African national biometric programs tackle scale challenges

November 2, 2017 - 

Several African nations at different stages of their biometric registration processes have recently announced new efforts to improve their identity systems. The actions could save millions of dollars for the federal government of Nigeria, provide assurance of fairness and legitimacy for Zimbabwe’s upcoming elections, and Liberia.

Nigeria takes on biometric data harmonization

Nigeria’s House of Representatives has urged the Federal Government to work towards the harmonization of biometric data captured for identity programs by myriad different agencies. Rep. Ochiglegor Idagbo said that harmonizing government and private databases could save N40 billion (over $112 million USD) in operational costs, while eliminating the need for citizens to repeatedly enrol their biometrics, according to The News Guru.

Idagbo cited the economic and law enforcement benefits achieved by countries including the U.S., Canada, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates through harmonization of biometric data.

He also noted the enormous duplication of efforts by government organizations including the Central Bank of Nigeria, Federal Road Safety Commission, Federal Inland Revenue Service, National Pension Commission, Independent National Election Commission, National Health Insurance Scheme, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and others, as well as telecom service providers.

House speaker Rep. Yakubu Dogara ruled that the Committees on Population and Governmental Affairs are responsible to ensure implementation, and that their progress will be reviewed by the legislature in six weeks.

Zimbabwe on track for 80 percent biometric electoral registration

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) registered almost a million people during a countrywide blitz in support of its Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) program. VOA Zimbabwe reports that a lack of publicity may have hindered the blitz’s impact in some communities, and that some Zimbabweans thought that the blitz concluded the program, which is ongoing.

Multiple regions of Zimbabwe have large numbers of people left without identity documents after their parents were allegedly killed in the 1980s by the North-Korea-trained Fifth Brigade, VOA Zimbabwe reports. The registration effort has been slowed by the lack of confidence of many young people, the country’s largest demographic, in its electoral processes.

The ZEC began the second phase of the program this week, concentrating on different areas, and will conclude the registration drive in early 2018, before the country’s general elections. ZEC commissioner, Qhubani Moyo told local media that the commission had registered roughly 15 percent of the population, and is on track to achieve over 80 percent registration, which he called “a very acceptable figure internationally for voter registration.”

Voters’ rolls used in previous elections have allegedly included “ghost voters,” according to VOA Zimbabwe.

Liberia launches National Biometric Identification System

Liberia’s National Biometric Identification System (NBIS) was officially launched Monday, when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf cut a ribbon to the National Identification Registry (NIR) headquarters in Monrovia, the Liberian Observer reports. The country’s federal Cabinet approved fees of $5 USD for the basic national ID card which will be issued by the NBIS, $10 for the ECOWAS standard card, and $20 for a resident ID card.

The national ID card will be required for registration of SIM cards for mobile phones, banking and insurance service applications, passport applications, drivers licenses, and tax identification numbers, effective July 1, 2018. Mass enrolment is expected to start mid-November at 11 enrolment centers.

U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Christine Elder said the development agencies of the U.S. government are committed to continuing support for Liberian development goals.

Biometric cards issued by the NBIS will be valid for three years, while future cards will last up to ten years, according to NIR Executive Director J. Tiah Nagbe. The program is supported by Techno Brain Global FZE, which signed a $5.9 million contract in April, under which the NIR will issue 1 million ID cards and 50,000 ECOWAS standard cards in the country of 4.5 million people.

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About Chris Burt

Chris Burt is a writer and contributor to Biometric Update. He has also written nonfiction about information technology, dramatic arts, sports culture, and fantasy basketball, as well as fiction about a doomed astronaut. He lives in Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter @AFakeChrisBurt."