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Many hands lift Nigerian digital ID effort, but some are actually making it harder

Many hands lift Nigerian digital ID effort, but some are actually making it harder

An uneasy balance is being struck in Nigeria in that nation’s progress toward universal digital identification for its 200 million citizens and legal residents.

The government has decentralized the process across agencies and industries in hopes of getting more than token participation, with mixed results.

In 2007, the national government created a commission to not only create and operate a digital ID database, but to harmonize it with any private counterparts.

But in an outcome that is familiar to developing and developed economies, the progress has been incremental – just 10 percent of Nigerians had enrolled for National Identification Numbers (NINs) by 2017.

When the Nigerian ID Management Commission (NIMC) in 2019 said it would need to multiply its 1,000 ID registration centers tenfold to fulfill its mandate, policy makers looked for alternatives.

According to a new report by an Africa-focused computer and telecom consultancy, the commission began partnering with public and private entities to get more registrations without more government funding.

The consultancy, known as Cipesa, or the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa, says a network approach combining the strengths of multiple sectors has the greatest chance of succeeding.

It is expected to at least cut duplicated effort and wasted resources. And, working together, the public and private sectors can be expected to create harmonized and integrated data collection efforts.

In a possible sign of progress on that front, Nairametrics reports that Biometric Verification Numbers (BVNs) issued by Nigeria’s banks reached 54.7 million in May, an increase of about 700,000 from a month earlier. Nigeria had reportedly reached about 78 million digital IDs issued as of early April.

It is not all upside, however. Cipesa notes that the abuse of personal data and violation of privacy is “blatant.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers to date have not created enabling legislation to guide this collaboration, which almost certainly will prevent it from being as efficient as it could otherwise be.

Also, “sabotage by data controllers” are disrupting the process because they do not want the lucrative contracts to end.

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