MNOs to help register biometrics for digital IDs for Nigerians as alleged agency corruption probed

MNOs to help register biometrics for digital IDs for Nigerians as alleged agency corruption probed

Mobile telephone network companies operating in Nigeria have been authorized to help establish national identification numbers (NINs) for citizens as the federal government seeks to see the biometrics-backed NINs added to the SIM cards of telephone users in the country, as per a report by Bloomberg.

One of the mobile network operators (MNOs) is MTN Group Ltd., which has already ordered 14,000 devices to be used to enroll and capture biometrics for the NINs, the Bloomberg report reveals. The devices are expected in the country in two weeks.

Meanwhile, another report says that the federal government has called for an investigation into allegations that some Nigerians are being forced by some unscrupulous individuals to pay sums of money in order to be issued the national ID number.

Last week, the Nigerian Communication Commission issued a two-week ultimatum to network providers to have the national ID numbers of mobile telephone users integrated into their SIM cards, or they would face penalties, including license withdrawal for operators and phone line disconnection for users.

The decision triggered two major concerns. The first is that the deadline of a fortnight was too short, and secondly that less than one third of telephone users in the West African nation actually have a NIN, according to statistics from the federal government body overseeing with the national digital ID project.

The move by the mobile operators to enroll and capture NINs is thus intended to ensure that a vast number of citizens have the number in order to comply with the federal government’s directive.

“We embrace and support the government’s push to broaden national identification numbers, or NIN, enrollment and will continue to engage with relevant authorities on the matter to establish implementation processes and time-lines for execution,” MTN Group Chief Executive Officer Ralph Mupita was quoted by Bloomberg as saying in an interview.

The report also cites MTN Nigeria Chief Operating Officer Mazen Mroue as saying the green light given them to register ID numbers means that they will do so on behalf of the Nigeria Identity Management Commission and validate the information against the body’s biometric database. He added that it was a “…license and capability we have been seeking for some time.”

Alleged corruption surrounding digital ID issuance

According to Vanguard, some staff of the NIMC who are involved in the enrollment process of the digital ID numbers, have been extorting money from Nigerians.

The report cited a statement issued recently by the Minister of Communications and digital economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, as clarifying that the federal government is already bearing the cost of the process – which he insisted should remain free for all citizens.

“It has been brought to the attention of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, that some applicants for the digital identity number alleged that they are being asked to pay for the service. For the avoidance of doubt, the Federal Government is bearing the cost of the registration process,” a portion of the statement cited by Vanguard reads.

“…the digital identity number is completely free for all Nigerians and legal residents with Resident Permit from the Nigeria Immigration Service. The digital identity number is the right of every citizen, based on the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Act 2007,” Dr. Pantami explained.

The report adds that the Minister has asked the Director General of the NIMC to probe the situation to ensure that defaulters are brought to justice, while also putting in place a platform through which users can report cases of extortion or any other form of corruption related to the ID registration process.

No driver’s license henceforth without ID numbers

In a move similar to the situation with SIM cards, federal government authorities have ordered that driver’s licences will now have to be issued with the digital ID numbers integrated in them.

PM News quoted officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) late last month as saying this will be effective from the first quarter of 2021 and will also involve vehicle registration.

The report also stated that the FRSC had set a deadline of December 21 2020 from which all applicants for driver’s licences must present their digital ID numbers before they can be issued the document.

“Now, if you want to renew your driver’s licence or you want to obtain a fresh driver’s licence, you must provide your NIN. NIN is the first thing and with that, no biometrics will be done again. They will be imported from the NIMC,” an FRSC Corps Marshal said of the process.

Vanguard said in another report that there will be no waiver for any citizen on this decision, which the FRSC says is in line with the directives of the federal government to harmonize citizens’ data.

President Buhari petitioned over ID project

In the meantime, a consumer rights advocacy group known as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability project, SERAP, has opined that the ongoing national identity registration process be halted because the biometric and demographic data being collected by NIMC already exists in different platforms in the country.

An article published on Modern Ghana cites a statement issued by SERAP urging Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to instruct his Minister of communications and digital economy to “…take concrete measures to promptly ensure that the NIMC is able to faithfully and effectively discharge its statutory functions to harmonize and integrate existing identification databases in government agencies, into the national identity database, and to use the information to update SIM card registration.”

SERAP in its letter to the president, the article adds, also urged him to rescind on threats to have the phone lines of telephone users blocked if they default on an order by the NCC to provide their ID numbers to network operators within a period of two weeks.

“No government has the right to strip its own people of their basic rights under the guise of registration for national identity number. If the authorities continue down this path, the threats to citizens’ rights such as the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, will inevitably increase, and the NIMC will remain a paper tiger,” a portion of the letter seen by Biometric Update reads.

“The request for Nigerians to register for NIN is burdensome, unjustified and unnecessary. It would end up serving no other purpose than to threaten and violate the rights of Nigerians, and create a ‘chilling effect’ on citizens’ ability to participate in the fight against corruption in the country, and thereby seriously undermining the government’s oft-repeated commitment to transparency and accountability,” the letter adds.

SERAP said it was writing to Buhari following a public outcry and also in line with the commitment taken by Nigeria, as reflected in its ratification of some international instruments related to human rights, to protect the welfare of all citizens.

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