Those that call for biometric convergence finally have their way as the Federal Government, via the National Pension Commission (PenCom), recently directed the 8.5 million holders of Retirement Savings Account (RSA) to undergo fresh recapture exercise to link their Bank Verification Number (BVN) and National Identification Number (NIN) to their accounts.
Also the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has said that it would be linking data from the new 10-year international passport to BVN of the holders in a bid to synchronise the country’s identity management as well as assist the anti-graft fight.
The NIS Comptroller General, Mr. Muhammad Babandede, counselled: “The public is therefore advised to have one identity; one BVN number, one NIM number, and the same name and numbers must appear in all these data. We have done a lot to automate our systems. Businesses must be made easy and transparent without bottlenecks and difficulties. By this we will not issue any passport to anyone whose data doesn’t correspond to the BVN and NIM numbers” .
Babandede said the Immigration Service was committed to assisting the government achieve its Executive Order on Ease of Doing Business and that the ne passport targeted businessmen and women who travel very often for trade and commerce and who found the five-year validity passport as too short in duration of its expiry and also intimidate to their business pursuit.
It was gathered that all these are being done in compliance with the Federal Government’s directive to implement the national identity management system.
The PenCom,on its part, said: “The Federal Government of Nigeria has made it mandatory that every Nigerian must have a National Identification Number (NIN). To achieve this, all data generating organisations have been directed to harmonise their database with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), whose mandate is it to implement the National Identity system in Nigeria.
“To enable the Pension Industry comply, the National Pension Commission has directed all Pension fund administrators to update the records of their clients.
“Consequently, all retirement savings account holders, both active and retired, are hereby advised to approach their PFAs to provide their NINs and Bank Verification Numbers, as well as other mandatory biodata information.”
Non-compliance to this directive, according to the Pension Fund Operators Association of Nigeria (PenOP), means that RSA holders will be unable to access their contributions.
The BVN is a biometric identification system implemented by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to curb or reduce illegal banking transactions in Nigeria. It is a modern security measure in line with the CBN Act 1958 to reduce fraud in the banking system.The system works by recording fingerprints and a facial photograph of the client.
The BVN was among the data mined by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) between 2017 and 2018 to prosecute its tax amnesty programme, the Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS).
Just five months into the nine-month grace period given to Nigerians to do the needful, the scheme was said to have yielded close to N17 billion then. Thanks to “the inter-agency cooperation, which provided information from Bank Verification Number (BVN), Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), state Land Registries, FIRS, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS), National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), among others, to create an accurate financial profile of Nigeria’s taxpayers,” said Kemi Adeosun, the then Finance Minister.
Babatunde Fowler, the FIRS Chairman, on his part, added that VAIDS generated N16.9 billion at the end of 2017.
However, Nigerians expressed anger over with proliferation of biometric exercises by many government agencies, which prompted their call for convergence. They had reasoned that no civilised country collects the biometrics of its citizens the way we do in Nigeria. They beleived that it is mainly foreigners, immigrants and suspected or convicted criminals that have their biometrics taken compulsorily. “For instance, US and UK passports and driving licences are issued without any biometrics. You don’t need a biometric card to vote.
“You use a pen or punch a hole to vote for your choice on the ballot. It is a measure of lack of respect for the fundamental rights of Nigerians that makes the government and its agents invade their privacy in search of their fingerprints at the slightest opportunity”, said Mr Simon Kolawole, the publisher of The Cable online newspaper, in his article: May Nigerians not Die of Biometric Overdose.
He added: “Even if we have to do fingerprinting in Nigeria, we cannot be doing it indiscriminately. The stated idea behind the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is that it will be a central bank for our IDs. That is a good idea, I admit. But why then are we still compelled to dish out fingerprints in the name of BVN, voter registration, international passport, driving licence, pensions, IPPS, etc? Is it not the same fingers? Is it not the same country? Is it not the same government and its agents collecting the fingerprints? Would there ever be an end to this biometric binge? Someone would soon package a billion-dollar proposal for PHCN to take the biometrics of its customers!
“Since we have been doing biometrics, what have we gained? Countries that collect these data use them to fight crime by matching fingerprints and DNAs.
“In 1891, Juan Vucetich, a Croatian-born Argentine anthropologist and police official, pioneered the use of fingerprint to profile criminals in Argentina. To the best of my knowledge, we are just gathering fingerprints, like medals, in Nigeria with no scientific use. The Nigeria Police Force did not have a modern forensic lab the last time I checked. A stolen car is recovered but there is no forensic analysis to trace the criminals. Yet an average Nigerian criminal has given a fingerprint to get a driving licence or BVN.”
He advised: “How can we use the database to serve Nigerians? India’s Aadhaar is the world’s largest biometric and demographic database. Unique identification numbers are assigned to Indians for life to enable them securely receive government retail service, such as foodgrains, kerosene and cooking gas. Although enrolment is voluntary, but with all the benefits attached, who would not want to be part of it?
Over 900 million Indians have been enrolled for the programme. In Nigeria, we just donate biometrics for nothing. There are no benefits, apart from maybe the new friends you made while queuing in the sun to “ples ya hand”.
At the risk of getting my fingers burnt, I insist that the time has come for us to put an end to compulsory biometrics. The ones we have given are enough for government and its agents to do whatever they want to do. Also, the police must set up a modern forensic lab to make use of this massive database to fight crime. Most importantly, government now has enough information on Nigerians so it can deliver its welfare programmes directly to the people. A good and useable database will deal with the sticky fingers as well as the other criminals in our midst. We must, therefore, not let this golden opportunity slip through our fingers”.