Rekindling the Hope of Single Database for Nigeria


The renewed efforts by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), to begin harmonisation of all data that were hitherto housed in various government and private entities, will help address national security among other sundry issues, writes Emma Okonji

In 2011, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, introduced the registration of Subscriber Identification Module otherwise known as SIM card registration for the telecoms sector.

According to NCC, one of the objectives of SIM registration is to assist security agencies in resolving crimes and by extension to enhance the security of the country.

SIM registration became necessary in 2011 following the rampant manner at which masterminded assassinations and kidnappings were carried out with the aid of mobile phones. There were political assassinations and kidnappings and the families of victims were contacted by their abductors to demand for ransom through the mobile phones and the abductors could not be traced because their SIMs were not registered and they have no form of identity attached to their mobile lines.

In order to address the situation, NCC ordered all telecoms operators to begin SIM registration of new and existing members on their networks, where vital information like address, age, name, biometrics and even photograph of subscribers were recorded against their SIMs. The data of all registered subscribers from different networks were later sent to NCC, and the information was collated to build a database of telecoms subscribers. Today, we have 157 million registered active telecoms subscribers and the data is with the NCC.

Apart from NCC, Nigeria has pockets of databases with different government agencies like the National Identity Management Commission, Federal Road Safety Corporation, Banks, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Vehicle licensing office, National Population Commission, Independent National Electoral Commission, among several others. All these agencies and government parastatals were involved in one form of registration or the other, like census, Bank Verification Number, driver’s licence, vehicle licence, insurance licence, among others, and the data collected were kept separately in their individual databases.

But one thing that is peculiar is that the different agencies and parastatals, were always registering the same data from the same set of people. They have not been able to link the different data to each database for uniformity, and Nigerians are worried about the multiple duplications of data, and had since called for harmonisation of those data.

NIMC, the government agency empowered by law to collate all pockets of data and synchronise them into a single database for Nigeria, like it is done in developed countries of the world, had before now, not been able to achieve data harmonisation, for various reasons. Instead, NIMC became involved in another set of registration for the purpose of national identity cards.

But last week, the commission announced that it has commenced harmonisation of all data in the country, and that some government agencies like NCC, has agreed to release their data to NIMCfor harmonisation purposes.
The news which came as hope rising for many Nigerians, have continued to attract reactions and commendations.

Need for data harmonisation
The fact that different agencies of government as well as some private organisations have different databases atvarious locations, makes the whole idea of registration very clumsy and cumbersome, since the different agencies cannot synchronise their data with the data of other agencies.

If for instance, the FRSC could link its data with that of banks, then a citizen whose details have been captured by banks for the purpose of BVN, do not need to begin a fresh process of registration when he or she needs a driver’s licence from the FRSC. All they need do is to key into the computer system and the details of the person pop up on the computer screen. But what is been done is that a single individual is subjected to fresh registration by the time the individual goes to different agencies for different purposes.

Another simple analogy is that a Globacom subscriber , who has duly registered his/her SIM on the Globoacom network, will be subjected to fresh registration if he/she wants to register an alternate line on the MTN network. The two networks will have the same details of registration, yet they cannot link themselves for the purpose of interoperability. The situation makes it extremely difficult to trace an individual or even get comprehensive information for the purpose of research work, hence the need for data harmonisation.

Data release

Following the persistent demand for data harmonisation into a single database, the NCC, penultimate week announced that it has approved the release of data it collated from telecoms operators for SIM registration, to NIMC, for data synchronisation and harmonisation.

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, who made the announcement, said the decision to release the data is in line with federal government’s instruction to transfer validated data to NIMC. He said the release became necessary for the purpose of inter-agency and other stakeholders’ collaboration, which he said, is a key component of his eight point agenda unveiled in February this year, with a view to moving the industry forward.

“I would like to pledge our commitment to this cooperation between the NIMC and the NCC to ensure that we have a secure, reliable database containing biometric information for all Nigerians, which will definitely augur well for the security of the country among other benefits,” Danbatta said.

“So we are committed to this. We recognise the importance of this cooperation and I would like to stress the need to give it all the seriousness it deserves,” he added.
Danbatta, however, called for the reinvigorating of the existing inter-agency committee handling the exercise in order to fast-track the data transfer to NIMC. In the same vein, the EVC directed the NCC to ensure that the data transferred to NIMC are fully backed up to avoid any hitches in future.

Data harmonisation

NIMC said it has begun the process of harmonisation of existing data that were hitherto scattered around different government agencies.

NIMC, which reaffirmed its commitment to carry out its statutory responsibility to Nigeria and to Nigerians, has given its assurance that the harmonisation process, when completed, would help in creating a single database for the country, from where information about people, organisation and statistics could be sourced on request.

The assurance was made in Abuja, by the Director-General/Chief Executive of NIMC, Aliyu Aziz.
According to him, NIMC has commenced the harmonisation of data on BVN that was carried out by banks, and thereafter, would begin the data harmonisation of SIM cards that was carried out by the NCC and the telecoms companies.

“We have commenced harmonisation with the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) on the BVN records, so any one that has registered for the BVN will get their National Identity Number (NIN). So far we have processed two million records from the BVN data collected,” Aziz said.

He added, “The NCC has also agreed to release data from the ongoing Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards registration exercise to the Commission, all these are in line with the federal government’s directive to sister agencies collecting biometrics to harmonise and integrate with the NIMC being the central repository of biometric data in Nigeria.”
It is projected that by 2019 NIMC should have over a 100 million unique records at the central database.

“ At that time, we would have commenced the enforcement of the mandatory use of the NIN for all services and transactions requiring the authentication and verification to confirm individual’s identity. At that time also, whoever did not enroll and the person is above 18 years of age, will be required to pay a token in order to get enrolled for the NIN,” Aziz added.

Rekindled hopes

Nigerians from all walks of life have continued to commend the federal government for the initiative to harmonise data of all government agencies and the private sector.
They said the move would enable Nigeria create a single database from where information could be sourced from directly. Chairman of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, told THISDAY that the move was a welcomed development, as it would help reduce crime rate in the country, aside enhancing academic research.

He gave instances of how single database in developed countries, has assisted in reducing crime rates in their countries.
He called on software application developers to assist government in developing solutions that will help address the issue of seamless interoperability of different data collated from different organisations.