Onyemenam: Nigeria’s Insecurity is Compounded by Improper Identity System

26 Jan 2014

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 Chris Onyemenam

Identity crisis is one of the major challenges confronting Nigeria. But the Director-General, National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Chris Onyemenam, speaks with KunleAderinokun on how the federal government is resolving the crisis by establishing a system to manage identity of Nigerians and stave off future crisis

Why do you think Nigeria should have a national identity management system?

The need for a reliable national identity management system cannot be over emphasised.
The NIMS comprises a National Identity Database (also known as a Central Identity Repository or Register), assignment of a unique National Identification Number or NIN, issuance of a chip-based secure multi-purpose identity card, provision of a secure network of access to the National Identity Database and a means to irrefutably prove or assert the identity of an individual as well as the harmonisation of existing identity databases in government agencies.

The most important thing about the NIMS is that it will provide a universal identification infrastructure for the entire country. This will help bring real and recognisable benefits to the government, each of us - individually and collectively, and also for legal residents in Nigeria.
The last identity card project was a turnkey project, the deliverable was a closed system managed by the foreign contractors and focused on ID card issuance. The data was not made available for verification except through special request from law enforcement agencies.
The enrollment was one off. It did not provide for continuous registration and did not provide the capability for updates in the event of marriage, name and address changes etc. It depended on government’s periodic action and investment for sustainability.
The existing NIMS project is a PPP between NIMC and two front end partners. Private sector is investing its own money. The project is managed by NIMC and Nigerians. The delivered system is an open system providing a national database of Nigerian citizens and legal residents, which is available through the verification service to individuals, businesses, organisations and the government to establish and confirm a person’s identity both in online and offline modes.
The NIMS project issues all eligible persons a unique NIN and a multipurpose card that contains some of the personal information in the chip. The NIMS project provides permanent enrolment centers thus ensuring continuity, enabling individuals to register as they turn 16 year old, pick up their NIN or card and update their records whenever necessary.

Identity fraud is common in Nigeria and some other countries of the world. Do you think the federal government can put an end to the crime?

The present security challenge facing identity in the country today can be attributed to poor, inaccurate and unreliable Identity management database. An average Nigerian parades multiple and unreliable identities; and about 75 per cent of identity documents used by most people are self-issued and counterfeits.
Secondly, Nigeria’s insecurity problem has been compounded by excessive focus on identity card issuance without identity authentication and verification services. The lack of a timely means of authenticating the documents (identity cards) is a big problem that can be addressed with the NIMS project.
What NIMC has done is to create a paradigm shift from Identity card issuance to National Identity Management System; the NIMS project is in five components: the establishment of reliable, secured and accurate National Database, assigning of national identification number, issuance of multi-purpose cards, provision of infrastructure that will be used for verification and confirmation of identity, and harmonisation of all existing government agencies’ databases in Nigeria.
The idea is that when the national identification number has been issued to every Nigerian and legal residents, it will be easier to keep track of people through their NIN. This will help stem the tide of double identity, identity fraud, criminal activities and even corrupt practices.

The enrollment process has since commenced in three different phases: phase one involved the deployment of enrollment centres at the state government levels, phase two, involved the extension of enrollment centres to the 774 local government councils across the country while phase 3 is largely aimed at capturing Nigerians living in remote areas with the deployment of mobile enrollment Units.
The deployment of the enrollment centres to the state offices nationwide followed the successful certification of the premises based on its adoption of global best practice. Let me add that each of the Enrollment centreshave a minimum of 10 enrollment units.
Also, the commission has launched the NIMC online pre-enrollment portal, which has equally been deployed in the 36 states of Nigeria and the FCT and can be accessed on

The pre-enrollment portal helps for easy enrollment process; this is because enrollees can fill the form at their convenient time before proceeding to any NIMC enrollment centre nearest to them with a printed summary sheet (2D Barcode), and proof of identity examples of which are birth certificate, evidence of address of residence, international passport, driver’s license, etc., for biometrics data capture.

Recently, there were calls, in some quarters, on the Federal Government to make NIMC a department in the National Population Commission (NPC). What is your take on this?

The mandate of NIMC can be categorised into three: it was established as the primary legal, regulatory and institutional mechanism for implementing government’s reform initiative as contained in the National Policy and NIMC Act, generally and in particular Sections 1, 2, 5, 6 and 14 respectively.

Secondly, NIMC has the mandate to wind up and take over the assets and liabilities of the former Department of National Civic Registration or DNCR, which no longer exists including the personnel in both the state and local government offices nationwide, and thirdly, establish, operate and manage the National Identity Management System to create and operate a National Identity Database; issue Unique National Identification Numbers to qualified citizens and legal residents; issue a multipurpose Identity Card to every registered person; provide a secure means to access the National Identity Database so that an individual can irrefutably assert his/her identity (Person Identification Verification Services Infrastructure); harmonise and integrate Identity Databases in government agencies to achieve resource optimisation; and collaborate with private and or public sector institutions to deliver on the National Identity Management System .
To effectively achieve and succeed with this mandate, NIMC has to stand on its own as a commission and not be integrated into the NPC as a department.

What we currently have in Nigeria is a proliferation of identity management platform – each organisation is administering its own identity system. What is even worrisome is that some government agencies are in the lot. Only recently, the CBN signed an agreement with a foreign firm to implement a biometric identity system for the banking industry. How do you manage this?

Let it be known that the NIMS project provides for dedicated fibre link to specified government agencies. It also will connect with the national backbone infrastructure. There is provision for co-location and fibre optic link between specified agency databases with the NIMS.
The introduction of NIN, the unique identifier, would further enhance and enable different agencies to subscribe and use the national database being managed by NIMC.

The use of the national database would however, be guided by uniform standards; an important NIMC approach in specific operational areas/issues.
For example the demographic, biometric and verification procedures must as of necessity be standardised. Also, to achieve interoperability and optimise the benefits of the NIMS, the NIMC had commissioned a harmonisation and integration assessment study to determine the technical and network readiness of various government agencies. Standards and guidelines have been developed towards the creation of an interoperable system with sufficient interactive window to facilitate the use of the national database without hindrance.

What is the difference between the National Identification Number and the National Identity Card?

The National Identification Number is a non-intelligent set of numbers assigned to an individual upon successful enrollment. Enrollment consists of the recording of an individual’s demographic data and capture of 10 fingerprints, head to shoulder facial picture and digital signature, which are all used to cross-check existing data in the National Identity Database to confirm that there is no previous entry of the same data.
One this de-duplication process is completed, the data is then stored with a unique NIN that was assigned to the person. With this set of number (NIN), the person will be identified for life and once used can never be used again even after the person to whom it was originally assigned is dead.
The National Identity Multi-purpose Card, on the other hand, will offer a useful and more convenient way for a person to prove his/her identity in several context and circumstance including the transaction of business because there will be a payment solution on it.
The NIMC Act provides in Section 18 for the issuance of the General Multi-purpose Card and is targeted at achieving the policy objective of standardisation, uniformity and optimisation of resources and making the benefits of the National Identity Database to be easily deployed to card-based services.

You always say the NIN is a single version of truth. Can you explain what that means?

Like I said earlier, the NIN, once issued to a person cannot be used again, (that is, it cannot be issued to another person even if the previous person is dead). It remains with the individual for life. If forgotten, the individual will be sent the same NIN. It is the NIN that helps to tie all records about a person in the database and used to check the identity verified. The NIN once assigned to a person is used to lock together all of his/her basic identifying details (electronically) that are very hard or impossible to forge, steal, forget or lose with a combination of unique personal features – electronic records of a person’s face and fingerprints.
With a NIN, a person can assert his/her identity with or without a physical Identity card. However, a smart identity card can be issued only after the NIN has been generated. Depending on the level of identity assurance required for a particular transaction, an individual’s identity will be checked through entry of the NIN or biometric into the web-based facility such that the prior stored information on the individual.

Why the choice of MasterCard to handle the cards when there are Nigerian companies that are equally qualified to do the job?

The commission’s choice for MasterCard to be the payment technology provider for the initial rollout of the National Identity Smart Card project was hinged on the company’s show of commitment towards furthering financial inclusion through the reduction of cash in the Nigerian economy.
MasterCard has pioneered large scale card schemes that combine biometric functionality with electronic payments and the NIMC buoyed by its resolve to provide Nigerians with the very best, decided to capitalise on their wealth of experience in this field to make NIMS project rollout a sustainable success for the country and for the African continent at large.

Given the failed attempts in the past to institute an identity system, especially the DNCR, why do you think this identity management exercise will be successful?

Let us look forward and think ahead. We must not continue to cry over spilt milk. The NIMC Act provides for the take-over of the DNCR that oversaw the execution of the previous Identity Card project and was how we got involved. With government’s approval and following due process, we appointed a consortia that conducted a due diligence, valuation and audit of the assets and liabilities of the DNCR, so we took over.
We have learnt lessons from the past project and have incorporated these lessons into the current scheme. We have put in place several factors that would ensure the current National Identity Management System would be abandoned.
For instance we have reduced the level of human interference in the system and processing of the data; we have arranged for permanent and continuous registration; there will be equipment enabled quality assurance as well as system instigated assurance levels. What we call the de-duplication process is now in place and is based on both facial and fingerprint unlike before.
The equipment is procured in the name of NIMC and it’s an open one unlike the previous which is closed and cannot be updated. Finally and even more importantly, the current system cannot be abandoned reason been that it is based on a public-private partnership model. Private firms are fully involved in the project. They have invested money and would want to recoup thereby ensuring continuity. Not also forgetting that the NIMS would be self-sustaining.

Any particular measures in place to curb identity theft?

To successfully curb identity fraud, you have to solve the problem of multiple enrollments; the commission has successfully deployed the Automated Biometric Identity System or ABIS which allows real-time registration of persons as well as the instant identification and tracking of multiple registrations.
The newly-upgraded ABIS enables the determination of unique identities in the database before the NIN is issued to an individual.
This would be followed by the issuance of the multipurpose cards that are chip-based and designed with more than 18 security features embedded, making it difficult for the cards to be cloned by fraudsters.

What is timeframe for these strategies?

When the NIMS enrolment exercise was formally launched by President Goodluck Jonathan on October 17, 2013, he gave the commission a mandate to enrol at least a 100 million Nigerians as well as harmonise the data into National Database by December 2014. It is now the NIMC target to hit 100 million enrollments in 12 months. Though initial enrolments started ahead of the official nationwide launch, the commission’s focus at the moment is to increase availability of its infrastructure and the deployment of enrolment centres across the country to aid the enrolment exercise. The NIMS project is however a continuous project and does not have a timeframe per say.

Some Nigerians have complained of long hour of waiting to be enrolled and in some cases they don’t get enrolled after waiting for hours. How can you reduce the waiting time for enrollment?

The commission powers all its enrolment centres that now opens five days a week stating from 8:30am to 5pm on Mondays to Fridays, and recently on Saturdays in its Abuja and Lagos offices from 9:00am to 4:00pm with alternative power supply to ensure seamless registration process.
The execution of the exercise has been designed to ensure less cumbersome experiences experienced in past exercises. A very effective queue management technology system has also been deplored to avoid too much crowd at registration points.
In every centre, the entrance doors are different from the exit ones; and only a given number of registrants are allowed at the waiting room at a time.
For quick registration, the enrolment system was designed to have double monitors so the enrolee would see what is being computed by the enroller and be able to spot errors or make corrections instantly.
Furthermore, with the current deployment of enrolment centres to all the 36 States and the FCT, as well as the 774 local government councils across the country, it is expected that more people can be enrolled at a point.
Let me also emphasis on the need for Nigerians to take advantage of the NIMC pre-enrolment portal which allows enrollees conveniently fill the enrollment form and thereafter visit any enrolment centre nearest to them for biometrics data capture with the printed summary sheet (2D Barcode) to complete enrollment.

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