Will NIN solve identity management issues?

ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, in this report, writes that while the National Identification Number (NIN) is getting entrenched in the Nigerian system, its impact on security remains critical.  

Identity management is very key to the economic success of countries, especially developing ones. Countries racing to catch up with developments are working ceaselessly to develop robust and responsible identity ecosystems for progress and humanitarian action.
  
Such countries are buoyed by the need to establish identity-for-all, not just as a legal right, which is consistent with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.9, but also as a practical necessity to enable inclusive access to services.
   
Luckily, there is already a non-governmental international movement, the ID4Africa, which is supporting African countries in this drive. ID4Africa believes that service-oriented identity ecosystems built on the respect of privacy and human rights are essential for growth of digital economies and will become even more crucial as African countries move to implement the provisions of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA).

Various studies have shown that for developing countries to make good progress in the global space, they must be able to orderly develop a national identity management system and also ensure the proper execution of such policies.

However, extant studies have indicated that most developing countries are yet to fully embrace the application of identity management policy to the socio-economic and political life of their citizens. Nigeria took this giant step with the establishment of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) in 2007.  

Despite having taken this important step, however, hurdles have, year after year, confronted the country in the quest to develop and maintain a robust identification database. The major impediment with regard to the adoption and implementation of identity management policy in Nigeria, before now, has been government’s indifference towards adequate investment on identity management technologies as well as adequate funding of the NIMC.

Today, in Nigeria, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), established by the NIMC Act No. 23 of 2007, has the mandate to establish, own, operate, maintain and manage the National Identity Database in Nigeria, register persons covered by the Act, assign a Unique National Identification Number (NIN) and issue General Multi-Purpose Cards (GMPC) to citizens of Nigeria as well us those legally residing in the country. The NIN has since proven to be a pivot to identity management for development, national security, planning and much more. 

In fact, one of the major benefits the NIN delivers since it became a key element in Nigeria’s socio-economic space is to minimise or possibly eliminate multiple/ghost identities, thereby improving the effectiveness of service delivery systems across the economy. 

Biometric features are selected to be the primary mechanism for ensuring this uniqueness and through this unambiguous ide
ntification of individuals, who are then assigned a NIN, a unique database is created which, with a verification and authentication infrastructure, is an important social infrastructure that will address myriad societal vices and unleash significant economic opportunities in the economy.x

Identity management as a World Bank project
Nigeria’s national digital identity ecosystem project is World Bank supported; thereby underlining the importance of the project, for the economic management of the over 200 million population of the country – where planning and budgeting form key planks for growth. Other international funding agencies supporting the Nigeria Digital Identity Ecosystem Project are the Française de Dévelopement (AFD) and the European Union (EU) Bank.
  
The project was one of the five projects approved by the World Bank on February 18, 2020 at its headquarters in Washington DC, the United States.

World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, Shubham Chaudhuri, had said: “The World Bank is ramping up its support to Nigeria in its efforts to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.”
  
According to the World Bank statement: “This will enable people in Nigeria, especially marginalised groups, to access welfare-enhancing services. The project will also enhance the ID system’s legal and technical safeguards to protect personal data and privacy.

About 60m unique NIN issued
After shifting registration deadline from December 30, 2020 to October 31, 2021, by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, led by the Minister, Dr. Isa Pantami, the NIMC has focused significantly on the NIN, and thus far issued over 60 million NINs to Nigerians, with average of three to four SIMs per NIN linked.
   
NIMC had explained that it chose to concentrate on enrolling Nigerians and legal residents and issuing the NIN over a physical plastic electronic ID owing to the high cost of the latter, given the country’s current economic challenges. Besides, globally, the security number as a form of identification is most adopted; in the United States, it is the Social Security Number, in the United Kingdom, it is the National Insurance Number while in India the Aadhaar number is adopted. In these instances, it is just the number the enrollee is issued.
   
While the NIN records are in the National Identity Database (NIDB), attaining the 60 million has not been easy, as many Nigerians, in the last eight months, were made to go through various harrowing experiences, registering and linking their NINs to their SIMs, especially having had to queue several hours daily for the exercise, at a time COVID-19 raged fiercely.  
   
The citizens’ challenges were made worse by the inability of the majority of the 203 Federal Government licensed registration firms to commence the exercise, owing to lack of funds and logistics.    
   
However, as at July 24th, 2021, there were over 5,500 enrolment locations within and outside the country, expected to significantly ease the NIN enrolment process and subsequent linkage of NIN to SIM.
 
With more numbers of enrolment centres within and outside the country, and many more coming up, the NIMC said every citizen, legal resident, and Nigerian citizens living in diaspora are expected to be able to obtain their NINs in the shortest foreseeable time.

NIN, ghost identities and bandits’ reign
NIN’s impact on security challenges in Nigeria remains minute, despite many Nigerians having to queue in the scorching sun for days for registration during the pandemic.  
   
Today, assaults by criminals on the public remain huge. Bandits, kidnappers, terrorists, among other criminal elements in the society have remained emboldened, carrying out their nefarious activities without trace despite the NIN-SIM identity infrastructure.
  
In the bandits-proned North East, this Federal Government’s security regulations have been thwarted many times. Reports have it that residents of Katsina, Zamfara and Kaduna states that recounted their experiences in kidnappers’ dens, said they made the bandits’ telephone numbers available to security agents.
  
They, however, lamented that nothing was done to apprehend the criminals, thus making a mess of the Federal Government’s directives on registration of telephone subscribers and the linkage of SIM with the NIN.
 
Besides, digital footprints of electronic fraudsters are still very much everywhere in the country, the NIN seems not to be effective in this area.
  
Nonetheless, the NIN is having impact on the education sector. For instance, the NIN footprint was seen on the last University Matriculation Examination (UTME), organised by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).
   
According to JAMB, the introduction of the NIN in the 2021/2022 exam registration helped it to uncover over 500,000 fake candidates..
   
The Registrar and Chief Executive of JAMB, Prof. Isha’q Oloyede, who has just been rewarded with a reappointment for his hard work in the first tenure, disclosed this in Enugu, saying his team was at the South-East to assess what was going on with the conduct of the examination. He said the use of the NIN as directed by the Federal Government helped to reduce examination malpractice.
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“Before the introduction of NIN to the registration, there were about 2.2 million candidates for the examination, but after the introduction of NIN, over 500,000 candidates were discovered to be fake,” he stated.

The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) has also said that the NIN would become mandatory for registration of school certificate examination from 2022, thus accentuating the importance of the NIN for fishing out ghost candidates and ensuring only genuine candidates sit for the examination. 

The Head of National Office (HNO) of WAEC, Patrick Areghan, made this known in Lagos.
The WAEC boss said the NIN would become a major requirement for registration for WASSCE for candidates with effect from 2022 and subsequent diets. “It will be No NIN, no entry,” he stated.  

The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) has also begun demanding for NIN from Nigerians before registering their vehicles. This started from the second quarter of the year.

FRSC spokesman, Bisi Kazeem, said the decision follows a presidential directive.

“Beginning from the second quarter of this year (2021), if you want to register your vehicle, it is going to be compulsory for you to provide your NIN.

“This is part of the security checks. So once you provide your NIN, it makes the matter easier and helps the government in national planning, critical decision making and also enhances adequate Intelligence gathering for security of lives and properties.”

Commenting on the impact of NIN thus far, a telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, said more can still be garnered, if the process is sustained and funded.

Aluko, who said an identity database was crucial to the development of the country, called on other examination bodies, security agencies, financial institutions, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make NIN mandatory for their operations.


He stressed that even federal and state ministries can insist on ‘no NIN no pay,’ adding that this will expose thousands of ghost workers on their payrolls.

From his perspective, the Nigeria Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, the registration exercise has now increased the number of NINs being captured by the authorised data collectors and now appears that there is a steady flow of legible persons being captured and in cases the NIN is obtained within a very short period of time (measured in hours).

Teniola said this is a vast improvement from when the exercise begun and the FG should be commended for this. He stressed that obviously; this will be an ongoing exercise as Nigeria’s population continues to grow.

He explained that having a digital ID is mandatory and recognised by the World Bank and other international and global institutions, who expect the transition of all economies around the world to transition to a digital economy within the next 10 to 20 years.

In the case of Nigeria, the A4AI boss said the country needs to be able to identify its citizens and those legally in the country for planning purposes and effective development.

Teniola stressed that being able to properly identify an individual ensures that the limited financial resources are applied in an effective manner and this helps government to remove leakages and waste in the system(s) we have.

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