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National identity management fatigue

Post-Independence Nigeria has struggled with the issue of identity and accurate census. Since the rebirth of democracy in 1999, the nation has gone through several identity motions, all amounting to zilch, the worst being the national ID card project midwifed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo government. That project was powered by a French company, Sagem, but it failed. Not only did it fail, it was a festering ground for sleaze and under-hand deals involving top politicians.

At the end, the project failed to capture the identity of eligible Nigerians. Besides, it entered the growing national archive of infamy not just as a failed project but one that brought the nation to global ridicule. In recent years, several agencies and organisations, public and private, have made fitful attempts at capturing the true identity of Nigerians but such efforts remain discrete and uncoordinated hence cannot fittingly be profiled as a national databank of Nigerians.

All of these previous attempts were aimed chiefly at issuing identity cards to Nigerians or merely having their biometrics locked up in the chambers and vulnerable vaults of the various agencies. But the jinx appears to be broken, well, almost. The President Goodluck Jonathan government through an Act of Parliament implemented a national identity management project. The project was first conceived in 2007 after the Sagem debacle. The responsibility of implementing the project was placed on the shoulder of the leadership of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).The process, unlike the previous ones, is unobtrusive and largely technology-driven thus leaving very limited or no room for human manipulation. Unlike previous identity exercises, the NIMC project carries the force of law and has in-built redundancy and safety valves that guarantee the effective storage and protection of the database. This makes it reliable, verifiable and dependable.

NIMC is a strategic agency and its activity is critical for proper national planning. Unlike many other data-capturing processes including the ones conducted by telecom firms, the NIMC data management system remains the most reliable biometric capturing exercise undertaken by any Nigerian government. The process of registration has remained largely diligent and painstaking such that any data captured is the true details of the person (s). Besides, NIMC is backed by an Act of Parliament to discharge the duty of capturing the data of only Nigerian citizens, not just any person resident in Nigeria.

A brief encounter with Aliyu Aziz, the Director General of the Commission recently brought to the fore the pains and aches of a critical but neglected agency. NIMC is indeed a neglected agency; almost abandoned by the same Federal Government that set it up. The commission is struggling, merely dragging itself on the floor encumbered by myriad challenges. Poor power supply, poor staff motivation, lack of funds and inadequate equipment to drive the operations of the commission are just a few of the multitude of the challenges that dog its operations. And with these has come low staff morale. Most NIMC offices across the nation are shadows of what an office should really be and you wonder how the staff are ever motivated to come to work; you wonder how genuine productivity would be achieved under such drab and dehumanizing work environment with horrendously poor ergonomics. Some NIMC offices in some states are not connected to the national grid; meaning they are cut off from the nation’s meagre power supply system. Add to that the fact that NIMC is so starved of funds that it cannot guarantee steady supply of diesel for its operations in these states. The image you get is an office that is not truly an office; that’s what NIMC is.

Perhaps, aside the head office in Abuja, no NIMC office in the states excites you, either to visit and get your details captured as a citizen or to report to duty as a staff of the commission. Attempt by the management of the commission to spread out its operational offices and bring them nearer to the people, though a good and brilliant strategy, has not helped matters. Some of the offices look like sties, a place only just good enough to house pigs: makeshift, dour and dirty. Seriously NIMC needs help. It needs funding to get it going. Public enlightenment on why people should get registered is key. Such enlightenment can only be effective if it is in at least the major languages in the country besides pidgin and standard English. There is low public awareness about the operations of NIMC. At the moment, only the elite and semi-literate form the bulk of persons who have registered. The recent directive that no Nigerian would be issued international passport without a National Identity Number (NIN) remains yet another elitist strategy. How many Nigerians ever owned or will ever own an international passport? The poor in the cities and the huge crowd of peasants in the rural communes do not care about passport; in fact they don’t need it so they are not covered under the ‘no NIN, no passport’ directive.

Again, you wonder: are we really serious as a nation? When Nigeria conducts census, the final results are usually contentious because, from experience, the censuses are usually censored. In a household of just eight persons, the census officials may enter 15 persons. No data is captured, no fingerprint; no facial capture; in some cases the persons being numbered as members of the household are not physically present. They may not even be in existence. Such is the grand deception we call census and which has formed the basis of resource-sharing and other national management decisions. The national identity card project, as it is currently configured therefore offers the most reliable demographic data that captures the nation’s population, its characteristics, statistics and other qualities that would help track a more realistic population of the most populous black nation on earth.

Just 809 NIN enrolment centres across the 36 states of the federation are not enough to cover the country and bring the service closer to the people. It is almost an equivalent of one NIN enrolment centre to one local government. It means people will have to spend their own money to travel to register at a centre closest to them. If Nigerians do not file out to vote ( a civic duty) in a polling unit in front of their homes, you expect the same people to journey (spend their own money on fuel and transport fare) just to get a NIN? Our average patriotism quotient and sense of civic responsibility do not lend much to such.  The result is that since the new dawn of NIN registration, only 18.5 million Nigerians have been captured. Only about 1.2 million national e-ID cards have been produced and the commission is pushing to up the number of registered Nigerians to 28 million by the end of this year.

If the Nigerian government is serious about knowing and keeping a database of authentic Nigerians, not persons living in Nigeria, it must make NIMC effective by providing the commission with the right funding so it can procure adequate tools, shore up the morale of its workers, embark on a blitz of public enlightenment and create more offices nationwide. You do not fight a war with bare knuckles; that’s what NIMC is doing. The commission is under-staffed, under-funded and lacks widespread presence to achieve its critical goals.

The government must prioritise what it wants. A serious nation that must plan for her citizens must have reliable data of who the citizens are; how many they are and their age demographics. This is what NIMC offers, unlike any other data-capturing exercise from FRSC to telecom companies and banks all of which captures any person living or doing business in Nigeria. In the case of NIMC, funding is key. The commission is fatigued so are the people it was supposed to capture their data and even worse yet, the staff. Something has got to change!

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This post was syndicated from The Sun News. Click here to read the full text on the original website.

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