By Patrick Dele Cole
THE introduction of Biometric identification was to stop different kinds of fraud. There were too many fictitious bank accounts; inactive bank accounts are raided by the employees. To stop this, the bank instituted a regime of dormant accounts.
Thus, making it more difficult for their staff to raid the accounts of their clients. To stop the regime of fictitious accounts, the Central Bank introduced Bank Verification Pin – unique to every person who had an account in the bank.
Biometric identity was introduced to voters to stop rigging elections by multiple voting. Drivers Licenses and Passports were easy fare for forged passports and driving licenses at Oluwole Street and elsewhere. The Passport office and Driving License Authorities introduce biometric system to curb these frauds. Dividends of Shareholders were being diverted by fraudsters.
The Stock Exchange introduced Central Security Clearing System also with biometric security for shareholders. The providers of telephones were manipulating the figures of the number of phones and sales, National Communication Commission, NCC, forced cellphone providers to give every phone a biometric profile.
Thus, the multiplication of biometric imprint of Nigerians in all these areas, while aimed at reducing fraud, has also made lives extremely difficult for a population that is largely illiterate or non-computer complaint.
There is no indication that the abuses of this plethora of biometric identities had materially stopped the abuses they set out to curb in much the same way as the institution of Financial Reporting Standards, which also biometrically captures Chairmen and Managing Directors has not been able to cure the diseases it set out to confront.
Elections are still rigged, fraud continues unabated in the banks and passport offices, the cellphone producers have new methods to take more money from the customers, dividends continue to be diverted, etc.
All that can be said for these excruciating exercises is that it has fostered a new kind of personnel agents who profit one way or the other from these biometric identity procedures. Nigeria may inadvertently be spreading the foundation for a police state because our identities are so readily available and could be used for control and other purpose inimical to freedom in a democracy
No nation has more avenues to statistics than Nigeria. Yet not a single statistical index in Nigeria is true because there is an underlying movement by dedicated political activists whose function is to mystify all figures. All the major statistical figures of Nigeria are suspect.
We have biometric and fingerprint, IDs for our telephones, Driver’s License, voter’s card, Bank accounts, National Identity cards, Passport, Security Exchange and even some state ID’s and hundreds of company IDs. Those who supplied these appliances must have made a packet – because not only are these paid for, they have to be protected, updated etc.
On the National level, it seems obvious that the next step would be to allow all these platforms to talk to themselves, so as to have a single verifiable biometric and finger print portrait with some certainty.
Why do accounts go dormant, and what was the purpose of setting up a BVN system? I have accounts I opened in 1962 Dunedin, New Zealand, and Cambridge, UK in 1966.
I have been having a series of arguments with many financial institutions which demand biometric identity. I have a Bank Verification Number, BVN for my bank accounts. The purpose of the BVN is that it is particular to me; no one else could use it.
So if I have not used my account for six months why should my account go dormant? Even if I die, all the bank has to do is to call on my next of kin and pay out. If CBN keeps issuing directives that the banks should know their customers. What better way to know account holders or know them than having their names, fingerprints and biometrics capture in the IDs? So why the run around? When I showed my driving license, it was not current and could not be used. I showed my voter’s card, but the photograph had blurred just as that of the National ID. The record in the bank was my old passport which was no good as the passport had expired. Other banks were not that finicky but some are really hopelessly bureaucratic.
I argued and told them but you have my BVN, my phone numbers, my driving license, my old passport details all with my biometric identity. I am standing in front of you, with total desperation and incandescent anger but nothing could be done. Then came the catch 22. I asked for forms to close the accounts and transfer the accounts to other banks but was told that I could not touch the account without reactivation!!
What caused the institution of biometric system a Central Security Clearing System was due to the persistence of fraud.
Over the years, I have bought a number of shares whose values in the capital market had lost as much as 70% to 80% of the purchase price of the shares. But there were dividends which I cannot now retrieve except I, wait for it, have my biometric and thumb print at the Central Securities Clearing System, CSCS. After signing a plethora of papers nothing could happen until they counted the hairs in my nose, as it were i.e. they want my biometric details and fingerprints.
I asked what happens to people who live in Bui or Abraka or Yenogoa or Abonnema, Yankari, Kebbi. Silence! But you are here: they said to me. I said: I am going on 80 years should I be carrying my cranky body to the CSCS for biometric capture? You must; they replied. When my personal assistant went there at last to see what was going on that is check on my shares and dividends, his number on the queue was 161. He spent a whole day there without result. I cannot even sell my shares without this biometric exercise.
Before then CSCS asked that I should register on their website after paying N2,500 to access my account and details. I could not pay because my account was dormant. I asked someone to pay on my behalf which was done: but in the registration, I had to put in the slip number of the bank! But I had paid via a bank transfer, so I could not give a teller number.
I sent the money by cash. My PA after waiting for all day was told the CSCS does not accept cash. Most of us who venture into the stock market in the 1970s bought shares without the benefit of a computer. Now if you do not have a computer, you cannot even access your stocks. Small stock holders scattered all over Nigeria are now being sent discs as the accounts of the company – assumption being that all shareholders have computers.
At last count over N100 billion was in unclaimed dividend, which after eight years get paid to the Ministry of Finance Incorporated and the money eventually after three more years, reverts to the coffers of the ministry of finance.
There is no hope of retrieving the money once it gets to the Ministry of Finance. My mother bought shares of Leventis, Union Bank, etc. I was named as the next of kin. I could make no claim: I was to bring letters of administration of her estate and her death certificate etc. before they could begin processing the claim.
It would seem that Nigeria is particularly adept in putting difficulties in the ways of the old and the illiterate. Moreover why should money due to a next of kin not go to that person? When you open a bank account you must assign in a next of kin: In the case of the banking account of my mother not only could I not claim it, I was told that the present bank did not acknowledge that account – they denied their own savings book because the branch where the account was kept was no longer in existence, as if it was my fault that the branch closed. The attitude is one of total unhelpfulness .
Again the purveyors of smart phones have managed to give those who use them some idea that they are smart. In reality, it is the phone that is smart, not the carrier. The banks and financial and statistical divisions have the opportunity of new jobs getting people to interface with all these biometric platforms.
But it would seem that once you begin to count in Nigeria, the issue becomes politicised. Our government should employ people who can interface with these entire biometric platforms. That should produce a good number of jobs. As for the unclaimed dividends, the money should be removed from Ministry of Finance and put in a Trust which can for a fee, employ people or contact people to identify those with these unclaimed dividends or their next of kin.
Finally, can we get a geographic spatial map of these biometric spreads? I am sure the map would be very interesting. The phone companies say that over 100 million are registered. The BVN claims a figure of about 30 million accounts. Card voters list well over 71 million.
These are rich pickings for any hacker because so much information exists on them which can be used for many kind of illegal activity. Indeed the hackers have what it takes, even in the West; they do not have a biometric historical record of Nigerians. Moreover there are many Nigerians who live overseas where no biometric or fingerprinting, BVN can be obtained but may have had the accounts before the era of BVN – accounts which stand the danger of forfeiture.
Let the various biometric systems be interfaced and speak to themselves: the banks should look for next of kin relatives, and the exchange should find owners of unpaid dividends – these are vast employment opportunities for the youth.