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Accelerating Nigeria’s digital ID issuance will take more funding, infrastructure

Federal government wants NIMC to be self-reliant

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The ongoing process in Nigeria to issue national biometric digital IDs (NINs) to citizens will be more effective if the necessary financial resources and infrastructure are made available to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), stakeholders involved in the process have suggested.

The call for more money to be put at the disposal of the NIMC, the body overseeing the ID registration exercise, comes on the heels of a recent comment by the country’s digital economy minister, Dr. Isa Pantami, that the NIMC should be self-reliant and not expect too much in the way of resources from the federal government for its work, according to a write-up published by Nigerian daily This Day.

In the article, heads of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOM), and the Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), argued that the federal government must take full responsibility for funding the NIMC because it does not make money from commercializing any product. NIMC’s mandate is to make the digital ID free for all Nigerians, including card issuance.

Importance of the NIN

The two officials also highlighted the importance of the NIN for Nigerian citizens and warned against the risk of commercializing the identity management system of the country.

This Day quotes NATCOM President Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo as asserting that ensuring adequate funding for the NIMC will avoid the temptation of trying to rely on resources from other parties that may have vested interest in the country’s biometric and national identity data currently being collected.

“I do not know how NIMC, as an agency of government that has no commercial product to sell, will be able to become self-reliant and be able to sustain itself without budgetary allocation from the federal government. What I know is that all over the world, NIN registration and national Identity projects are the sole responsibility of government,” Gbenga Adebayo, head of ALTON, was quoted as saying.

In the meantime, the lack of adequate resources to take care of some of the needs of NIMC enrolment staff has been at the forefront of a union strike which saw NIN registration and other related activities halted. The workers had gone on strike last month in protest over poor working conditions especially given the risk brought about by the coronavirus pandemic as crowds of people show up at registration centres to procure the NIN, This Day notes. One other reason for the strike was a call for the implementation of an approved salary structure – which will definitely entail additional spending.

NIMC employees had promised to go on another strike if their conditions were not met within a period of two weeks. And that strike now looks likely following the minister’s recent comment about funding for the body.

More NIN registration centers

Meanwhile, the problems surrounding the biometrics enrolment and ID registration process notwithstanding, officials of NIMC are assuring that everything is being put in place in order to ensure that the NIN registration as well as the broader digital economy drive in Nigeria becomes a reality.

In an interview published by Leadership and The Nation, the Director General of NIMC, Aliyu Aboubakar Aziz, spoke about a wide range of issues including the US$433 million World Bank loan that is meant to support the country’s digital identity ecosystem project.

He said part of the money, whose disbursement is predicated on certain conditions, will be used to set up more registration centres in order to boost the NIN issuance process. One of the preconditions, the NIMC boss said, is the putting in place of a data protection law in Nigeria which will principally be intended to “…establish an effective regulatory framework for the protection of personal data, regulate the processing of information concerning data subjects and safeguarding their fundamental rights.”

“In terms of enrolment expansion and extension, it is projected that by the end of the first quarter of this year, 2021, given the speed at which our licensed enrolment vendors are setting up, especially the telcos, the existing 1,000 enrolment centres would have been tripled,” Aziz said in the interview.

Other components of the digital identity ecosystem project to be covered by the World Bank funding, the NIMC boss explained, include supporting the usage of digital ID by building linkages between NIN and additional key services; ensuring cybersecurity of the ecosystem; strengthening the infrastructure for e-government and digital signature; and linking civil registration with national identification through provision of NIN at birth.

Some of the issues also raised in the interview include progress made by NIMC in establishing NINs for Nigerians abroad, the advancement of work by licenced agents in connection to the digital identity registration, the observance of an existing COVID-19 protocol relating to the registration activity, as well as other practical modalities aimed at facilitating the NIN issuance.

A recent extension of deadline for the NIN registration process allows citizens up to April 6 to be able to link their NINs to their SIM cards.

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