In this interview with the Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Dr. Chris Onyemenam, the federal government’s agency behind the building of an enduring national identity system for the country, CHIMA AKWAJA delves into his humble beginnings, what drives this passion and other issues.
As a young student growing up, what was it like in your days?
Some of us did not have it that easy when we were in school in the village, but we knew that this country would be better for us. When I listened to the President’s statement on what it was like when he was going to secondary school, I marvelled. Similarly, some of us went to school very early in the morning on bicycle with our parents and then when we come back, we will go and meet our parents on the farm.
So, these experiences have a way of building in you a determination to succeed but the one that is far more interesting to me and perhaps, is the reason why I am still largely optimistic that these things will work is that I am one of those who graduated in First Class Honours. And though we went for Commonwealth Scholarship interview consecutively for five years, we never got the scholarship.
Before I graduated, I used to read on the pages of newspapers that when you made a First Class, you would win scholarship to study anywhere in the world. Those opportunities went just like that and we have seen so many of such things are no longer available.
You are so convinced about a bright future for the nation, why?
When I became a member of staff of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), I was active in policy advocacy and policy reforms, I was actively involved. I was really involved because I knew so many things had gone wrong and I was very much interested and I said to myself that if I missed these things, I wouldn’t want my children to miss them and my father used to tell me that “handicaps are opportunities, conflict moves your patience, adversity makes you face challenges” and these have not proven otherwise.
I am that kind of person who is motivated by the experience that I have had and a desire not to allow my children and their mates to suffer that kind of fate and more importantly, I believe in God. But for the Grace of God, I don’t think I will be where I am. I don’t think you will be interviewing me now.
But for the grace of God, I don’t think we would have achieved the much that we have achieved at NIMC because it has not been easy and we expect that there will still be difficulties but by the grace of God, we will overcome them.
Where are we presently on the national identity management scheme?
The identity database and the national identification cards are two components in the national identity management system.
The identity database is the system that enables us to manage the identity details of individuals focusing on a card. In terms of the infrastructure, national identity data base infrastructure, a national ID card system, a disaster recovery site, connectivity that enables you to register people and obtain their data. The system that we can use to register people from 8am and 5pm is on ground.
We just opened one office in our head office for registration. Part of the reasons I was in Lagos recently was to inspect the series of locations in the South-West. In the next few days, we will commission operational commencement of our enrolment in various locations in different states. And the expectation is that once you have replicated this in six to eight states, it would become for us to speedily open the remaining offices in the remaining states.
The plan is to make sure that before the end of the year; we are up and running in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory and in some other local government offices. We have offices in all the 774 local government areas in Nigeria.
We have offices in all the states capitals and we have an office in Abuja that is the head office of the Commission. So, we want to be present in all of these locations and we are not doing it alone. We have private sector partners and we have our concessionaires to make these happen.
When it is necessary and important to support the private sector roll-out, we would roll out because government is particular in ensuring that the project rolls out and as it takes off in such a way that by December 2013, all the people in the government agencies and the private sector would have had some reasonable database to work with. If you go to our website we have the national ID management system, how the system will work and how it will benefit individuals and the government.
We have produced a handout that contains all of these. There are ways in which this system is done, the way law enforcement is done, the way security is provided, how it will help deepen consumer credit system and how it will indeed stimulate domestic demand as well as boost local production and the Gross Domestic Product growth, which by extension will lead to economic and employment opportunities.
Essentially, what we are saying is that it will help to unlock the significant potential in the economy that currently is idle.
What are the benefits Nigerians stand to gain from a credit system?
It is possible to work into a bank and ask for facility and the bank has a way of confirming my credit-worthiness because there is national identity management system in place that the banks can rely on, that the credit bureau has relied on in creating my credit history, it makes a world of difference.
So, they know your credit-worthiness as they are able to distinguish between the politically-exposed persons (PEPs) and those who are not in that category, and so, credit administration, credit extension and in particular, consumer credit can come across ready-made.
The implication of that is that credit will ultimately drive the economy. That is what we have in Europe and in America. The second implication is that you can have access to mortgage in no way than one where we can have superior and better terms than what we have today.
You can even take that beyond these visible terms that we are talking about. If you get employed today and you want to save money with someone enough to pay rent, that is money, you could use otherwise.
So, our system is not just going to be cash-based and as tortuous as it has been because I can raise money rather than pay for two years rent because I only want to live in convenient and comfortable place. I can spend that money on some investment opportunities and that will continue to raise the level of investment funds that is available within the economy.
They might look very simple and very little but remember that little drops of whatever make an ocean. And that basically is how economies are built.
They are built on credit that is available for investment. Where the person giving the credit and the person taking it are made to do the right thing in order not to dent their credit history because the system expect you to do the right thing and that way, institutions work, the economy thrive, the employment opportunities get created and that is how it is going to be because that is how it has been in Europe, America, Singapore, Malaysia and Asia that have moved from third to first-layer economy. They didn’t do it by magic.
They did it by simply applying themselves to some level of perseverance to be able to go through these reforms but I can tell you that though it may be difficult, it is doable. We can also make it possible in Nigeria and with current level of political support by the grace of God; we are going to succeed because we have started already.
Is your registration going to be like the one recently conducted by the Nigerian Communications Commission for the SIM card registration?
Let me say that there is no point for the NCC to continue registering phone subscribers any longer once our system is put in place. At some point we are going to order them to submit the database that they have to us because they cannot continue to do that. NCC is under legal provision to surrender the data they have collected to us.
We’ll merge the ID database with the SIM registers, tax registers, voters register and so on, so that it is easy for you to understand and see the same personage in the database that we would provide.
So, in a slightly different manner we are doing what they have done. And I say in a slightly different manner because, we are still capturing just that they are not using the kind of equipment that we are using.
The equipment we are using are all forensic-based equipment. What that means is that, to a large extent, law enforcement agencies, the security agencies and in particular, the police will take maximum advantage of all these things that we are currently putting in place.