about 200 million Nigerians, according to information provided by Aliyu Aziz, the Commission’s Director-General in a newspaper interview, some months ago. In order to get registered, the Commission announced on its website, all that the applicant who must be 16 years and above needs is, walk into the nearest NIMC enrolment centre with supporting document (any of the following: old National ID card; driver’s license; voter’s card (temporary or permanent); Nigerian International passport; birth certificate; declaration of age; attestation letter from religious/traditional leader; government staff ID card; registered/recognized private organization staff ID card; school ID card (private/public); tax clearance certificate, valid immigration documents, etc).
Official stance versus non-official practice
Thereafter other processes follow, including biometrics capture of your face and ten fingerprints. Afterward, you are expected to come back for the NIN within 1-5 working days, “subject to availability of network, authentication and verification.” Further down, the agency announces, in concrete terms what that means: availability of the NIMS backend; availability of Network for data transmission and availability of power for the enrolment system.
Service fee? Enrolment is free, the Commission announced on its website. “In the NIMC, we have sanctions and zero tolerance for extortion,” Aziz affirmed in the said interview. “We go out of our way to paste notices in each of our enrolment centres that the NIN registration is free. Also, we don’t have any cash service; whatever you have to pay for, like renewing your card, reprinting your NIN slip or paying for certain changes, should be done in the bank and not at our offices. Therefore, we want to warn the general public not to induce our officials.”
Really? Well, at Ikorodu Local Government Area, Lagos, it seems the syndicate helping the NIMC to carry out the exercise has not as much as heard Aziz’s gospel of “zero tolerance for extortion.” In fact, it is not the general public that tries to induce the officials with “monetary gifts.” Rather, it is the other way round: the officials are the ones that are in the habit of insisting, by their words and action, that the much-talked-about “enrolment is free” is a public relations gimmick meant only for gullible Nigerians. Those who should be in the know, know that enrolment is not free.
How did we know? About three weeks ago, Saturday Sun received a call from an anonymous caller seeking to expose the money-for-National-Identity-Number (NIN) scam going on in the local government area. The caller, resident of Ikorodu, lamented that she had for weeks tried to go for biometrics capture but was told that, “the network was bad”. She added that while expressing her frustration, one of the local government staff told her that with N3000, it would be done. “I have paid the N3000 and I do not have N8000 to give them to collect the number,” she said. “If you are in doubt, come to the local government and see things for yourself.”
In a bid to confirm the allegation, Saturday Sun sent an undercover reporter to try and secure the NIN. Ikorodu Local Government is one of the designated centres by NIMC for enrolment.
The visit under disguise
She got there at about 11am on a Tuesday morning, disguised as a businesswoman desperate to secure her NIN for a transaction. On getting to the local government area gate, she found several young men believed to be touts. They could be seen milling around and approaching new faces to ascertain what they wanted. It was not long before one of them spied out our reporter. He asked if she wanted an affidavit. There are several law courts in the local government premises.
‘I want to process National Identity card registration. It is urgent,’ she blurted out. On hearing that, the young man who obviously does more of affidavit than NIN, directed her to a ‘Skye’ bank located inside the local government premises. On her way, several other touts approached her pleading with her to get the correct direction. One of them who introduced himself as Michael said: “Can I tell you the truth? It depends on how urgent you need this number. You are free to go inside the bank and try your luck but you will surely come back. With just N3000, I will ensure that you do your capturing (biometrics) today.”
Ignoring her, our reporter decided to try her luck to confirm what he was saying. On getting to the office allegedly owned by Skye bank, she spotted a young man and two ladies inside. As soon as she tried to make enquiries, a light-complexioned young man, of average height emerged and informed her that the computer network system is not working.
“Madam, the network is not working,” he announced. “Please come back in two weeks. You are free to fill the form but I will advise you to come back in two weeks. You can do it then and also do your biometrics at once. Pray that the network works; the problem is from Abuja. They are frustrating us.”
What they call network is, of course, the Nigerian euphemism for computer network server. At NIMC, these days, the data capture server appears to be permanently down, so the officials in charge would say, until you wake it up with some sacrifices of naira notes and some libations demanded by the chief priests and priestesses manning the gate to the corruption grove. With time, you come to learn that the permanently down server, actually do get up and capture more photo data than it was wont to do if you would appease it with crisp naira notes. And, whenever it does, you become completely transformed from common Nigerian to VIP, depending on how much you are willing to part with.
Back to the gate, Michael who was patiently waiting smiled as he welcomed our reporter back. “I told you but you refused to believe me,” he said. “VIP (Very Important Persons) people do not know network, there is a way they will manoeuvre the whole thing. It’s very cheap, Madam. Stop wasting your money on transport. Even if you come back here, they will still tell you that network is not working. All you need to do is to buy the form in that office (he pointed her to an office). They sell the form for N50 each. After filling the form, you bring N3000 and do your capturing today. If you want the number in the next 24 hours, you will pay N8000.”
On hearing that, our reporter decided to play along. Having agreed to his term, Michael took her to an office close to the security post where she paid N50 for the form. He then took the form and quickly assisted our reporter to fill it before taking her to the security office at the entrance of the gate. There he introduced her to the head of security whom they all refer to as “CSO” (Chief Security Officer).
Inside and outside the office several persons milled around with the form and waited to be taken to the bank to capture their biometrics. Our reporter joined the group with the assurance that she would be asked to go for it in less than 30 minutes. While waiting, the CSO signaled Michael to collect the N3000 as a sign of commitment. As soon as the money was given, he came inside, took a seat and welcomed our reporter properly.
“Write your name and let me send it to the bank, so that they will know that you are ready for capturing,” he said with smiles as he handed over to her a piece of paper on which there were other names. “You can see that a lot of people whom you met here just left. They have gone for capturing and I will let you know when it is your turn. I assure you that you will get the original number that can be tendered anywhere.”
The reporter sat down and waited along with others. Thirty minutes later, the CSO received a call and instantly selected six of them and asked them to see him outside. He then divided them into two groups of three each and directed them to meet a man seen waving his hand in the air for easy recognition. “He is fair in complexion and wears a blue T-shirt,” the CSO informed them. “Please when you get there, mind your business. Do your capturing and come out of that place. This is a coded thing and because I am the CSO, they trust me. When you get there, tell them that the CSO sent you.” With that, he dismissed them.
Just like he said, the three that make up our reporter’s group moved towards the point where the man was waiting while others went towards another direction where another man was waiting to meet them. As soon as they got there and told the blue T-shirt man what the CSO said, he collected their forms and asked for their BVN. To our reporter’s utmost surprise, he turned out to be the same young man who had told her earlier to come back next week because network was not available. “I hope you have your BVN (Bank Verification Number), because that is the condition,” he said. “Keep it to yourself, when we get to the bank, you will give it to me so that I can confirm it.” After saying so, he asked them to follow him.
Drama in the bank: by the logo you shall know them
The moment they arrived the venue, they took them to a room designated for that purpose. Hung somewhere on its wall was a Skye bank logo. Our reporter laughed and asked the blue T-shirt man whether that was the much-talked-about bank. Looking somewhat taken aback, he replied: “This is a bank, Madam. That is why they are asking for your BVN. We have access to confirm if it is real or not. Don’t be afraid. Your document is safe with us.”
Inside the room, she found four others waiting for their biometrics to be captured. With the six new arrivals joining them, it brought the number to ten. A lady who appears to be the team leader asked them to sit down and wait for their turn. Meanwhile, the young man in blue T-shirt who turned out to be a staff of the bank, requested for their BVN. With it, he checked and marked their forms. Anyone with his signature is confirmed, he told the lady doing the biometrics capturing.
A man among the group could not readily remember his BVN and was asked to leave. But when he insisted that he had committed some money with the CSO, the team leader asked for his account number. With the information supplied, she was able to trace his BVN from her computer system. As our reporter and others continued to wait for their turns, some new faces kept strolling in and out of the office. Most of them were there to make inquiry or ask for a form to fill. As soon as a new face shows up in the office, the young man and the lady would repeat the complaint about the network not working. “This network issue has started again ooh. Madam, I think we need to tell them at Alausa that we cannot continue like this,” the young man said with an exaggerated sense of frustration.
“It is network,” the lady pretended to encourage him to keep on trying. “I have so many forms that we have not called for capturing but I have called Alausa and they said that it’s a general thing. Just be patient.” At that point, the young man would tell the new person to come back the following day or next week when he is sure that the network would be okay. Eager to participate in the drama, our reporter drew the attention of the young man to the fact that the CSO assured them that the network was okay. Thoroughly flustered by her attempt to contradict him, he shouted angrily: “You came here as a VIP, why not keep quiet like others? Did you hear me say that the network is affecting you own. Please, mind your business and wait for your turn.”
As if on cue, others joined him in attacking her for being so meddlesome. “Madam, what is your own?” someone asked. “Please, keep your mouth shut and stop pretending as if you don’t understand what is happening here,” another chipped in. “Please, do not let them change their mind,” the more conciliatory ones among them pleaded. In pretended obedience to their caution, counsels and appeals, our reporter quickly ate the humble pie. Minutes later, the biometrics was done and she was given a temporary slip and asked to return in two weeks.
The CSO said the same thing when she met her but added that she should pray hard that the ‘network’ does not affect it. At this point, he dropped hint of express processing. “If you have N5000, I can help you get it in less than 24 hours,” he said. “If you come here around 9am tomorrow, you will pick it up. If you are interested, indicate now so that I will include your name in the other names.” He followed this up by showing her a long list of those who patronized him that very day.
“Please, I do not have enough money with me here. Is it possible for you to go ahead, I assure you that I will pay the balance of N5000 tomorrow,” she pleaded. Determined not to lose the opportunity, the CSO suggested the amount be transferred to his account. “Let me give you my account number. You are modern woman, so don’t tell me that you don’t do mobile banking. I need to be assured that you are interested.” He followed that up with some explanation. “You see, the N5000 is not mine alone; I will send some to those guys in the bank and Alausa so that they will process it quickly. You think that I don’t settle them? It’s because they trust me to be discreet, that is why I have so many customers.” He then handed over to her a Polaris bank account number and she immediately transferred N5000 into it. Beaming with smiles after getting an alert to that effect, he collected the biometrics slip from her and assured her of getting the number the following day.
On the appointed day at about 8pm, she called the CSO to confirm if it was ready for collection. But not sure of who was calling, he said over the phone: “I have told you that network is bad. It is not in my hands, that N3,000 is just to encourage them to do your biometrics.” But halfway through, he realized his mistake and returned with apologies. “Sorry, Madam, I never knew it was you. Please come over, I even collected it yesterday night,” he said. Back at the local government area, the usual crowd was still there either waiting for a signal to go for biometrics or filling the forms with the aid of the touts. Majority of them were with children and when our reporter asked what was happening, she was told by one of the touts that there is urgent demand for the NIN as candidates now use it as a criteria to register for exams.
As soon as the CSO spotted our reporter, he hailed her and handed over to her the slip with NIMC logo and NIN on it. She asked when the plastic card would be ready. “That one is coming from Abuja and they will send you a text message whenever it is ready,” he replied. “All you need is the tracking number and you can use it for any transactions. You are lucky that I agreed to do it for you. My spirit told me that you need it. If you have other family members who are urgently in need of it, please contact me. Those touts out there will collect double the price. Take care and I wish you success.”
Endless list of applicants
With other applicants, the ‘non-VIPs’, to parody the words of the young man who attended to our reporter, it is not stories of success but tales of woes. Recounting their experiences, a young man who needed one said: “I applied for international passport and part of the requirement is my NIN. I applied at Kosofe Local Government Area and one soldier collected N10, 000 from me and as we speak, I have not been able to get the number. I confronted him and he asked me to get lost if I can’t be patient. I am talking about two weeks ago. It was my cousin that asked me to come here. As I am here, I intend to take the risk because I am desperate.” He was among those that went for the capturing in less than 30 minutes of waiting.
Next was a desperate mother who came in company of her son, an SS3 student. “My son needs to get it as soon as possible because of the new rule,” she said. “They told them that without the NIN, they wouldn’t apply for JAMB. If I knew the urgency, I would have done it a long time ago.” Told the price, the woman started pleading to have it reduced. But the CSO told her that he usually remits part of the money to the people printing the original slip. Convinced, she sat down and started filling the form on behalf of his son.
Part of the condition is that parent or guardian is expected to include their NIN to support their children document because they are under-aged. Unfortunately, the woman was not with it and while she was contemplating of going back and returning some other time, the CSO called her and told her that she is covered as long as he is the one who forwarded the information.
“I hope you have your BVN because that one is the most important,” he said to her. “Your biometrics are there; so it is very easy to confirm if you are real or not. Don’t worry, madam.” That day when our reporter came to collect her NIN, she was told that almost all those that were there the other day had picked their own.
Records show that 1.8 million candidates registered for Joint Admissions Matriculation Board’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Exams (UTME) in 2019. That figure is expected to rise next year, 2020. The West African Examination Council registered 1,590,173 candidates for the 2019 West African Senior School Certificate Examination. Over one million candidates sat for the National Examinations Council (NECO) exam in the 2019/2020 academic year. All together, about 5 million candidates sat for the public exams this year. Now that the exam bodies had made candidates’ possession of the National Identity Number, a sine qua non for registering and participating in public exams as from next year, if the scam is not stopped, many seekers believe that it is bound to turn into a multi-billion naira business sooner than later.