I had an unwholesome experience registering for the compulsory National Identification Number (NIN) scheme, encountering overzealousness of persons in positions of authority, and general apathy towards the status quo common among the citizenry.
I was discriminated against on the basis of religion and struggled to be enrolled. I also escaped entrenched extortion rooted in the delivery of basic services, often perpetuated by fellow Nigerians who tend to cash in on delivery of essential services to fellow Nigerians in dire need of such services.
My journey towards enrolling for the NIN dates back to 2014 when I filled the online form required as pre-enrollment for the registration ahead of biometrics data capturing at any National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) registration centre. Unfortunately, I was unable to do the biometrics data capturing due to long queues of booked participants I often met each time I went to my most accessible designated NIMC centre located at the Lagos State University main campus, Ojo, Lagos.
So when the Communications and Digital Economy Minister, Dr Isa Pantami, suddenly announced a deadline for linking all active mobile lines, I simply dismissed it as an empty threat knowing it will be impossible to achieve within the very short period given. I relaxed, expecting the worst-case scenario should they make good their promise. I was simply not prepared to spend a whole day at any of the centres, with the attendant risk of the COVID-19 pandemic. I just could not afford to spend my precious time on such ‘frivolities’ with my challenging lifestyle of managing a career as an academic with family commitments, while shuttling between two states, Lagos and Osun, just to maintain some form of balance.
Then came an unusual call on a Saturday from a customer relations agent of one of the major telecommunication companies in Nigeria, Globacom (Glo) from the Osogbo centre, inquiring to know why I failed to subscribe for data the previous month. We chatted for a while on that. Just before ending the conversation, I casually asked if Glo was still registering people for the NIN at its offices. He answered in affirmative and encouraged me to come to the office the following week to get it done. Since I was in Osun state at that time and billed to stay there for the following week, I decided to try it out.
I arrived at the Gloworld outlet at Osogbo around 12 noon on Tuesday, June 15, 2021and was excited at the limited number of people on queue for the NIN registration. In less than 30 mins, I was already next-in-line to the capturing desk. Just then, the capturing officer turned to me to inform me that I will have to show my ear for the biometrics capturing exercise, else I will not be attended to. I am a Muslim woman who wears the Hijab as a religious obligation and showing off my ear was not an option for me. I insisted that he must be mistaken as such denial is against international best practices which allow the use of such head coverings on religious grounds.
But he was adamant. He confirmed that as his usual practice and that anyone who is unwilling to comply is usually left unattended. Shame. I ended up creating a scene insisting I speak to his superior officer. But he would not budge, claiming the buck stops at his desk when it comes to data capturing at the centre.
I eventually had to leave that day as no one would agree with my stance. They simply could not understand the drama “just to show my ear”. But they were wrong; evaluating my defiance from their narrowed and bias perspective. My insistence is simply a fight for societal inclusion for Muslim women. I should not be discriminated against and denied essential services on the basis of my religion.
As I left the office I called a friend who has ties with hijab advocacy groups to help report the discrimination I just experienced. She later linked me up with a senior official at Glo who called me two days later, on Thursday, June 17, to inquire about the incident. He apologised for my treatment at the centre and promised that the issue will be resolved. The Manager of the Gloworld outlet at Osogbo also called to apologise and assured me that I could visit the centre to get the registration done. He noted he was not around on the day of my first visit as he would have resolved the issue in my favour. I agreed to go the following day.
As a further precaution, I did some little research and found a NIMC Harmonization and Implementation Committee document online on Biometrics Standards and Specifications which clearly specify that “Partial covering of the head, without covering the face from forehead are allowed due to religious reasons”. The clause permitting head covering is contained on page 16 of the document under subsection 8.7 on “accessories” under Section 8 titled “Enrollment of face image”.
I was eventually captured by the same man who blatantly refused to claim the system has been programmed to reject any face image captured without the ear. He simply arrogated the power to interpret the guidelines thus denying others like myself the opportunity to get captured at the centre.
Although the manager assured me that he has since been briefed to desist from such practice, I still witnessed him asking two women in hijabs to show their ears for the face capturing before my turn.
Then came the next drama regarding the collection of the NIN slip. I was at the centre again on July 17 with the handwritten slip containing my name and a serial number to trace my NIN. I met two men by the entrance calling out names from similar slips and returning the slips to their respective owners with an N200 note. I was curious. I learnt the names being called were for those whose NIN were yet to be generated. There were reports of some who had done the data capturing since May but whose NIN were yet to be generated.
Afterwards, one of the men started collecting the slip again from ‘the newcomers’, and people simply handed him their slips with a N200 note. On getting to me, I requested to know what the money was meant for, and he simply said it was “for checking” if the NIN had been generated for collection. I told him I would not pay. He said that was the pre-condition for collection, but that if the NIN has not been generated the money will be refunded so I could check back another day.
I did not need any soothsayer to confirm that it was illegal. Armed with the contact of the outlet Manager, I called him up and introduced myself. He was quick to intervene. He called me in and collected the slip from me. Within seconds my NIMC slip, with the generated NIN, was handed over to me. He apologised again noting that the men were wrong to have insisted on the N200 as a pre-condition to getting the slip. He said he just learnt that the N200 naira being collected was the lamination fee for the slip and confirmed that they should not have insisted on the payment since it was optional.
I left the main hall to meet the others within the open space in the compound who were aware of my refusal to pay. They were surprised I had collected the slip and simply attributed it to my “knowing someone” within. I told them they could have challenged the decision to pay but they confirmed that they had no choice than to pay the requested N200 “checking fee” and another N200 for lamination when the slip is ready for collection, making a total of N400. I called the attention of the outlet manager to the anomaly but he insisted the men claimed they only collect the N200 for the lamination.
I chose not to argue further. Whether N200 or N400, it still did not negate the fact that those men at the gate chose to cash in on the situation as is typical of many such situations when people require essential services. And as usual, people simply complied without argument, just to get the required services. It is high time many Nigerians started to challenge the status quo and ask basic questions. Though we may not always get our way, we may at least get the attention of relevant authorities to the plight of the ordinary man.
I once evaded such exploitation when I applied for a renewal of my international passport in 2017. I had recently read a Premium Times investigative report and the concluding part on passport racketeering at the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS) passport offices nationwide; with the agency’s official response urging people to directly apply for their international passports on the NIS website and make the approved payments online.
The officers were stunned at the NIS passport office in Ibadan which I had visited to submit the filled application form. It was evident I was in for a long ordeal. But an official complaint my husband lodged on the agency official Facebook page fact-tracked the application process. I ended up paying less than N20,000 for my current international passport while a colleague paid N40,000 for the same offering. You just begin to wonder if SERVICOM, the agency mandated to ensure excellent service delivery in the public sector, is still in place and conscious of service-rendering agencies susceptible to extortion? One expects that the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) or the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, will marshal all possible support for SERVICOM to combat corrupt practices in public service delivery rather than concentrate on arresting and arraigning due process violators alone.
Although making these complaints might just be a drop in the ocean, it could contribute towards changing the narrative on officialdom within the country. As evident in my experience with the international passport application, I ended up being a sort of “VIP” and was promptly attended to on the directive of then Passport Control Officer (PCO) at the NIS Ibadan centre based on an order from Abuja. Hence, it became a sort of ‘just treat their files and let them go with their wahala (meddlesome) while we carry on with business as usual. I only pray my next passport renewal will still not suffer a similar ordeal. I, however, believe that if more people are aware of their basic rights, and raise their concerns with relevant authorities, we can gradually begin to change the narrative towards better service delivery in this country.
Raheemat Adeniran, PhD.
Lecturer, Journalism Department, Lagos State University School of Communication.