By Patrick Dele Cole
The first part of this piece explained the difference between the NIN and the National Identity Card. This concluding part reviews the available options to execute a stressfree identity enrolment
I AM told this is already happening in places like Alausa. At a time when the police and other security services would rather the government did not force people to congregate, is this the outcome they wanted?
How can any government believe that this is a good idea? Surely, there is a better targeted way of working with telecoms companies and others to remove some of the current ways in which the system is abused or manipulated by various interests? That, after all, is the stated aim of these directives. To prevent terrorists from being able to communicate anonymously. Well, isn’t government about to create its own self-imposed mass casualty event?
Who needs the terrorists?! They should take a long break. Their job is being done for them. How many people will die of COVID-19 because of these directives? How many poor people will lose their ability to communicate with customers, or those who can assist them, because they are not able to get their NINs, despite many of them being willing to?
How many victims in remote areas will lose the ability to call in help? Surely government thought of these things before it acted, and the fact that it chose to proceed anyway, simply demonstrates its disregard for the lives of its people.
The failure of government
What makes this situation worse is that the challenge we face is of government’s own making. It is the sole responsibility of government to issue national identity cards and to maintain a national database of citizens.
It is not the responsibility of banks, telecoms companies, or other private sector agencies. But because of government’s inability to fund, or deliver the logistics of such a programme, it has been outsourced. First, as BVN, this was paid for and rolled out by the banks; and now as SIM registration, which will be paid for and rolled out by the telecoms companies.
Yet, I read in the last few days that government is telling the people that NIN registration is free. Well yes, it will be, to the people; but it is not ‘free’ and it is not being paid for by government.
It is being paid for, under duress, by the private sector. What danger does that put us in as a country? Do we have the data protection legislation in place to avoid the potential abuse of these enrolment structures? What message does it send if a foreign investor says: ‘we cannot implement a programme like this on our own and we are willing to force investors to do it for us with no compensation and an unclear legal framework’?
This is manifested by the fact that we have such a plethora of identity databases. Last time I counted, I included the passport database, BVN, NIN, the voter’s database, the driver’s licence database and the SIM registration process. While I appreciate that each of these is made easier if we have the one central system, could we not have made the process simpler, more integrated and easier? Is the way we have done it optimal?
Why have we not looked to other countries, like Pakistan, who have experienced similar challenges, and yet managed to find solutions without this level of disruption?
The confusion of the compliant
My own personal experience of this demonstrates that it is not just the non-compliant, or the poor, who are left in an identity limbo. I have lived through quite a few attempts to build a national identity. I enrolled early on in one of the first, which I think was managed by CHAMS. I have a national identity card. But then a new structure emerged, and another call for enrolment began.
What I don’t know is whether my first registration means I am in that database!? Should I now, as an 80-year-old man, go and queue with thousands of others, and expose myself to COVID-19, in order to find out?
How is it even possible that someone who complied as early as me does not know his status? I have a BVN, a SIM registration, a passport, a voter’s card, a driver’s licence and the first ever version of an identity card, but I suspect that I too, will be deemed to be non-compliant. We are all in this together.
Let’s hope government realises it cannot build the solution by hurting and disenfranchising the people it is designed to help.
We must all work with them in order to solve this problem once and for all, because if we do, it will be better for all of us.