18 February 2003

Nigeria: National ID Card Scheme Begins Nationwide

Abuja — THE much awaited but controversial National Identity Card project gets underway at 60,000 centres across the nation today for the registration of an estimated 60 million Nigerian adults. The project conceived 25 years ago will be flagged off in Abuja by President Olusegun Obasanjo. All Nigerians aged 18 years and above are eligible for registration during the two-week exercise with 240,000 officials recording the name, gender, address, occupation, state/local government of origin, height of registrants, collect a photograph and a fingerprint. Information Minister, Prof. Jerry Gana reviewing the genesis of the project at a workshop in Abuja, yesterday said: "When President Olusegun Obasanjo initiated the National Identity Card programme in 1978, Nigerians did not know that it would take 25 years and the return of the President to carry out the programme successfully."

Emphasising the benefits of National Identity Card project, Prof. Gana said it would enable government to have a data from where it could plan for Nigerians adequately, adding that it would also help Nigerians in their commercial transactions. He enjoined Nigerians from 18 years and above to go out and participate fully in the exercise.

In July 2001, a $215.9 million contract in respect of the project was awarded to French group, SAGEM, which deals in high-tech biometrics and automated fingerprint systems as well as defence and telecommunications, for work to be carried out abroad. A further N2.1 billion ($16.4 million) was set aside for work in Nigeria. Seventy per cent of the contract sum has so far been paid according to officials in the Department of National Civic Registration. Previous contracts have not been successful.

The first contract for the project was awarded to a US-based firm, Avant, by the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari (1979-83) for about $100 million. This was revoked after the military government of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari overthrew him in January 1984. It was later awarded to Afro-Continental Nigeria, an Israeli firm, but the scheme could still not be realised. This contract was revived by the regime of the late Gen. Sani Abacha in 1996. No identity cards have been issued. Aside from incompetence and corruption within the previous administrations, the scheme has also been dogged by political controversy. Many leaders, fear that the ID card programme will be used as an unofficial census.

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