THE national identity management scheme has been a subject of controversies since it was first muted in 1976. Ministers have been jailed for allegedly accepting bribes over its implementation, contracts awarded and cancelled, but most importantly, it has never been concluded. The previous attempt over 10 years ago ended with heaps of undistributed cards at local government offices.
It is therefore important that the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, does not allow the current exercise – which we hope ends multiple identity cards for Nigerians – to fail. NIMC appears unprepared for the enormity of the task. It laid more emphasis on frequently mouthing the security importance of the national identity card than getting its work done.
The past few months saw NIMC enrolling high profile personalities in the scheme. Media images of the cards being delivered to past presidents, traditional rulers and ministers created the impression that NIMC was on target to deliver the cards – it was not.
A couple of factors are against NIMC and it should be the first to admit it. Nigerians have been inundated with identity cards in the last four years. They are no longer sure which card they should obtain. They are card fatigued.
In those years, Nigerians have changed passport, driver’s licence, banks captured their identities twice, telecommunication companies carried out similar exercises and many have not recovered from the bruises of obtaining the voter’s card. These have drained their resources and interests in identity cards.
More issues that lower interests in the exercise include the difficulties associated with obtaining the identity card. An indeterminate number of trips are required to obtain the card. NIMC staff are either not available, or when they are, they may not be ready. Electronic enrolment suffers from associated challenges of using the internet, from electricity to literacy levels, in addition to the fact that a capturing of the applicant’s picture at an NIMC facility is still required. Rural Nigeria is hardly part of the exercise.
By last February, NIMC had enrolled six million people, less than six per cent of more than 100 million Nigerians (above 18 years) who qualify for the identity card. With the transition programme that occupied Nigerians since January, and the immediate demands of bank enrolment, it is unlikely that NIMC witnessed any dramatic changes in the number of Nigerians it has enrolled. We were therefore surprised to learn of NIMC’s decision to close the exercise in September. NIMC made the further pronouncement that by the end of September the national identity card would be the official identification document for Nigerians.
NIMC needs a more realistic deadline. Its major challenge would be to re-activate interest in the project.