7 June 2011

Nigeria: Yet Another National I.D Card Scheme


The Federal Government has again announced plans to commence registration for a biometric identity cards for Nigeria. A major component of the scheme is the establishment of the national identity register, a centralized database of personal information. Each Nigerian registered will be issued a national identification number with nine digits which will be unique to him.

Mr. Chris Onyemenam, the Director General of National Identity Management Commission, the managing agency, said the national identification number would be the basis with which citizens shall interact with the federal, state or local government before services can be rendered. We commend this new initiative after many false starts laden with controversies and scandals.

More than eight years ago, the contract for the National Identity Card Scheme was awarded to SAGEM of France. But after exasperating efforts by Nigerians to register for the scheme, the outcome was dismal and in fact, embarrassing. Many of those that registered were not issued with the National Identity Cards nor numbers to be identified with. The contract itself was dogged with bribery and scandals and the project was abandoned.

After the debacle the NIMC was established and entrusted the responsibility of reforming the identity card scheme. Its mandate includes collecting basic demographic and biometric data, creating, operating and managing a national identity database and providing an on-line/off-line cost-effective verification and authentification infrastructure in Nigeria. The commission was also asked to integrate all the other identity schemes and provide standardized identity attributes by restoring sanity to the sector.

No doubt, the National Identity scheme will bring a sharper and clearer way than the present muddled manner in which we manage our identity as a people. It will restore order in the nation's identity card scheme. The country is suffused with multiple identification initiatives by institutions such as Immigration, Federal Road Safety Corps, Pension Commissions, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Independent National Electoral Commission, Financial Institutions, Health Service Providers. We call on the commission to do a thorough job so that all these private institutional efforts are harmonised.

The advantages are many. Biometric identity cards are essential tool of modern business and society. It will increase efficiency in our dealings with the government, private corporations and reduce immigration service bureaucracy at our borders. It will ease identity verification in banks, airlines, insurance agencies and eliminate fraud. Identity fraud has become a major threat in electronic payment environments. False identifications will be minimized where our identity card is required to access a bank account, like ATM for instance.

What's more, since all biometric identities contain information such as photographs, finger prints, face and hand, it will make surveillance and identification of criminals easier and thus enhancing the work of law enforcement agents just as it enhances speedy treatment for accident victims as their personal data including blood group are stored in the card. We agree with Mr. Onyenenam when he said that the scheme would "develop and deepen the consumer credit sector, facilitate the enforcement of existing laws and meet global practices".

But we must warn that this time around, care must be taken so that all Nigerians eligible for the scheme are captured and registered. Besides, it should be a continuous exercise as Nigerians ripe for the scheme are enrolled through constant update.

It is only through such exercise that the huge expenditure budgeted for the scheme will be justifiable and meaningful.

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