At its weekly meeting on Wednesday, September 12, 2018, the Federal Executive Council [FEC] endorsed the mandatory use of National Identification Number [NIN] as from January 1, 2019. This, according to Director General of the National Identity Management Commission [NIMC] Engr. Aliyu Abubakar Aziz, followed approval by the Federal Government of the immediate implementation of a strategic roadmap for a new Digital Identity Ecosystem. The new identity ecosystem strategy involves the enrolment of Nigerians and legal residents into the National Identity Database, NIDB.
Aziz said, "FEC's approval of the Digital Identity Ecosystem will bring into full force the implementation of the NIMC Act 23, 2007, which include the enforcement of the mandatory use of the National Identification Number [NIN] and the application of appropriate sanctions and penalties on defaulters as provided under Section 28 of the NIMC Act." He said the cut-off date for data eligible for harmonization with NIDB is December 1, 2018. This means only data captured as at November 30, 2018 will be subjected to harmonization. Fresh data capture of persons shall be in compliance with the provisions set out in the Nigeria Biometric Standards and Guidelines set by the Commission.
For decades, Nigeria has been pursuing the national identity card project. Beginning from when the project was under the Directorate of National Civic Registration (DNCR), it has gulped billions of naira and yet, with less success to match the huge expenditure. In spite of this, no defensible excuse has ever been offered to explain the endless nature of the project even though many countries including India which has a population of 1.3billion have successfully executed similar projects with minimum fuss. Even in Nigeria, similar exercises that involve biometric data capture such as voter's card, driver's license, SIM card registration and Bank Verification Number (BVN) have all been carried out successfully. This is why it is difficult to explain the failure by NIMC to issue all eligible Nigerians with NIN.
NIMC's DG/CEO had earlier in April 2018 hinted that the use of NIN for some specified transactions listed in section 27 of NIMC Act 2007 which include application for international passport and driver's license shall become mandatory only when the Commission, with support from the World Bank, has provided one registration center for every 50,000 people. Without mincing words, NIMC is not known in most rural communities of Nigeria. In June 2018, Engr. Aziz announced that NIMC has about 900 registration centers in the country; meaning that most of the 774 LGAs in Nigeria do not have more than one registration center. That is if all of them are lucky to have one each.
Also in June 2018, Engr. Aziz said in Kano that "the Commission requires N150 billion to enable it enroll every Nigerian on the identity card program in the next 3 years," meaning that N50 billion is required each year. He also said that only 31 out of the projected 170 million Nigerians as at then have so far been registered. Pertinent questions for which we need answers include: If NIMC needed 3 years and N150 billion to enroll every Nigerian, what is the essence of the January 2019 deadline? If only 31 million Nigerians were captured by NIMC in it's over a decade of existence, how practicable is it that the remaining 140 million would be captured with just 900 registration centers in the country and within the next 100 days when the mandatory use of NIN will come into force?
The answers to these questions shall confirm or refute the insinuation that NIMC sought and secured FEC's approval for the January 2019 deadline in order to blackmail government to make available the N150 billion it requested. Given NIMC's existing capacity, the deadline issued by it isn't feasible. We therefore advise government to jettison the deadline until NIMC has enough registration centers that will sufficiently extend to every part of Nigeria, including the remotest village. Only then would the Commission be justified to sanction defaulting Nigerians.