Aliyu Abubakar Aziz, an engineer, is the Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC). In this interview with SAMSON AKINTARO, he speaks on the importance of National Identification Number (NIN) and the Commission’s efforts to create a credible national database for economic development. Excepts:
Many Nigerians who have enrolled in the on-going identification exercise are complaining about not getting the card, but only the National Identification Number, after years of enrolment. Why is NIMC pushing NIN now more than the ID card?
The focus of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) for the next three to five years is on the National Identification Number and not on the National e-ID Card. We want to make the NIN understandable, acceptable, applicable and appreciated by Nigerians, as an important and intrinsic aspect of their entire life, rather than a physical card, which can be discarded while the number is for life.
Currently, we were focused on the card, but after the country went into recession, we decided to emulate other developed countries such as the United States, which issues the Social Security Number, the United Kingdom, with the National Insurance Number and India, where they recently enrolled about 1.4 billion people, and issued them the Aadhaar. In all these cases, the emphasis –or perhaps I should say the only thing in focus – is the number. However, this does not mean that we won’t issue the cards, because it is there in our Act (NIMC Act, 2007) that we should issue a general multipurpose card to all registered Nigerians, therefore, we recently gazette some regulations that will ensure participation of private partners in the card personalisation services in order to handle the printing of the outstanding cards, but funding is a challenge.
Also, the intention of the Commission is to develop the identity ecosystem with all data collecting government agencies and licensed private agencies, in order to capture additional 50 million records by the end of 2018.
In the absence of the physical ID card, what can Nigerians do with the number?
Pursuant to section 27 (1) and (2) of the NIMC Act, 2007, transactions, including applications for and issuance of an International Passport; opening of individual and/or group bank accounts, all consumer credits; purchase of insurance policies; the purchase, transfer and registration of land by any individual; National Health Insurance Scheme, such transactions that have social security implications, registration of voters, payment of taxes, and pensions, etc., will be done with the NIN.
With the recent gazette and publication of the Mandatory Use of the National Identification Number (NIN) Regulations, 2017, the Commission will, on a later date, begin enforcement of the NIN for these transactions and more. Our advice to Nigerians is: do not wait till you have to, go out there and be enrolled before you have to through enforcement, because then you will have to experience crowds and delays.
Aside the government transactions mentioned, what advantages, if any, does having the NIN confer on a citizen?
The NIN bequeaths citizens with a lot of privileges and benefits. And, like most modern economies where the national identity number is a national token that gives citizens access to government’s social interventions, NIN also grants citizens certain rights as regards financial access, credit facilities etc. Mind you, in the case of the US, UK and India I mentioned earlier, like other advanced economies, a citizen can’t access any social services such as health, insurance and so on, without the requisite social security number; the number is indispensable. So, here in Nigeria, the NIN facilitates interactions between citizens, government and private sector institutions thereby promoting socio-economic and political development.
Since citizens enjoy a “one-person-one-identity” for life, NIN therefore enhances citizens’ participation in the political process, enables citizens to exercise their rights, facilitates management of subsidies and safety net payments, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) management and facilitates service delivery in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). It also enhances the work of law enforcement agencies, such as public safety, policing, national security and border protection, and eliminates ghost and multiple identities, among others. Besides, it enhances the ability of citizens to assert their identity, have access to credit from financial institutions, protect citizens from identity theft – an antidote to identity theft driven frauds, which expands access to other financial services, including insurance.
NIN enhances e-commerce by providing a means of payment, as it is a tool for non-repudiation and security for financial transactions. It facilitates financial inclusion, hence the advancement of a cashless economy. In security circles, NIN is an important tool for the fight against corruption and terrorism and, finally, helps launder Nigeria’s image abroad, amongst many others. So, you can see that NIN is multifaceted in utility.
From your own understanding as a key driver of the identification project, what would you say is the importance of identity, especially in national planning and security?
Well, identity is important in budget, security and also in planning. Those three things are very important for every nation. Every year, we carry out budget activities and without using the actual number of people that we know, there is growing distrust among citizens and residents. And also, most of the trades are now e-commerce, e-business; so you need electronic identification system really build on such kind of system. And for planning purpose too, we have been planning without proper record. So, identity will help us in those three major areas to fight corruption; fight terrorism and also enable a trustworthy system of governance. Now, when you hear people say that Nigeria has now reached 180 million or a little bit above or below that and these figures are given to us by either United Nations or any other international aßgency, what is your immediate reaction to that?
The point is that we have a very large population and also our birth rate too is growing. In fact, my estimation before was that we were adding 5.5 million babies every year, but when UNICEF came here, they corrected me that actually, currently, we are adding seven million to our population every year. So, it is really growing, especially, when you go to the rural areas or markets, you see a large number of people. And since you need to carry out financial activities electronically, so it definitely means that we require identity management system. We are really a large population, whether it reaches that figure or not does not matter, what we should work towards is to register everybody without leaving out anybody and that would really help us and with that, we will be planning for the next 100 years, not even five years plan that we have been talking about.
With NIN, all citizens enjoy a “one-person-one-identity,” which allows government to search for an individual and all of his/her details either for planning and or for security purposes. Government can query the database to ascertain how many unemployed individuals are in the system at federal and state levels, the genders of those individuals, their occupation, skill set, age bracket and location, among other. This will assist in planning for resources and benefit the administration. NIN is a very useful and powerful instrument in assisting governments at all levels budget appropriately for the citizenry, in the proper and effective allocation and spread of scarce resources.
On security, the relevant government security agencies are part of the National Identity Management System (NIMS) project from inception and have access to query the system using biometrics to confirm individual’s identity. Therefore, as soon as the National Identity Database is fully populated, all federal, state and local government agencies, as well as the private sectors, can access the verification platform of the Commission for different purposes, depending on the level of access granted to them by NIMC.
With the national elections of 2019 almost here, how useful will NIN be for INEC and the electorate?
As I said earlier, we are still harmonising data with all data collecting government agencies, as well as concluding plans to start the ecosystem approach, which will see all government agencies and some licensed private sector companies collecting data and sending to the NIMC as the sole repository of biometric data. This is expected to shoot up the record in the NIMC database by a huge percentage. Once we have a good figure, then INEC can leverage on the NIMC Database for electoral purposes.
The plans already on ground for this year include accelerated deployment of enrolment centres in all local government areas across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, and enrolment of all Nigerians and legal residents, including children. Perhaps you know that children from birth can now be enrolled; this is a point that Nigerians should be aware of, especially with several babies being born across the country daily. Parents will do well to avail themselves the benefit of the new-born of this window of enrolment opportunity that is now uniquely available.
With a population of 180 million to 198 million, the rate of enrolment is perceived to be very slow, what is the Commission doing to fast-track enrolment?
We currently have about 31 million data in the database with the figures growing daily. The gradual acceptance of the NIN as a means of identification by our partners and stakeholders is also driving up the numbers by the day. For example, organisations such as the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), among others, have made NIN a mandatory requirement for service delivery. Others are expected to follow suit. On our part, however, we have commenced aggressive and massive awareness campaign in all the states and FCT to mobilise people for enrolment. We are also working closely with the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and other media partners with a special target on the grassroots and it will continue for a long time, particularly with the ecosystem approach being canvassed by the World Bank and its allies.
Also, we have the mobile enrolment equipment, which goes to some of the riverine and difficult terrains in the grassroots areas and a good number will be rolled out by the end of this year.
Is there any hope that the entire Nigerian population will be enrolled into the national database?
Yes, of course! However, enrolment of eligible citizens and legal residents into the National Identity Database (NIDB) is an on-going and continous process. In other words, there is no limit or specific time-frame for citizens to be enrolled and issued the NIN, because even after enrolling all citizens, there will always be new ones such as new born babies.
According to a recent World Bank report, Nigeria adds seven million into the population every year; that is the size of Rwanda as a country. This means that there will always be enrolment year in, year out. So, it is a continuous exercise and the Commission is poised to carry out its mandate to the letter. NIMC, by design, has offices in all the 774 local government areas (LGAs) and maintains active presence with enrolment centres in over 930 locations across these LGAs. Moreso, we are working to open more enrolment centres and take enrolment closer to the people, especially the grassroots.
What are the challenges that could delay the quick enrolment of the remainder of the population, which is obviously the greater number?
Well, the cynicism from the experience of the past was/and is still a big challenge. However, we are gradually moving away from that problem, as more Nigerians understand the difference between card issuance and identity management. Secondly, the high cost of opening and managing the enrolment centre because of needed stable power supply, active Internet connection, low morale on the part of staff because of poor salary structure, the ‘expectation gap’ of ‘card’ issuance, are other challenges. However, we are slowly moving past these challenges as we ramp up more data into the database.
As citizens, what is the responsibility of Nigerians in ensuring they are enrolled?
It is a national call, and all Nigerians are obliged to respond. Government has provided the opportunity, this platform, for enrolling into the National Identity Database, to make life better in a modern, well managed and planned manner; NIN gives the citizens that assurance. So, if government has done so much and all the citizens are required to do is to go out and answer the national call, does anyone have any excuse not to answer the call?