How Special Olympics Nigeria will bring digital identity to the people

World Bank Mission Billion winner on Identity for Inclusion
How Special Olympics Nigeria will bring digital identity to the people

“Whenever we’re organizing an international competition, we find ourselves having to start from the very beginning, to get them their identification, to get them registered to get them passports to be able to travel with them. We take care of pretty much everything,” Ibiyemi Ayeni, Initiatives and Programs Manager for Special Olympics Nigeria, tells Biometric Update from Lagos over Zoom.

Their winning ID4I mobile registration plan may one day help inform government provision for people with disabilities and circle back round to communities so that families can acquire ID for their children.

The World Bank’s competition for finding new ways to assist more people to acquire identification recently picked its winners. There were three first-prize winners for the Global prize, including Special Olympics Nigeria, the national office for the global sporting organization for athletes with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Special Olympics Nigeria’s work with athletes with disabilities sometimes requires they have ID for competition purposes, but also in seeking medical care. Finding that the vast majority simply had no official identification, the organization developed a plan to train and equip mobile registration teams who could travel nationwide to sign up and enroll the biometrics of people with disabilities for the National Identity Management Commission’s National Identity Number (the NIN, issued by NIMC).

The team devised its ID4I or Identity for Inclusion solution. The $150,000 Mission Billion prize seeks “new ways to enable vulnerable populations – such as people with limited digital access and marginalized women and girls – to obtain digital IDs and use them to verify their identities and access remote services” and so when picking the three winners, Kiva Protocol, Mobile Vaani, and Special Olympics Nigeria, the bank’s Vice President for Infrastructure, Makhtar Diop, noted that all three address inclusion across the full identification lifecycle.

The full identification lifecycle is critical to Special Olympics Nigeria’s plans as their participants would benefit from having ID for reasons far beyond those of sport.

“What we’ve also found is that people with intellectual disabilities, when their parents die… they are left alone, they are kicked out. Family members usually don’t really care so they find themselves on the street,” says Ayeni, “If they have an ID, they are able to access their bank accounts, and by the time we’ve been able to push the government for more support, they’d be able to get support and register them for health care.”

The prize money will be used to create mobile registration units to head out into communities in early 2021 equipped with biometric capture devices and mobile printers. Not to produce official, plastic ID cards, but simply to print the registrants’ NIN onto a paper card in the hope they will be able to use it in varied situations. The ID4I scheme will train NIMC staff but also provide volunteers to help to work with people with disabilities.

Volunteers are needed alongside NIMC staff due to the nature of the challenge ahead. Nigeria is larger than any country in Europe and has a population of around 207 million. “Starting with Lagos, where we’re based, the NIMC contacts are actually quite excited to work with us so we’ll see how we can take this partnership into other states and regions,” says Ayeni, but adds that more partners will be needed if the project is to succeed at scale. For its overall national biometric ID scheme, Nigeria recently secured $433 million in funding from the World Bank. The team is hoping for synergies with the national project.

With funding to go out into communities, the Special Olympics Nigeria team is hoping for multiple, cumulative benefits to its registration scheme. Among those benefits are immediate access to certain services for those with intellectual disabilities issued with a NIN, training and education of NIMC in general to take a more inclusive approach to registration for people with disabilities and therefore sign more up, and ultimately the ability to gather more statistics on the numbers of people with disabilities, which would inform future government policy.

This could then lead to greater provision, making the benefits of registration clearer and encouraging more families to register their children with disabilities. The team estimates there are at least three million Nigerians with intellectual disabilities. Ayeni says that their mobile units will register anyone who wants to register, not just those with disabilities.

Much of their work will depend on awareness raising. “I feel like the problem is ignorance, a lack of awareness of a lot of things. People see disability as a bad thing. Parents of children with an intellectual disability or disability in general abandon their children to a home, or keep them locked up at home with the mindset that they can’t access or don’t need to access certain services or are not qualified to get certain things because they’re not able to understand certain things,” says Ayeni, noting that in households with multiple children, those with a disability are far less likely to have ID arranged by their parents, and then less likely themselves to pursue it.

An issue to overcome further down the road is how NIMC handles disability. Currently there is one generic disability box when someone registers. Nothing is shown on the ID card, though few people have a card and the government is switching to virtual credentials. Services such as the police can see that an ID-holder has disability included in their profile, but have no further information which could be of use in their interaction with that person.

“In January 2019 the government did approve the Disability Bill that they’d been holding for a long time,” says Ayeni, “So what we’re trying to do with ID4I is champion the registration of people with intellectual disabilities. Eventually down the line we want to be able to push for services from the government by the time we have a sizeable database of people with intellectual disabilities.”

Ibiyemi Ayeni tells the story of one of their athletes, summing up the challenges for her team and for Nigerians with intellectual disabilities. Last year, they secured sponsorship for the athlete to undergo cataract surgery.

“We had to take care of everything, from getting her registration, an identification, getting her registered with the hospital. We were the ones who followed up continuously with the parents. The parents weren’t even interested to get the person to where they needed to be. If a parent is that uninterested, who’s going to fight for people like that? When that person’s parents die, at least now she has a place to rest her head.”

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