By Adewale Kupoluyi
A FEW days ago, I attempted to obtain a reprinted copy of my national identity card, which I could not trace, but what I experienced was disturbing. I have decided to share the ordeal with the hope that those concerned will do something urgently to redress to the plight of Nigerians. Initially, I had reported at one of the closest collection centres on obtaining relevant information on what it takes to get the national identity card reprinted but could not complete the exercise because I needed to make an online payment and thereafter come along with the printout for further processing.
After making the online payment and returning to the same collection centre, it was practically impossible for me to gain an entry as a result of the mammoth crowd of people, mostly students, waiting to obtain copies of the national identity cards for registration for examinations conducted by the West African Examinations Council, WAEC, and Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, which has now been made compulsory. According to the examining bodies, the policy was introduced mainly to curb impersonation and malpractices.
The truth is that examination malpractice not only breeds corruption, but it also lowers educational standards, encourages social vices, and eroding of moral values, integrity, and ideals. This is the reason that legitimate and concerted efforts should be geared towards stamping out any form of moral turpitude from our national life. As laudable as this idea may look like, the unnecessary burden placed on students to acquire the national identity cards before their registration for the examinations should be reconsidered. Back to the ordeal of the students, they thronged the collection centres in large numbers struggling to gain an entry into the premises of the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC. At the commission’s office that I went to, there was only one gate where the candidates were being screened before they were allowed to go inside the building.
Apart from the youths, I saw elderly persons probably trying to obtain the cards for their children and wards. I felt bad seeing such elderly people being maltreated inside the harsh weather condition. Some students were seen fighting and scuffling in an attempt to be called and allowed inside the office ahead of others. After watching the melee from afar, I eventually spotted two persons that were trying to penetrate the crowd to gain an entry, I sensed that they could be officials of NIMC and quickly joined them in maneouvering ourselves inside the centre. After gaining an entry, I saw another set of candidates seated without much attention given to them. Surprising, when I got inside, I stood for almost one hour before I could be attended to while none of the students that I met already seated was ever accorded any attention, despite their waiting in the stuffy room that they were crammed into.
As I was leaving the jam-packed office, I saw another group of loitering students looking confused, tired, exhausted and frustrated. It was revealed that the candidates had been at the centre as early as 4.00 a.m to get enrolled but were left stranded due to poor network, faulty working tools, and power failure. Many of them complained of preferential treatment by officials of the commission, who allegedly attended to enrollees based on their relationships.
Exiting the compound was another tug of war. Already, the small gate that served as the entry point had almost become blocked because of the huge crowd, while the second gate had to be opened for me to move out. By the time I got out, the number of students struggling to move inside had almost doubled under the intense heat. My pity for the students increased as I was driving out of the street only to see many students still approaching the main road leading to the commission’s office. I left the place annoyed, sad and disappointed that fellow citizens’ time was being wasted while they were being subjected to unnecessary punishment; all in the name of obtaining a national identity card.
To begin with, why the sudden recognition and acceptability accorded the identity card? I remembered that about four years ago when I first obtained mine, the identity card was never officially recognised as a means of identification in banks and other places. I had to ask some stakeholders then that what had gone wrong with our institutions that they should reject what is supposed to be valid means of identification, just like the international passport, driver’s licence and voter’s card. For me, the national identity card should be accorded more credibility than the others. Suddenly, the disposition changed and hence, the sudden prominence and rush for the acquisition of NIMC cards said to have captured only about 37 million people, which is less than 20 percent of Nigerians. Out of this number, more than 700,000 cards are said to be uncollected. If due recognition had been accorded the identity card at its inception, the mad rush that we are seeing today would probably have been averted. This is the Gestapo manner that we usually run state affairs in the country.
As a way forward, NIMC would have to harmonise all existing databases sitting in silos into a single database, where information, data of individuals and companies operating in Nigeria, could be accessed. The National Identity Number, NIN, which is generated, is unique with social security numbers that can be used for health care, education, and pensions, among others. NIN ties together all records such as demographic data, fingerprints, head-to-shoulder facial pictures, biometric data, and digital signature. By an Executive Order signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, one cannot obtain a passport or driver’s licence without the National ID Card.
The Federal Government also approved September 16 of every year as National Identity Day, also called 16.9 and the Identity Day, ID-Day, to create more awareness and acceptability. To abate the continued punishment being meted out to innocent students, the activities of NIMC should be decentralised with immediate effect. More issuance and collection centres should be opened across the country such that students would no longer be made to suffer for the deficiencies of our public administrators. Students should be allowed to obtain identity cards at the point of purchase of the forms. There is a need for public-private partnerships in tackling this problem as NIMC could be seriously handicaped in carrying out its duties effectively and efficiently.
The current challenge being experienced is not limited to NIMC, as most state institutions in Nigeria provide poor services, lack the discipline to accord customers due respect and value for their hard-earned resources. This ugly trend has also crept into the business sectors such as banks, insurance, and manufacturing industries where people are treated shabbily. It is rather unfortunate that offices such as the Service Compact with All Nigerians, SERVICOM, and Consumer Protection Council, CPC, appear to have neglected the people and are not seen as doing enough to protect the people when it comes to quality service. For now, the burden placed on students should be removed.