The bane of good governance in Nigeria is often that those in authority act before they plan. A pointer to this misnomer in public administration in the country is the recent twists and turns that have characterised the federal government’s directive to the citizens to synchronise their SIM cards with the National Identity Number (NIN)
First, it sets the deadline for December 30, 2020 and later extended it to January and February 2021 for different categories of subscribers. This directive was contained in a statement issued by the National Task Force on NIN and SIM registration. Under the plan, the government approved three weeks’ extension for subscribers with NIN from December 30, 2020 to January 19, 2021 and six weeks for subscribers without NIN from December 30, 2020 to February 9, 2021.
Apparently thinking that the extension is adequate, the task force said that it was done to save Nigerians from the problems associated with the earlier time frame.
The government’s policy requires mobile network subscribers to update their SIM registration with a valid NIN, which compelled Nigerians to troop to National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) enrolment centres that are grossly inadequate and ill-equipped.
Going by what obtains in NIMC offices and the telecom companies which are working together to achieve this goal, the deadlines, in our thinking as a newspaper, are not realistic and attainable.
This assertion is hinged on the huge number of Nigerians who want to harmonise their SIM with NIN while another is waiting to register afresh for both NIN and SIM. Besides, the offices of NIMC nationwide and those of the telecoms are insignificant to cope with the demand for both fresh registration and harmonisation of SIM and NIN by those already registered.
Proof of this is the crash of the website of NIMC when subjected to pressure by demand for its services by Nigerians. Similarly, the second wave of COVID-19 and the new guidelines issued by the federal government, which placed the country under a partial lockdown, in our view, demand that a more feasible time line be set for the conclusion of the twin exercises.
We note that the January and February deadlines were set when Nigerians had prepared and travelled for the Christmas and New Year celebrations, which have taken most citizens outside their places of abode.
Added to this, is the near absence of NIMC offices outside local government secretariats in the country, which most Nigerians, especially in the rural areas, cannot access with ease. The agents reportedly approved by the government to ease the exercise, are nowhere to be found.
Another dimension was added to the current challenges by NIMC when it announced that based on the huge demand for the NIN coupled with a large crowd visiting its enrolment centres nationwide, it had adopted a booking system for NIN enrolment.
The new directive came on Tuesday in a statement issued by the commission. According to the commission, the measure among others is to contain the spread of COVID-19.
NIMC said that effective December 30, 2020, attending to applicants would be based on a booking system. It directed applicants to visit any of the NIMC offices closest to them during the stipulated business hours from 9 am to 1 pm. However, this arrangement has been in place since February 4, 2020, it has not achieved the desire goals as applicants had continued to spend most of their precious time in the overcrowded NIMC offices, a situation the new deadline has compounded.
In this revisited arrangement, NIMC said that applicant’s personal information would be collected for the sole purpose of scheduling an enrolment appointment and urged subscribers not to include any personal information other than what is required in the booking register.
It said that once admitted into the office, a number-issuing queue management system will be in place to ensure orderliness and strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols.
As laudable and plausible as this arrangement seem, this newspaper strongly believes that the number of NIN applicants is too large for it to address. The authorities should consider the problem of infrastructure in its offices in the local government areas, where power is unstable. Asking Nigerians who have to travel to places where such offices are to first book before they are given a date is an added cost to them. Coming at a time when certain categories of workers have been directed to stay at home because of the COVID-19 upsurge and when they have spent their disposable income on the Yuletide celebration, the most thinkable thing to do is to extend the deadline by at least six months.
In our considered view, the booking system could give room to manipulation and other fraudulent activities, where only the highest bidder can get prompt service.
The call for more time will enable NIMC to upgrade its crashed website to meet with the increasing demand for its services and to deploy more personnel and equipment to its offices across the country.
The current rush for both NIN harmonisation and SIM registration, to us, is needless, As a continuous national exercise, we urge the government to extend it by six months to save Nigerians from the current ordeal.