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Nigeria’s national biometric ID proposed to go digital, add DNA



Biometrics news in Africa was dominated by a pair of stories from West Africa’s largest nations this week. The results from the committee established in Nigeria after U.S. President Donald Trump banned Nigerian citizens from applying for certain visa types go way beyond the domain of their initial enquiries and cover a national DNA database and mandatory use of the National Identity Number (NIN). In nearby Ghana, analysis of the recent biometric voter registration exercise finds both positives and negatives.

Nigeria: How the U.S. visa ban could lead to DNA banks, exclusivity for NIMC

Measures such as reporting lost and stolen passports to Interpol means the country is tackling the issues behind the U.S. visa ban on Nigeria, and a DNA bank could also be established, reports The Vanguard. But the committee set up to work on these things has set its sight much further, coming to a cost of over 71 billion naira (US$184 million).

U.S. President Donald Trump included Nigeria on the list of countries whose citizens would no longer be able to apply for certain types of visas that can lead to immigration in January 2020. Following this President Buhari established the Presidential Committee on Citizen Data Management and Harmonization. It has been assessing the six areas of concern to U.S. authorities and that two have been fully met, two substantially met and two still require more work.

Nigeria now notifies Interpol directly of lost and stolen passports and has submitted details on 146,000 such documents. It also provides data on the identity of travelers.

In a section of their report entitled ‘Quick Wins,’ the committee is recommending to the Federal Government that it establish a National DNA data bank and necessary laboratories to tackle the country’s security issues. In addition, it recommended a centralised Criminal Information Management System and National Criminal DNA Laboratory.

In light of the multiple agencies capturing biometrics for various ID categories the committee recommended that only the National Identity Management Commission should collect and store the data and that all mobile phone users must register with their National Identity Numbers from June 20, 2021 if at least 80 percent of the population has a NIN by that point (unlikely as the rate is less than 20 percent currently).

Also listed was the mandatory use of the NIN for identification in all government services and the digital registration of births and deaths by hospitals.

Following these announcements, the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola was also reported by several outlets, including The Vanguard, as saying that the plastic photo ID cards will be dropped and only a digital version issued, ostensibly to save foreign exchange reserves for printing the cards.

The Centre for Democracy and Development, however, fact-checked the reports, and found them “misleading.” The Minister had suggested rather that NIMC be the only agency to collect biometric data from Nigerians, and that the number and its association with personal data is more important than the physical credential.

Nigeria’s International Centre for Investigative Reporting performed a separate a fact check on social media claims about a new government app, and validated that NIMC has launched a beta of an app which will host digital versions of credentials.

According to another report by The Vanguard, the minister said, “The card is just for convenience, the real thing is the number you have. With that number you are on the databank, everything about you is there. We are just upgrading it such that your DNA too will be there very soon. Even if you are in a car, I will know if you are the one in the car with your DNA, it’s already captured. You are already captured, you cannot run away anymore.”

Ghana election: Smooth sign up, guarantor overreliance

Biometric capture equipment seems to have been much more reliable in this registration exercise than previous one. Reports by News Ghana state the exercise, which registered 16.6 million voters, went smoothly due to the new biometric voter registration kits and it being the first time ever that the Electoral Commission has not run out of materials.

News Ghana also carries coverage of a statement by the IMANI thinktank which posits that it is possible that 90 percent of those registered used guarantors. This is based on the fact that 40 percent of the newly registered did so by using two people to vouch for their identity rather than presenting ID. But according to IMANI, of the rest who registered by using their Ghana Cards, 80 percent had acquired those cards also by a guarantor system.

The ruling NPP party is so confident in the new roll that they are pushing to revive the ‘no verification no vote’ in the election. Ghana Web reports that in 2016, the NPP had taken the position because they did not trust the electoral roll, but this time want the same rule precisely because they do have such faith in it, especially with facial recognition available.

The biometric registration may have been deemed successful, but the fact no census was carried out beforehand as is usually the case, means there was no clear target for how many people should be registered, according to former president John Dramani Mahama, reports Peace FM Online.

Morocco, Ceuta & Melilla: Borders upgraded with facial recognition

The authorities in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are using the period of border closures with Morocco to upgrade their systems with facial recognition cameras, reports El Faro de Melilla. The upgrades are part of the territories’ aim to build a ‘smart frontier.’

Many have been trapped in the cities since lockdown began on March 13. The reopening of the border will be done in phases, dependent on the health situation in Morocco, whose own borders may open on September 10.

Opinion & Reports

Guinea: Interview with technical director for WURI

Dr. Himi Deen Touré, the technical director for the World Bank-funded WURI project for biometric ID in West Africa, is interviewed by Guinee News. Dr. Touré explains the mechanics and how Guinea is using local companies to create the system rather than relying on foreign firms, and the importance of communication about the system to ensure its adoption and success.

News in Brief & Updates

In brief – Liberia: The government opens a training center with biometric ID-only entry for staff to learn about anti-money laundering projects.

This post was updated at 9:15am on August 19, 2020 to include the fact-check by the Centre for Democracy and Development.

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