Director General, National Identity Management Commission, (NIMC), Engr. Aliyu Aziz, in this interview with LEADERSHIP speaks on the essence of the agency, the National Identity Database, issuance of the National Identification Number (NIN) and the General Multipurpose Card (GMPC) among others
What are the issues you met on ground when you assumed office?
I resumed office as the director-general on 24 November 2015. At that time we enrolled over seven million Nigerians into identity database and also issued 5000 general multipurpose cards, the most challenging of this was putting in place the NIMC infrastructure.
Before, the focus was on identification card, but the establishment in 2007, of the National Identity Management Commission was to among other things establish a National Identity Database, provide identity services like authentication and verification, issue unique identifier known as the National Identification Number, NIN, harmonize and integrate existing identity databases. We also cover all the data from birth to death.
The focus is to create identity among the citizen, also give government and the private organisation sector link into the database to do verification.
What is important now on the issuance of the card?
If we want to issues a card, it has to be smart card; we are set to issue a multipurpose card for use. NIMC is going to use neural technology to ensure there is no vendor lockout in the system that usually happens with this type of project.
The database security was of upmost importance in the project. We are building a trustworthy system with the legal technical and security sector to ensure there is data protection and privacy.
Recently the Federal Government approved the mandatory use of NIN effective from 1 January 2018. At what extent has NIMC deployed men and materials to rural areas?
The deadline is that we commence the ecosystem and NIMC has a data base that can be used and the equipment to do the duplication that is, to find out duplicates from the enrolment and we have built that. We also make it protected by building a lot of security behind the database. We also have more than 1000 centres nationwide where anyone can enrol. But the ecosystem is for other government agencies to commence data and we license capturing data both for the public and private sectors even when they gather a lot of crowd, they can as well get an enrolment centre and have the data sent to NIMC and get paid for it.
We are ready and very soon we will come up with an advert asking people to apply in order to get a license and by January we commence enforcement laws. This is already being implemented with passport and driver’s license. Those that have not started are the ones that need to enforce it by January as this will be effective in getting the public to enrol. Regulations and deadlines are necessary because without it people will not come out.
To a layman, what does ecosystem mean?
The ecosystem means partnership. Ecosystem is a sustainable system where any of the data collecting government agencies or licensed private agency can enrol and capture data from citizens and legal residents and send to the NIMC backend. Right now we have many government agencies collecting the same information about a person, same demographic, biological and so on. And all these are scattered and they create data protection issues and this has to be done well. With this, whenever one is going through a process the NIN number is all that is needed.
Having an ecosystem is to have a system that is sustainable to avoid continuous spending. Government has agreed to stop all these to have centralized database for identity. Other agencies can go about their job but when it comes to identity for identification, only NIN number is necessary.
What are the reactions of parents on enrolment of children?
The way the system work is, parents or guardians must have to enrol first for the identification number; because we need to identify the child with the parent’s NIN, because the biometric of the minor is not yet stabilized until the minor is 16 years old; then we do the actual biometric and separate the relationship. So far, it has been going on in developed countries, before birth certificate, one is first issued a social security number, which will be inscribed on the certificate and that is the best practice. This is not new, as it is known everywhere as the best and the availability has been the issue here in Nigeria. But the ecosystem is to ensure availability of government agencies and the private sector to capture data.
Why is it that those who register are given temporary cards and banks do not accept these?
For clarification, whatever NIMC gives is not temporary, as the word temporary is never written on it. Sister agencies which issue driver’s licence, voter’s card and others issue temporary cards before the permanent cards but in NIMC as soon as one enrols, data has been captured and the system generates transaction number then prints it. The process of checking and issuing of the number, making sure one is unique in the database without re-duplication. Right now this is being achieved within two hours. The NIM slip is printed with a number attached but with the NIN card the number is not attached. Whatever number in the card is called the document number. When the card expires, a new card is issued with a new number but the NIM number remains the same. The NIM number through the system is able to identify the card owner. These issues with banks have been resolved.
Why does NIMC emphasise on NIN instead of the card?
The full meaning of the acronym NIMC is the National Identity Management Commission and the system is National Identity Management System. I think the card aspect is vendor driven because in developed countries like the United States, social security numbers are given on a paper, same in India. And for transactions, they ask for phone numbers instead of the card. In this 21st century everything is being done electronically and this is the reason we focus more on the number to solve a problem. And we have a backlog of people who have not enrolled. This is a way of saving cost and addressing the problem of identity number and not the card. If we are able to resolve the problem in two to three years, having everybody with the number, then we may also have something. We have many private sector people who can print the card and as much as possible we want to outsource the activity and maintain the database identity of the citizen. For people who enroll and do not remember, they can use *346# on any network with a service fee of N20. This is a government service and we are very transparent. There can be minor changes for those whose marital status has changed and the minors enrolment is ongoing everywhere.
Because Nigeria is a huge country, 1000 centres are not enough when compared to other countries. The standard is 400,000 centres and this is acceptable. Individuals in most countries pay for the card because they need it but here as an oil producing country, we are used to free things.
How can NIM be used to combat corruption?
Corruption is the major problem in the country and when one travels to other countries that are developed, we understand the level of corruption in our country. For instance in the aspect of fuel subsidy one can benefit through digital account. And for those into farming, they also get to benefit .
How many Nigerians have enrolled so far and what is NIMC target in the next six month?
We track the enrolment every day. As of the 16 October, 2018, 32.5 million Nigerians records are in our database. We always give this for transparency. Every month enrolment is not more than half a million.
What is NIMC doing to secure the data?
We are 2001 certified which means every year we go through the process. Our connectivity and database are secured. Besides, our database is not online, and when it is not as Nigerians we also use what we know to utilize our language and integrate what we know others don’t like using password in our language and avoid the use of dictionary words. We follow these steps and more. The data centre is highly secured with CCTV. We also carry out processes which involve security checks on management and those in charge of the job periodically. Security is a moving tandem and at anytime we must show that we have followed the necessary steps just like the data centre. All these and more we do to ensure the security of one’s data. Technology has gone very far in ensuring all these.
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