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Biometrics and digital ID across Africa this week: savings and costs in Nigeria, divisions in Tanzania, Ghana


Biometrics and digital ID across Africa this week

Once again, Nigeria dominates the biometrics news agenda in Africa and this week; even a university has resorted to biometric voting for its student union. With its multiple schemes and high-profile plans, it is easy to believe that Nigeria is ahead of the pack for digital ID. Thankfully, the chief of the country’s ID commission provided a helpful reminder of the country’s overall progress: less than 10 percent of the population has a National ID Number.

Elsewhere, there are further concerns of the political manipulation of biometrics in Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

Tanzania: Lobby group calls for end to SIM deactivation, warns of political interference

Pressure group Article 19 Eastern Africa, which promotes freedom of information and expression, has called for an end to SIM deactivation and is concerned that deactivation could be held back until just before the general elections in October 2020, reports The East African.

Article 19 Eastern Africa believes the government could use the deactivation of SIMs which have not been biometrically registered against the subscribers’ ID as a way to control the sharing of information. The group also claims that registration denies anonymity and freedom of expression.

Tanzania’s National Identification Authority recently suffered a systems failure, further hampering the efforts of citizens to register for ID.

Ghana: President urges people to register for new biometric electoral role

The President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, has called on Ghanaians to go out register for the newly created biometric electoral role when the exercise begins, reports Ghana Web.

The exercise will run in April and May and has proved divisive as the country already has a biometric voter register.

The Ghana Federation of Labour (GFL) has called on the Electoral Commission to simply transfer voter data to the new system, claiming Ghanaians are tired of registering, reports the Ghana News Agency. Citizens have had to register for the Ghana Card, pensioners have to register to keep receiving payments and various other groups such as civil servants are required to register for weeding out ghost workers.

Nigeria: Civil servant capture in Rivers State reveals 17,500 ghosts

Rivers State ICT department has concluded its state-wide biometric capture exercise of civil servants and recorded a total of around 43,000, reports The Tide.

However, there some 17,500 ghosts identified and 1,500 multiple claimants, reports PM News. The exercise also revealed some 11,000 civil servants had forged their age, plus 5,000 ghost pensioners.

The exercise has proved so revealing that it will be continued to include all retiring civil servants.

The biometric exercise also revealed that the state has 2,952 private schools. A plan for the agricultural sector to be added to its databases will be announced by September, according to an official, and health facilities and staff will also be added. Rivers State aims to become the digital hub of the Niger Delta by 2022.

Nigeria: National digital ID plan to cost up to $2.3B

The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has announced that Nigeria’s digital identity plan is achievable within three to five years and will cost $433 million to $2.4 billion, reports The Guardian with an interview with NIMC chief Aziz Aliyu. The former is the amount the World Bank agreed to provide in September 2019 towards the NIMC’s business plans.

The terms of the latest plans are vague with Leadership interpreting the announcement as a five-year target to register the entire population.

Aliyu did at least provide some current ID figures in his interview with The Guardian: “At best 38 per cent of people have some form of ID, about nine per cent have the National Identity Number [NIN] offered by NIMC and less than one per cent of people have a national identity card.”

There are 13 government agencies collecting biometric data at the national level plus three or four more at the state level, according Aliyu, leading to people carrying multiple IDs without having one robust credential.

Sierra Leone: National confirmation of civil registration for biometric ID eligibility

Sierra Leone is to launch a region-by-region confirmation exercise, calling people to verify their details as recorded in various previous exercises as the director general of the National Civil Registration Authority states that only those included in the Permanent Civil Register will be eligible to obtain Biometric National Identity Cards and vote in elections from the 2022 local council elections onwards, reports The Global Times.

The exercise will begin on March 24 to 31 in the Western Area before moving on to Northern Province with all regions covered by May 25.

The announcement has triggered a backlash as opposition parties see it as part of the government’s intention to rig the 2023 general and presidential elections, reports The Telegraph.

Nigeria: Student union undertakes first biometric election

A campus of the University of Nigeria has introduced biometric voting for student union elections, reports The Sun.

The technology was brought in at University of Nigeria Nsukka to prevent violence, corruption and vote rigging.

The Dean of Students’ Affairs, Prof Edwin Omeje, told local media that “(t)he school has been witness to challenges associated with manual election at the global scene and at the national level, so we felt that innovatively we should shift on the manual to something that should give us a facelift, and that is the biometrics. The real essence of the method is to avert troubles associated with manual systems which include violence, corruption, rigging.”

The elections passed smoothly on 13 and 21 February.


Nigeria: The lack of control of borders leaves Nigerians vulnerable

Nigeria is wide open to foreign infiltration, believes Fola Ojo. In his editorial in The Punch he asks why other countries can manage to use technologies such as biometrics to secure their borders and Nigeria cannot.

Liberia: Technology will reduce corruption

Foldestine Paye takes readers back to the 1970s to outline how corruption has run rampant and how technologies, including biometrics could solve some of Liberia’s corruption woes, in his editorial in Front Page Africa.

News in Brief & Updates

In brief – Nigeria: Biometric registration of artisanal gold miners to begin in Central Bank of Nigeria-backed initiative to formalize the gold market.

Update – Kenya: The government has extended the deadline for transitioning to an e-passport by a year to March 1 2021, which will come as a relief to many Kenyans living abroad.

In brief – Rwanda: Rwandan AI firm Digital Umuganda is developing speech recognition software for Rwandan which could be incorporated in biometric verification processes.

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