Smarting up from several failed attempts in the past, Nigeria can be said to now be on the right path to having a credible and all-encompassing national database of her citizens.
This assertion is buttressed by the ongoing efforts of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to capture biometric data of all Nigerians and issue the unique National Identification Number (NIN) for each citizen.
Unlike previous attempts where issuance of National Identity Card had always been the target, NIMC, this time, is leveraging technology at the cutting edge with the thought process that the number is the more important feature.
Thus to bequeath Nigeria a world-class identity management system, where every citizen is identified not just by a plastic card, but by a unique set of numbers that serve more purposes and which is acceptable anywhere in the world as a means of identification. As at the last count, over 30 million Nigerians have been enrolled and issued the unique identification number.
While 30 million may seem a far cry judged by the nearly 200 million population – and still counting – it behoves Nigerians to turn out in their numbers, at NIMC’s enrolment centres spread nationwide, to avail themselves the opportunity of being enrolled. After all, enrolment is free! Besides, many social and government amenities are now – or will soon – become mandatorily accessible with the presentation of a NIN.
The NIN, according to NIMC, is a non-intelligent set of eleven (11) numbers assigned to an individual upon successful enrolment and consists of the recording of an individual’s demographic data and capturing of the (10) fingerprints, head-to-shoulder facial picture and digital signature, which are all used in cross checking existing data in the National Identity Database to confirm that there is no previous entry of the same data.
The Nigerian NIN as being issued by NIMC can be likened to the United States’ Social Security or the National Insurance Number in the United Kingdom. The essentiality of the NIN explains why the national identity agency has continued its aggressive enrolment of Nigerians despite funding challenge that has slowed down printing of the physical identity cards for those already enrolled.
The director-general of NIMC, Engr. Aliyu Abubakar Aziz, recently emphasised that fact when he declared that what Nigerians need most as a means of identification is the NIN and not even the card being clamoured for by many Nigerians.
Interestingly, as stipulated by the statute that established NIMC (NIMC ACT 2007), the NIN is to be required in all transactions and services involving identification such as obtaining the National e-ID card, international passport application, opening personal bank accounts, getting a driver’s licence, obtaining Permanent Voters’ Card, participating in the National Health Insurance Scheme, payment of taxes, transactions related to contributory pension scheme, access to welfare and other relevant services from the Nigerian Government transactions with social security implications, land transactions subject to the Land Use Act, as well as any other transactions NIMC may so prescribe and list in the Federal Government Gazette.
NIMC is already engaged in harmonisation and integration of data with various other government agencies across Nigeria that deal with the various services above to ensure smooth coordination of activities.
NIMC was established by the NIMC Act No. 23 of 2007, as an offshoot of the Department of National Civic Registration (DNCR), to create, establish and maintain a Unique National Identity Database, register persons covered by the Act, assign a Unique National Identification Number (NIN), provide authentication platform for identity verification, issue General Multi-Purpose Cards (GMPC) and harmonise and integrate existing identification databases in Nigeria.
Preparatory to the enforcement of this Act, the NIMC DG has advised Nigerians and legal residents to present themselves to be enrolled for the NIN to avoid the usual rush that may arise. According to Engr. Aziz, by law and along the entire lifecycle of individuals in Nigeria, they would need to present their NIN whenever they need to be identified for any service in the country.
“In all these there’s nothing temporary about the NIN slip issued after registration,” he said, in apparent reaction to questions and enquiries in some quarters where some Nigerians had asked whether the NIN is a temporary feature while the physical electronic Identity Card is yet to be issued, and added that “the NIN is your identity and is considered more important than the card.”
Reeling out the many benefits of the NIN, Engr. Aziz said these include “one-person-one identity, enhances participation in the political process, important tool for fight against corruption and terrorism, enables citizens to exercise their rights and facilitates management of subsidies and safety net payments such as applying to Internal Displaced Persons.”
Other benefits of the NIN are that it facilitates service delivery in Ministries, Departments and Agencies; enhances the work of Law Enforcement Agencies thereby providing public safety, policing, national security and border protection, helps launder Nigeria’s image, elimination of ghost and multiple identities and enhances ability of citizens to assert their identity.
The “NIN also enhances access to credit from financial institutions, protects citizens from identity theft thereby being an antidote to identity theft driven frauds, it expands access to other financial services including insurance, it enhances e-commerce by providing a means of payment, it is a tool for non-repudiation and security for financial transactions and it facilitates financial inclusion and hence cashless economy,” he stated.
Globally, the importance of national identity to economic growth cannot be overemphasized as it has been identified as a veritable tool for sustainable development. For instance, the role identity plays is recognised formally in target 16.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which calls for providing “legal identity for all, including through birth registration” by 2030. Identification is also an enabler of many other development targets, from social protection to financial inclusion to women’s empowerment.
Identity is essential to realising political and social rights and to participate in a modern economy. Indeed, a well-functioning ID system can strengthen state capacity and reduce corruption and waste by making programmes and subsidies more effective and transparent. Effective identification, including for remote and electronic transactions, can reduce transactions costs and create economic opportunities, including for the poor.
On national security, experiences from many developed countries have shown that all security agencies rely on information from centralised identity database to perform their functions flawlessly, thus the governments place premium on identification in their budgeting plans.
That is the path NIMC is taking Nigeria through its ongoing national enrolment for NIN in the overall management of the country’s identity system. However, for the agency to succeed in this exercise, Nigerians must appreciate its numerous benefits and make themselves available for enrolment at various centres already designated across the country by the agency.
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