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Digital ID in Africa this week: Nigerian biometrics reach turning point, Ghana caught selling voter data


Developments across Nigeria’s digital ID projects have reached a certain momentum as more government departments require the country’s National Insurance Number (NIN) and begin to connect and harmonize their databases. As having a NIN is becoming essential for life in Nigeria, the government is pushing to register everyone within five years, yet aspects such as the banking verification number are struggling to keep apace with population growth. As the country has just passed the 200 million mark with 7 million new Nigerians each year, ID for security and service provision will become increasingly critical to the federal government.

This week we take a look at the latest development across Nigeria’s ID sector, the latest crises for Ghana’s electoral commission, plus a last-minute scramble for biometric passports in Kenya, and hopes for further biometric monitoring to reduce medicine theft in Ugandan hospitals.

Nigeria: ID comes center stage as databases connect

The constant rollout of new identity-related products in Nigeria is making an impact on behavior. The era of multiple identities for Nigerians is over, according to Muhammad Babandede, comptroller-general of the Nigerian Immigration Service (CGIS), now that the country’s new biometric passports are being integrated with the National Identification Number (NIN) and biometric banking verification numbers (BVNs), reports This Day.

The ease of changing one’s name and identity, whether through court officials or unofficial agents for as little as US$2, has been proving a headache for Nigeria’s authorities when dealing with security and planning.

“It will be more difficult for people to change data in their passports henceforth, as we already have about 7,000 uncollected passports,” This Day quotes Babandede as saying, “The security in the new passport will discourage people who believe they can just wake up and change their names due to reason best known to them. The passport is linked with the NIN and the BVN, so with this, it will be difficult for anybody to change data, but my duty as manager is to reduce the level of corruption in the system.”

The new ePassports have 22 security features to cut criminal activity, as reported by Punch. “Nigerians are meant to harmonise their identity and not travel out and start seeking change of name or identity for any frivolous reason that comes to mind,” said Babandede, “The new passport will harmonize one identity for Nigerians and this will help our social development, economic development and above all, it will be difficult to change the data now.”

The number of bank accounts with biometrically-backed BVNs has increased to 38 million, according to The New Telegraph. 600,000 accounts were linked in the two months to June 9. However, five years into the campaign, this is only around half of the active accounts in the country.

Lagos, the commercial capital, is to use BVN as a form of biometric ID, according to a note from Andersen Tax. The Lagos State Internal Revenue Service issued a public notice that it would integrate its own tax identification system for taxpayers with the national system, using the biometric BVNs. “We expect that the proposed integration … would provide the tax authorities with more reliable taxpayers’ information to enable them (to) track down tax defaulters and combat tax evasion,” concludes the note.

Another development in digital ID in Nigeria is that there is now no need for any driver who has already been through biometric capture for the NIN to go through recapture at the driving authority when applying for a replacement driving license, reports Punch. The Bypass Capture system is one of the benefits encouraging more people to register. The country now has a five-year target to complete registration, as Aliyu Aziz, director-general of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) announced at the recent ID4Africa 2019 conference in Johannesburg.

Since January 1 2019, Nigerians have had to use a NIN for functions such as opening bank accounts, voter registration and passport applications. The various databases connected to such services will be harmonized into a single database.

Also in Nigeria, the police force has come out to announce that reports carried by large swathes of the media about a deal between a private company and the police to created police background check numbers (PBCNs) and a database are “a pack of lies”. The Nigeria Police Force has released statements and took to Twitter to deny that it is working with Ace of Spades Consult Limited. Coverage stated that Ace of Spades would generate a police database linking to existing ID-holding databases such as the NIN, but the police said

“While restating the commitment of the NPF under its current leadership to continue to work with private entities in evolving technologically driven solutions for addressing security challenges within our country, the Force however wishes to state that in the instant case, the claims by Ace of Spades Consult are unfortunately a pack of lies. The Nigeria Police Force has no plans whatsoever to unveil any such dedicated website for purposes of carrying out background checks in the manner stated in the publication.”

Tanzania: 5 million ID cards issued

Deputy minister for Home Affairs, Hamad Masauni, stated that five million national ID cards had been issued and 13 million more are being processed, when pressed to disclose the scheme’s progress in parliament, according to IPP Media.

22 million people should have a card by the end of the year, Masauni said. The biometric ID is becoming increasingly essential in the country for services such as SIM card registration.

Ghana: Electoral Commission caught selling voter data

An audit has revealed that Ghana’s electoral commission (EC) sold voter data to a software developer in the capital Accra, which subsequently sold the data on to financial service providers, according to My Joy.

The news breaks while the inaugural, week-long Africa Regional Data Protection and Privacy Conference is underway in Accra. Ghana was selected by the African Data Protection Network as the data protection champion tasked with leading other Anglophone African countries, reports the Ghana News Agency.

The special audit conducted revealed that the commission sold the data to Bysytem Ltd, which sold the data on again. It appears that sales date back to 2016 at least and a commission structure for resales could have been in place, but commission payments not made to the commission.

Ghana’s main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), has accused the electoral commission of having an “agenda” and taking other parties by surprise when it had to resort to offline registration in the biometric voter registration exercise, as reported by The Ghanaian Times.

Some parties had warned the commission that internet connections would not be reliable in certain areas, but the commission persisted with biometric registration in offline mode. “If everyone can regularly predict our internet system is not reliable but EC insisted, it means they have an agenda,” the Times quotes the NDC’s Ashanti Regional Secretary, Kwame Zuh, as saying, “The EC ambushed us, it decided to use offline system without informing any of the stakeholders.”

Voter registration has been proving problematic with officials accused of accepting bribes and keeping unapproved registration opening hours.

In more positive news, Ghana’s president Nana Akufo Addo has claimed the digital economy has contributed to sustained growth. In highlighting the importance of the national ID system and its requirement for a digital address for all, Akufo Addo said, “These biometric national ID cards are being linked to other identification systems and databases, such as social security, driver’s license, and passports, to ensure we have a credible national database,” according to Citi Newsroom.

Liberia: GovNet system to improve efficiency, accelerate biometric registration

Liberia has launched a platform known as GovNet to improve government performance and ICT capabilities. The network will connect ministries and agencies and, according to Cooper Kruah, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, “The creation of GovNet will enhance tax revenue and improved tax administration, enhance budget management and expenditure through the effective use of the IFMIS database, and support the National Biometric Registry among others,” as reported by the Daily Observer.

Sign-ups for Liberia’s biometric ID system are very low still, at just 130,000, though it is hoped a new platform for connecting service providers to a verification system will improve rates.

Uganda: Biometrics to tackle medicine theft

Uganda’s Ministry of Health permanent secretary, Dr. Diana Atwine, has called for biometric monitoring to reduce the theft of medicines in hospital dispensaries, according to the Daily Monitor.

Atwine discussed the use of biometrics with the Monitor during an interview on the government’s plans to recruit more healthcare workers, including pharmacists, in response to calls from the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda’s calls to recruit 330 more pharmacists to monitor medical supplies at facilities. Theft is a recurrent issue.

“[Recruitment of more pharmacists] is not the only solution to curbing the theft of medicine. We have big health centres with pharmacists but that is where the theft of medicine is even happening the more. We need biometric monitoring systems because computers don’t lie,” said Dr Atwine, “We have done so [used biometrics] in some hospitals on the attendance of doctors and it has worked. We are determined to change this despite the limited funds.”

Kenya: Scramble for biometric passports before old ones are invalidated

After the introduction of biometric passports, Kenyan’s are in a rush to apply as their current non-biometric passes will become invalid on August 31, the BBC reports.

Long lines are forming at application centers as early as 3AM as people try to get the new documents which include fingerprint, photo and signature data.

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