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New NIN card project a new dark hole

Many Nigerians sneered with skepticism at the government’s so-called fresh and invigorated effort to issue them with new national identification cards as announced by the…

Many Nigerians sneered with skepticism at the government’s so-called fresh and invigorated effort to issue them with new national identification cards as announced by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) recently. It would not be the first time that NIMC would whet the appetite of Nigerians with the promise to issue them with the much talked about National Identification Number (NIN) card. As Nigerians have discovered, the project is not really about providing them with identity cards; it is rather about other interests.

The selling point of the newly initiated NIN card is that it will be a General Multipurpose Card (GMPC), eliminating the need for multiple cards. It will be used for payments, government intervention services, travels, banking, among others, as it will be powered by the AFRIGO card scheme, an indigenous scheme powered by Nigerian Interbank Settlement System (NIBSS).

For Nigerians who have suffered a series of disappointments from NIMC, these promises are meaningless. The commission has failed to print NIN cards for millions of Nigerians who endured harsh weather in our blistering sun and freezing cold to register. They were issued with sheets of paper containing their NINs, with the promise that they would receive information on their phones directing them to the point where they would collect the all-important NIN card. Till date, only a few people have the cards; leaving millions of Nigerians in a hopeless wait. At a point, NIMC, with a bold and unapologetic face, changed the rhetoric to say the card was not as important as the NIN, implying that those who had been allocated NIN should be contented.

NIMC’s position was dubious and misleading because the government had convinced Nigerians that the NIN card being replaced by the fresh project would perform five functions: national identity card; travel document based on International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICOA) standards; electronic identification with strong authentication and digital signal; contained a chip that provided holders’ address and other personal details.

Also, NIMC said the card would be a tool for financial transactions as it served banks with Know Your Customer (KYC) purposes; that the card was biometric as the print of applicants’ 10 fingers were taken; had the trademark of MasterCard embossed on it, an indication that it would be used for financial transactions.

The problem with the NIN project was neither about the multiplicity of the functions of the card nor its security features. It has been the failure of NIMC to issue the cards to millions of Nigerians whose biometrics were collected during registration.

It does not make sense for the government to upgrade the card when the first one has not been made available to the people.

It is on record that as at 2014, the project gulped as much as N121bn. The government of ex-President Muhammadu Buhari also invested a lot of money into the project, among it a World Bank funding worth $433m meant to accelerate the effort to produce the cards. The funding came under the Agence Francaise de Development (AFD) and European Union (EU) support. In an attempt to utilise this fund, the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy launched the NIN-SIM linkage drive that unsettled the country, as millions of Nigerians queued up at various registration points for several months for it.

Despite the local and international investments in NIN, the cards have not been delivered to the majority of those who provided all the information required.

We call on the government to take the simple step of tackling the challenges that NIMC has faced over the years – the challenges that have prevented the commission from issuing Nigerians with NIN cards. We see the resort to a new NIN card with diverse electronic and security features as fresh funds being channeled into a dark hole. What is paramount at the moment is for NIMC to produce all the outstanding NIN cards and distribute them to the people. After that, the commission should launch another NIN registration drive until the details of all Nigerians are captured in their portal. Every other modification can follow without any fanfare.

Most developed societies have a seamless process of obtaining their national identities. The United States of America (USA) has operated an effective National Security Number (NSN) since 1936 without the kind of frustration Nigerians pass through. Germany came up with a new identification system after World War II in 1950 without exposing Germans to the frustration Nigerians endured to get registered.

The Bola Tinubu government must not reinvent the wheel of the NIN card issuance; it is just a waste of resources.

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