The National Identification Management Commission (NIMC) has been tasked to be transparent and accountable in carrying out its statutory responsibility of enrolling Nigerians for the National Identification Number (NIN).
Participants at the sixth regulatory conversation series organised by Integrity Organisation Limited, an anti-corruption research, advocacy and consulting group, gave this advice ahead of the release of about $433 million (N154 billion) by the World Bank to support six major areas of the country’s developmental initiatives, including Nigeria’s digital identification for development project.
The event, which was held in Lagos on Thursday with the theme; “National Identity Number: Matters Arising and Implications to Nation Building,” had in attendance representatives of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), PREMIUM TIMES, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Education Rights Campaign (ERC), among others.
NIMC was conspicuously absent at the event; a development some blamed on the commission’s poor accountability culture.
Panelists at the event include special assistant to the comptroller-general of Nigeria Immigration Service, Amos Okpu; Lagos sector commandant of FRSC, Hyginus Omeje; Francesca Kanayo-Chiedu of Citizens ConnectNG, PREMIUM TIMES’ managing editor, Idris Akinbajo among others.
They confirmed the need for the identification number issued by NIMC but decried the poor standards of the agency’s operation, lack of transparency in its affairs, and the introduction of various fees for enrolment and other services such as data correction.
Speaking earlier, the chief executive officer of Integrity Organisation, Soji Apampa, said the huge resources invested in the identity management project within the last 20 years cannot be justified.
Mr Apampa said; “In the last 20 years, Nigeria has spent about N120 billion on identity management, especially since the introduction of the aborted national identity card project. Obviously, there is no justification for such huge spending as at now.
“Today, the World Bank has concluded plans to support NIMC and other projects in the country to the tune of about $433 million. The World Bank needs to involve civil societies and other key stakeholders in monitoring the spending of this money and ensuring transparency and efficiency on the part of NIMC as an agency of government.”
World Bank’s $433 million support
According to NIMC, the global bank in February approved the country’s identity project, alongside others, and would be funding the six projects with a total of $433 million.
A report by the identity management agency and published on its website noted that World Bank took the decision on February 18 in Washington DC, the United States, as part of its “support for the country to empower citizens, especially marginalised groups, to access welfare-enhancing servfinas.”
The report quoted the global findncial institution’s country director for Nigeria, Shubham Chaudhuri, saying; “The World Bank is ramping up its support to Nigeria in its efforts to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty,” adding that the project “will support the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to increase the number of persons who have a National Identification Number (NIN) reaching about 150 million in the next couple of years.”
The World Bank further noted that the project will be financed “through an International Development Association (IDA) credit of US$115 million and co-financing of US$100 million from the French Agency for Development and US$215 million from the European Investment Bank.”
“Why NIMC must be accountable”
Some of the participants, including argued that with the introduction of various fees and charges by the identity management agency, it has become a revenue generation agency. This new role, they said, negates the statutory responsibility of the agency.
According to various speakers, the introduction of 40 pounds and 70 dollars fees for enrolment for Nigerians in the Diaspora and particularly those in the UK and Canada cannot be justified by NIMC.
Others also complained about the introduction of N20 charges for using Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) format to check a number, even as a participant also alleged that she was asked to pay N19,000 for data correction.
The forum, therefore, urged the agency to desist from turning itself to a revenue generation agency, while also urging the government to adequately fund its agencies to avoid subjecting Nigerians to extortion.
The head of NIMC’s corporate communications, Jamila Ahmed, said the details of the various fees charged by the agency are uploaded on the organisation’s website, and that there is nothing hidden in the arrangement.
She said the N20 charged for identity number check on mobile phones is for services provided by the mobile operators, and that the money does not go to the agency.
She, however, failed to provide reasons Nigerians in the Diaspora are being asked to pay for registration, saying she was not in the position to talk on that.
“I will send you the details of the person in charge of the Diaspora enrolment, Hadiza Dagabana. She is in the best position to explain this,” Mrs. Ahmed said.
Meanwhile, when Mrs Dagabana was called on the phone, she did not pick her call and did not respond to messages sent to her.
Solutions to Nigeria’s national identity problem
Many of the participants at the forum condemned the multiplicity of national data collection processes and agencies in the country, saying such development has created duplication of identities for individuals and overlapping responsibilities on the part of government agencies.
However, as solution to what they described as the lack of efficiency on the part of the identity management organisation, participants suggested deployment of more data capturing machines, and other relevant facilities.
One of the participants, Kayode Komolafe, said going by the current situation and the available tools at the NIMC, it could take 18 years to capture Nigerians.
Also speaking, Mr. Akinbajo recommended digitisation of the entire registration processes, saying human to human interface should be discouraged if transparency was to be achieved by NIMC or any other agency of government.
“I think NIMC will have to do something about reducing the human to human interface in the registration processes. This is what JAMB seems to have achieved and I think doing that will ensure transparency and accountability on the part of the agency,” Mr Akinbajo advised.
While wrapping up the session, Mr. Apampa said the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, as the supervisory office for NIMC, would be carried along in the continued quest for efficiency on the part of the agency.