The plan by the Federal Government to commence the implementation of the mandatory usage of the National Identity Number (NIN) in the provision of social services for all Nigerians as from January 1, this year, is apparently a step in the right direction, but we think that certain things ought to be done before the scheme fully takes off. It is sad that many Nigerians are yet to be captured under the scheme. Even many of those already captured in the scheme are yet to get their identity cards many years after. However, in announcing the commencement of the scheme, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) said the exercise was in line with government’s directive on identity management in the country. To this effect, the government has directed all federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that take records of personnel and provide services requiring the identification of a person, shall from January 1, 2019 mandatorily demand the NIN from citizens to offer any of such services. However, it said that no one shall be denied any government services on account of not having the NIN.
There is no doubt that the implementation of the national identity programme will bring forth statistics that will aid economic planning and development. In countries where the identity management scheme has been adequately implemented, it has helped them to determine the exact number of their population.
With these critical data, economic planning will become more effective for the nation. The present arrangement where so many government agencies collect data of citizens is not helpful. A central agency such as NIN would have been adequately empowered to be in charge of such useful data that other agencies can refer to when needed. If well organised, NIN ought to be in a position to have a comprehensive data of all citizens so far captured in its scheme. Lack of adequate statistics of the nation’s population has made national planning an arduous task for many decades. For the purpose of government planning and provision of services to citizens, tracking crimes and sundry security matters, the NIN is invaluable. Unfortunately, there are issues yet to be addressed before NIN can be effectively implemented. NIN has been saddled with the challenge of inadequate funding. Since its inception in 2007, NIN has reportedly not been well-funded to carry out its functions effectively. Its inability to issue identity cards to those already registered in the scheme is not helpful at all. In the over ten years of the scheme, we doubt if a third of the nation’s 200 million population has been covered in the scheme. There is also the duplication of the identity management scheme by many government agencies. Therefore, there is urgent need to harmonise the collection of almost the same data from citizens by many government agencies. NIN can act as one-stop shop for other government agencies that need such information such as the Federal Road Safety Commission, the Corporate Affairs Commission, the Nigerian Communications Commission, banks and others. Let the NIMC begin now to register every Nigerian citizen into the scheme and issue them their identification cards. Otherwise, we would advise the government and the NIMC that no matter how laudable the implementation of the scheme may seem, it would be better to suspend it in the meantime until those already registered in the scheme are given their identity cards. There is also the fear that some citizens may be denied social services on account of non-possession of the NIN even though government has advised against such practice. For the NIMC to achieve its objective, it needs the commitment of the government in terms of funding and the cooperation of sister agencies, so that we can have a reliable national data clearing house for effective national planning and development.