Leadership (Abuja)

12 May 2014

Nigeria: FG Wastes Billions On Biometric Registration

ICT experts have criticised the ongoing biometric registration and similar exercises being planned by federal government agencies. They said it is a waste of resources, as government should have, instead, cooperated with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to build a central national biometric database that can serve the needs of all.

The experts who spoke with LEADERSHIP included Engineer Lanre Ajayi and Professor David Adewumi, presidents of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (Atcon) and the Nigerian Computer Society respectively. Describing the proliferation of biometric database systems in the country as wasteful and unfortunate, Engineer Ajayi noted that, in the past three years, eight biometric registration exercises have been contemplated with some already at the level of execution while others are still on the drawing board. Agencies involved in this

include the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), NIMC and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).

Others are the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Population Commission (NPC), and the "Banks Verification Number" (BVN) being implemented by Nigerian banks with government funding. There is also the "Nigerian Police Biometrics Central Motor Registry" (PoliceBCMR), which was recently suspended by the National Assembly.

The PoliceBCRMR is similar to that of the FRSC that requires vehicle owners to pay N3, 500 each in order to be captured on the system.

In the telecom sector, NCC in 2011budgeted N6.1 billion and awarded contracts to seven consultants to conduct biometric registration on telephone users' subscriber identification module (SIM) cards in the six geopolitical zones of the country in addition to Lagos. The companies were: SW Global (south-east), PNN (north-central), Chams (Lagos), JKK (south-west), DATAGROUPIT (north-east), EAGLE/CBC (north-west), and E-Kenneth/SageMetrics (south-south).

Mobile phone operators who were also mandated by NCC to start registering all phone users on their networks were taken aback when the regulator awarded the contract to the seven firms to duplicate the same thing. The biometric simcard registration which dragged for several months ended with NCC using simcard database from mobile operators.

Already, INEC and NPC are planning their own biometric registrations towards the 2015 general elections and 2016 national census.

In the financial sector, by the end of this May, the Nigerian deposit money banks (DMBs) will begin biometric registration of all bank account holders; it will cost $50 million (N7.79bn) from the apex bank's purse. The contract which was awarded to a German company, Dermalog, a manufacturer of automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS), will see the banks conclude the registrations in 18 months.

Engineer Ajayi said: "All these agencies doing multiple registrations are wasting public funds. NIMC is the most appropriate government agency to do it. With NIMC there wouldn't be need for NCC to even conduct its simcard biometric registration because once you are captured in NIMC database, your phone number is already there."

Already, the government has approved N30.066 billion for NIMC as part of a three-year funding for the accelerated implementation of the back-end component of the "National Identity Management System" (NIMS). NIMC has the responsibility to provide all Nigerians and residents with National Identification Number (NIN) and multipurpose biometric card which can be used both as a social security number and bank card.

Professor Adewumi said, "There is need for us to harmonise. All these biometric registrations we are doing, there is no way we can get meaningful results if capacity building is not properly addressed." He urged government to cooperate with IT professionals in project planning and implementation instead of leaving it in the hands of foreign consultants who are there for the money.

Another leading expert in the ICT sector said, "Government can save a lot of money by eliminating duplication of biometrics registrations. What Nigerians need is one all-in one biometrics registration. But when about seven agencies of government in one country are trying to capture biometrics data on one person, it is a waste of scarce resources."

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