By Chinenye Anuforo
“The 21st century demands that we utilise creative and innovative, efficient and empathetic approaches to address issues of this nature,”says Mr. Jide Awe, an ICT guru, while x-raying the ongoing process of linking subscribers’ NIN with their SIM
According to him, “the present NIN registration processes are not delivering as required, as evidenced by inconclusive registration as well as bottlenecks, inefficiency, unfriendly and unethical practices. What people go through to register in some centers is better imagined.”
This shows that directive of the Federal Government to ensure every Nigerian obtains a National Identification Number (NIN) has been greeted by a lot of displeasures.
Although the process caught the attention of Nigerians because of the deadline pegged on it but a huge number of the population have continued to complain about the inefficiencies hindering the whole process.
The coming of the digital age caused a shift to digital identities. The World Bank stated that digital identities could improve efficiency and transparency across all sectors for governments and citizens.
There are a lot of purposes for which the biometrically verifiable eleven-digit ID number will be required, according to the NIMC.
The NIN will be required for obtaining the national e-ID card; for acquisition of travel documents such as passports; when opening a personal bank account; establishing a driver’s licence; obtaining the permanent voter’s car’; participating in the national health insurance scheme; payment of taxes; transactions related to the contributory pension scheme; having access to welfare and other services from government; transactions with social security implications and all land matters subject to the Land Use Act.
Experts are of the opinion that a digital ID will help save the country some foreign exchange, check a number of internal security challenges. For instance, the Senior Special Assistant on New Media to President Muhammadu Buhari, Bashir Ahmad, said the linkage is being done for security purposes. According to him, government believes that harmonising all phone numbers through the NIN will help curb rising cases of terrorism and banditry because most of the bad guys would have no option but to link their phone lines to the NIN or lose their numbers.”This will definitely help to curtail and checkmate the lingering security challenges in some parts of the country,” he stated. Aside this, the exercise is billed to alsoe encourage access to financial services as well as build investor confidence in the country’s unstable economy.
“Digital ID coverage could unlock economic value equivalent to seven per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2030 in the adoption and its usage. This would in turn positively impact the Gross National Product (GNP) which is the value of what Nigerians earn in-country and abroad because there is reliable data to drive economic decisions,” they said.
The United Nations (UN) and World Bank ID4D initiatives set a goal of providing everyone on the planet with a legal identity by 2030.
So far numerous new national e-ID programmes (including card and mobile-based schemes and unrelated to ID2020) have been launched or initiated.
Examples of such projects are in Algeria, Belgium (mobile ID), Cameroon, Ecuador, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Italy, Japan, Senegal, Thailand, Turkey, Afghanistan, Denmark, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, and the Maldives.
In Nigeria on December 15, 2020, the Federal Government declared that after December 30, 2020, all SIMs that were not registered with valid NINs on the network of telecommunications companies would be blocked. It later extended the deadline following widespread opposition against the earlier announcement and gave three weeks’ extension for subscribers with NIN from December 30, 2020, to January 19, 2021.
It also gave six weeks’ extension for subscribers without NIN from December 30, 2020, to February 9, 2021.
However, before the January deadline, many telephone users and organisations called for a further deadline extension or outright suspension of the NIN registration process due to the large number of people that are yet to get their NINs.
At the expiration of the January 19 deadline, Nigerians went into panic mode, following the consistent statements by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Ibrahim Pantami and National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) that those who didn’t meet the deadline will be blocked.
Last week, the federal government yielded to the cry of the people by suspending the blockage of lines of the January 19 deadline defaulters to February 09, 2021.
Recall that, it was disclosed a total of 47.8 million National Identification Numbers have been collected by the mobile operators according to the Technical Implementation Committee under the Ministerial Task Force.
The Committee said that an average of 3 to 4 SIMs was registered per subscriber, this means many millions will be linked up before the deadline in February 2021.
Reacting to the report, the Minister expressed satisfaction with development commendaing the achievement even as he extended the Federal Government’s appreciation for the commitment demonstrated by all stakeholders and citizens and urged them to submit their NINs before February 9, 2021 deadline
The Minister tasked the technical team to fast-track the processes so that the project is delivered soonest.
The Minister also urged Nigerians to secure and protect their NINs, urging subscribers to desist from selling their NINs or allowing others to use their NINs for registration. “For any action committed with the SIM good or bad it will be officially traced and attached to the NIN owner”, the Minister warned.
He also encouraged foreign diplomat to do their own registration.
The enrolment of the diplomats started on January 18, 2021 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But, Nigerians have continued to fault this directive. Following their complaints Daily Sun investigated the process. Investigations showed that NIMC was very unprepared for the process as it lacked the capacity to attend to the number of intending enrollees who now besiege their offices on a daily basis.
Aside from long delays at the centres as a result of malfunctioning machines and limited staff, lack of networks, some enrolled alleged extortion and other sharp practices by the staff of the Commission.
For instance, Mr. Friday Okwara, that spoke to Daily Sun, said that the crowd at the registration centres are overwhelming. “I have been to three different centres and have not succeeded in updating my NIN. I think the government should extend the deadline and also employ more hands to ease the stress on the subscribers who wake up as early as possible to cue at the centres to ensure thay are registered”.
He said that, government said the registration is free but in one of the centres he visited, he was asked to pay N5000 to do the registration urging the government to fish out those using the opportunity to defraud Nigerians.
Also, at a visit to some of the centres, this reporter discovered touts were also taking advantage of the inefficiency of the Commission to feed fat on people who don’t have the patient of the long process of the registration
Specifically, at NIMC Centre in Oriade Local Government in Satellite town, Lagos, there were a lot of enrollees crowded at the gate of LG. Attempt to get access into the premises proved abortive as the crowd was overwhelming.
Questioning some of the enrollees, some disclosed they have been there as early as 5 am for two consecutive days yet have not been able to succeed. A lady who identified herself as Tola Jacobs said she even downloaded the form unloaded by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy on his verified twitter handle, filled it and took it along to the centre to hasten the process of registration but to her astonishment the form was rejected without any satisfactory reasons. “With this, I know that these people just enjoy punishing the masses because I later took their own form with a token, which is the same thing as the one I have”, she said.
Visit to two other NIMC Centre s exposed more of the agency’s ill prepared for the process as this reporter could not gain access to the premises of the registration but met crowd at the surroundings of the centres. Some of who claimed they have been there for days and weeks without succeeding in getting registered.
Reports also showed that another reason why the NIMC Centres are crowded was that majority of the agents that were licensed to commence the enrolment exercise for the NIN are yet to begin enrolment, despite the deadline given by the federal government.
The development is mounting pressure on existing enrolment centres that are currently being managed by the NIMC.
Government went further to license 200 enrolment agents in order to assist NIMC fast-track the enrolment exercise and meet up with the deadline.
However the licensed agents were yet to commence operations, one month after.
The Federal Government approved the licensing of 173 agents and 30 state governments/public sector institutions to conduct enrolment of all persons, including legal residents into the national identity database of the the National Identity Management Commission on behalf of NIMC.
The approval, which was given in different categories, included all telecoms operators and private companies, and they are expected to commence enrollment into the NIMC database.
Head of Communications at NIMC, Mr. Kayode Adegoke who confirmed the licensing of the agents, said they have been mandated to commence registration immediately.
The inability of licensed agents to commence enrolment, has put additional pressure on the existing NIMC’s enrolment centres nationwide therefore the crowds.
Reacting to the development, Jide Awe, an ICT guru pointed out that the present NIN registration processes are not delivering as required, as evidenced by large numbers registered so far, inconclusive registration as well as bottlenecks, inefficiency, people-unfriendly and unethical practices. What people go through to register in some centers is better imagined.
The situation therefore needs to improve drastically in terms of capacity and processes to achieve mass acquisition of NIN. This is considering the massive size of active telephone subscribers in Nigeria.
He also urged the government to reconsider its threat of blocking those that defaulted. He said, “In the digital age, blocking SIM cards will hurt the growth of critical aspects of the digital economy – ecommerce, Fintech, digital education, digital health, digital agriculture, etc. Many people already have their numbers connected to their digital wallets, bank accounts and other digital applications. Should we be reversing the growth in digital practices and activities, and hindering digital inclusion at this time? When we should be preparing for the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution? Technology enables speed, relevance and growth. It is fundamental to the new normal, Post-CoVID era.”
The ICT guru suggested an innovative approach would be to explore the use of BVN. Linking BVN to SIM cards. “Why not rethink the present NIN process using BVN, innovative improvements, online platforms, etc? Change from the banning and blocking approach.”
“Furthermore, innovative thinking and approaches are required. The 21st century demands that we utilise creative and innovative, efficient and empathetic approaches to address issues of this nature. It is particularly critical in view of NCDC’s warning on the onset of the second wave of COVID in Nigeria. “
On his own part, President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS), Deolu Ogunbanjo, urged the Federal Government to still extend the registration as the nation is still in the process of controlling the spread of the Corona Virus, with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) warning recently that the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic may be an inevitable due to a sharp increase in the number of cases across the country. In line with recommended preventive measures to reduce the risk of spread in the country, crowded events and activities must be limited.
He said that under five years, NIMC was able to register only 25 per cent of the population and what magic would be performing to register the remaining 75 per cent under two months.