Special Features: National Identification: Is January1, 2019, a feasible date?

Special Features: National Identification: Is January1, 2019, a feasible date?

The Federal Executive Council’s recently approved the immediate implementation of a strategic roadmap for “digital identity ecosystem” in Nigeria. Following from that, the Federal Government announced the enforcement of the mandatory use of National Identification Number, NIN, by all Nigerians come January 1, 2019. Giving the nearness of date, Assistant Editor, CHINWE MADUAGWU, in this report examines whether the necessary steps have been taken by the government to ensure Nigerians get the card before the deadline.

The Federal Government recently announced that the enforcement of the mandatory use of National Identification Number, NIN, by all Nigerians might come into full implementation from January 1, 2019, less than three months away.

That pronouncement was said to have arisen following the Federal Executive Council’s approval of the immediate implementation of a strategic roadmap for “digital identity ecosystem” in Nigeria.

The digital identity ecosystem is a framework that leverages on the existing capabilities and infrastructure of distinct government agencies and private sector organisations to carry out enrolment of Nigerians and legal residents into the national identity database. The framework will also allow issuance of digital identity, known as National Identification Number, NIN, to all Nigerians to give the country a credible and robust identity management system.

The National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, said the approval of the identity ecosystem by FEC would permit the full implementation of the provisions of the NIMC Act 23, 2007. The provisions of the Act include the enforcement of the mandatory use of the NIN by January 1, 2019, and the application of appropriate sanctions and penalties on defaulters as provided under Section 28 of the NIMC Act and Regulations.

Director-General/CEO of NIMC, Aliyu Aziz, said the approval of the strategic roadmap for the identity ecosystem for Nigeria was in line with the Federal Government’s efforts to reposition the country’s status in the global economy.

Simply put, come January 1, 2019, Nigerians must use the National ID Card or the number on the card as the means of identification. Failure to own one or perhaps show one on request attracts a penalty or punishment.

The idea of a national identity card is by all means welcome. But there are questions that need to be addressed before the government can insist on a date as close as January 1, as take off for compulsory use of the card. Chief among the questions is, has the government put in place the mechanism or system that would afford all those who are yet to get their cards the opportunity to do so without much pain? Has Nigerians been sufficiently educated on the need to have the ID Card? Does the government know the number of people that it would have to attend to between now and December 31? These, of course, are some of the posers that must be looked into.

A survey by The Next Edition revealed that a sizeable number of people presently do not have the ID Card. Some are in the system and have been waiting to collect for years; some have not bothered to register because of the cumbersome process involved while some have no idea what the National ID Card is all about.

Gbenga, a mechanic, is among the number who do not know about the ID Card and how to go about getting it. He told the Next Edition in Pidgin English; “I don’t know about the one you are talking about. I registered to vote and I have the card. I don’t have any other card.”

At the garage where he works with about 10 other mechanics, not one among them had the card, nor knew how to go about getting it, nor that it would become the superior means of identification come January 1, 2019. A few though, admitted hearing about it but didn’t think they needed it.

Mr. Muyiwa Akintunde, a Public Relations Consultant, believes the government should not be in a hurry to fix a compulsory take off date for such a project. “Even if the latest technology and infrastructure were to be deployed, it is not feasible to register and issue identity cards to over 150 million citizens within four months. The pronouncement will only create room for chaos and perhaps fuel corruption as people get desperate to have it at all costs,” he says.

Looking also at the process of getting the ID Card, he lamented the tiresome procedure as he shares his personal experience. “In this age of technology and with the massive fund committed to the scheme, it should have been possible for registration to be largely completed online to avoid the bottleneck in the NIMC offices.

“Only recently, NIMC partnered with some estates to have registration centres in their localities. I tried to explore the one in Magodo GRA in Lagos where I work only to be told that the officials dedicated only two weekends for the exercise contrary to the initial arrangement to also have the registration on two weekends and two Mondays so as to capture those who only work in the estate!”

According to him, NIMC should focus on making registration easy rather than issue threats at this stage.

Mr. Dominic Umosen, a blogger, says he registered for the card in February 2014. More than four years down the line, he is still waiting to receive the card. He lamented to the Next Edition; “Imagine me that registered since Feb. 2014 and I’m yet to be attended to/provided a card. This government is a mixture of lawlessness and ineptitude. Otherwise, they would have known that making the card a superior form of identification without providing it to those who are interested is stupid.”

Mr. Tompra Abarowei, a Media Consultant, also finds himself in the same boat. He told The Next Edition; “Recently, Nigerians woke up to the news that beginning from January 2019, the national ID card would become the superior means of identification in Nigeria and those who do not have it would be liable to some punishment.

“Immediately I heard the story I said to myself ‘here we go again’. When will the government stop giving Nigerians stress in addition to the economic difficulties we are facing?

“For quite some time now most Nigerians have been trying to navigate the difficult challenges of socio-economic conditions of present day Nigeria. With this additional burden we are being forced to face another round of difficulties by a group of Nigerians who take delight in punishing us unnecessarily. I say ‘punishing’ because this is what it will eventually turn into.

“I have a firsthand experience. When I decided to do my registration for the National ID in February this year I approached one of the mobile centers in Lagos. I filled the application form alongside my passport photograph, waited for three months before I received an approval to proceed to the next stage.

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“This is where the real rigmarole started. Armed with my approved document for the biometric capture, first, I went to the Armed Forces Resettlement Center, one of the places designated for the biometric exercise. On getting there I was told to come back in three months’ time. I left there and went to the National Population Office at Ikeja. At noon when I got there from Ejigbo I met scores of people who said they had been waiting for hours to be captured on the biometric system. After a while a senior official at the agency appeared to inform us that the system was down. She advised us to check back the following day. I was frustrated. But because I was determined to get the National ID I went back to the Armed Forces Resettlement Center in Ikeja after one month.

“When I got there I was lucky to get my biometric data done as well as the capture. I then asked for the printout of the temporary National ID, what I got was a handwritten note which they said I could use to track when the ID card would be ready. This was about three months ago. So when I heard the government’s announcement I laughed because it would not be possible for most Nigerians to fulfill the condition before the end of the year.”

Mr. Abarowei appreciates the idea behind the scheme but insists it must not become a source of misery for Nigerians. “When the government decided to embark on the National Identity Scheme some ten years ago, Nigerians felt that indeed it was the best policy for us to differentiate real Nigerians from foreign nationals who often times disguise as Nigerians to commit crimes and also make it impossible for the government to implement policies that could impart positively on the lives of Nigerians.

“The scheme started off seamlessly for some years before the government started to have fund issues with the operations of agency saddled with the responsibility of capturing our data for the National ID card scheme. As it is, I do not see how the government will be able to get all Nigerians registered before their deadline. It will be unfair for people to be punished for their inability to get registered and be issued a National ID before January 1, 2019,” he said.

For Mr. Toye Fawole, the experience is the same. Hear him, “I applied in November 2015. In the next few weeks, it will be exactly three years. What the NIMC has only been able to give me is a Billboard kind of paper they call the National Identification Number Slip (NINS). There are, possibly, millions of people who applied before me and are still waiting. Getting the National ID Card is too Herculean.

“Setting January as deadline will only allow manipulators and scammers to set about faking the process. I guess the operators running that system need to be gingered up.”

Some, of course, are luckier than others.

The Next Edition was at the Alausa, Ikeja, office of NIMC to see firsthand how the process was going giving that time was running out. As at 12noon, when our correspondent got to the office, nothing was happening.

People were sitting in clusters gisting, agitating or plan listless. Some of them said they had been there as early as 7 a.m.

The list of those for collection of cards was over three hundred. Those for capture were equally as many.

One of the officials who spoke to the Next Edition under anonymity said they couldn’t work because there was no power. He said people had the option of waiting or going and repeating the next day as he could not guarantee when power would be restored.

It is said that what is worth doing is worth doing well. The idea of a national identity card cannot be faulted. But the government must put in place a system that makes it possible for people to work into the office of NIMC or any designated place, perhaps at the local government or even state liaison offices to register and pick up their cards.

It should also be possible for people as they attain the age of adulthood to be able to obtain the national identity card. The fire brigade approach is never the best.

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