Aziz: We Will License Organisations to Capture Data 

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The Director-General, National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Aliyu Abubakar Aziz, spoke with Emma Okonji about the commission’s plan to license private and public sector organisations for data capturing to speed up the enrolment process for issuing the National Identification Number (NIN). Experts:

It has been two years since you were appointed the Director General/CEO of NIMC. How will you describe the journey so far?

Well, the journey so far since I took over on the 23rd November, 2015, has been quite demanding and challenging. This is expected of a critical agency like NIMC, which is saddled with the responsibility to interface with over 100 million Nigerians based on its mandate. Fortunately, however, I have been part of the system and quite familiar with all the work that has been put in over the years. So, it is a transition, so to speak.

What will you describe as the highpoint of the achievement that NIMC has recorded thus far during your administration?

Without a doubt it will be the progress made in populating the national database from about seven million when I took over to over 24 million currently, with the figures growing daily; and secondly, is the renewed effort and engagement towards the acceptance of the National Identification Number (NIN), as the most fundamental part of identity for citizens and residents.  These are remarkable achievements, which we owe to the dedication and commitment of staff because it takes only a committed workforce who believes in its leadership to pull this through. We also acknowledge the push for the mandatory use of the NIN from our stakeholders in the private and public sectors, especially members of the Harmonisation Committee. Indeed, their commitment towards the harmonisation process contributed to the growth of the database, as well as increase in the general public’s awareness about the NIN and its benefits.

Having been in NIMC and retired, when you were appointed DG, what were the immediate goals you set out to achieve.  Have the goals been achieved?

My immediate goal was to ramp up the records in the National Identity Database (NIDB) and deliver identity management services and their benefits to the people. I therefore placed emphasis on harmonisation and enrolment with a target of 70 million enrolments by December, 2016 and encouraged my staff to work towards that goal.

Today, we have made remarkable progress as the National Identification Number (NIN) in the database is over 24 million from the seven million it was in 2015. Although it doesn’t meet our initial target and expectation, it is a move in the right direction and signals increased efforts by all NIMC staff and stakeholders to achieving more in the days ahead.

Many Nigerians have been complaining of their inability to receive their electronic, multi-purpose identity card after enrolment. Why is this so, and what message do you have for them?

With the setting up of NIMC by the NIMC Act No. 23 of 2007, there was a paradigm shift from identity card issuance to identity management. So our focus is on enrolling people into the national database and making sure that everybody has a unique identifier which is the NIN that enables them to be identified anytime and anywhere, just like the Aadhaar of India and the Social Security Number of the United States of America.

And so when we started issuing the NIN in 2012, we didn’t start producing cards until 2014, because the most important token is the NIN which is nationally accepted and verifiable, and thus allows us to do the actual work of identity management rather than be a card issuing organisation.

However, we understand that there is still the demand for the physical card, and the Commission is doing all that is within its power to ensure that everyone who has enrolled, gets his/her card. So we call for patience from the general public; patience because everyone will get the card in the long run.

What are the main challenges hindering the delivery of the NIMC mandate as quickly as possible?

One of the major challenges we face in the enrolment or registration of citizens is power. We require clean, constant power supply to run our enrolment centres and be able to enrol Nigerians as quickly as possible and populate the database.

We are also mindful that we have not achieved national coverage. We should be in every corner of the country, so that people can easily reach us to get the service. So efforts are being made to ensure that this is done, thus we are working to partner with and license participants who can help NIMC capture data and populate the database.

Another significant challenge is funding, which is no doubt a general problem considering the financial situation in the country and the federal government is doing everything within its power to ensure that the economic situation improves nationwide.

How ready is NIMC for the upcoming mandatory use of the National Identification Number for critical national services like the international passport?

Section 27 of the NIMC Act recognises the National Identification Number as the only unique identifier which must be presented by individuals for transactional purposes before services can be rendered.

We also have in place, a robust NIN verification and authentication platform through which the NIN can be verified and authenticated by government agencies or private institutions offering services or involved in transactions requiring the identity of an individual.

Also, we have about 809 enrolment centres nationwide, and nothing stops anyone who doesn’t have a NIN from entering any of these NIMC offices to obtain theirs before they go to the Immigration office for their International Passport. So for Nigerians within Nigeria, there is no problem; it is only Nigerians in the diaspora that we will have problems with in the immediate future, because NIMC is yet to commence enrolment of Nigerians in the Diaspora.

However, we are concluding plans with NIS to allow them enrol Nigerians in the diaspora on behalf of NIMC and issue them the NIN upon successful completion of the de-duplication process and clearance from the NIMC backend, so that they will be able to exercise their rights come January, 2018.

Recently the federal government re-constituted the NIMC Board. How will this help NIMC achieve its goals faster?

It is expected that the recently reconstituted NIMC Governing Board will help the Commission achieve the objective of populating the National Identity Database, which will ensure that NIMC is properly equipped to provide services to all sectors and aspects of the economy and nation.  With this in mind, the Board of NIMC is acting decisively to increase investor confidence in the project in a professional way, so that various opportunities can be rapidly identified and exploited for the good of our economy.

What is your overall message to Nigerians in the on-going national identification enrolment, especially as NIMC gets set to take charge as possibly the only institution taking biometrics to ensure a centralised national database?

The message to Nigerians is that the NIN bequeaths citizens with a lot of privileges and benefits. And like most modern economies where the national identity card is a national token that gives citizens access to government social interventions, it also grants citizens certain rights as regards financial access, credit facilities etc.

However, the major advantages of the NIN include but not limited to: the facilitation of interactions between citizens, the government and private sector institutions thereby promoting socio-economic and political development. Since citizens enjoy a “one-person-one-identity”, the NIN therefore enhances citizens participation in the political process, enables citizens to exercise their rights, facilitates management of subsidies and safety net payments, IDPs management, facilitates service delivery in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), enhances the work of law enforcement agencies e.g. public safety, policing, national security and border protection, eliminates ghost and multiple identities, among others.

It also enhances the ability of citizens to assert their identity, have access to credit from financial institutions, protects citizens from identity theft – an antidote to identity theft driven frauds which expands access to other financial services including insurance. The NIN enhances e-commerce by providing a means of payment as it is a tool for non-repudiation and security for financial transactions. It facilitates financial inclusion, hence the advancement of a cashless economy. In security circles, the NIN is an important tool for the fight against corruption and terrorism; and finally helps launder Nigeria’s image abroad, amongst many others.

There was a recent report that NIMC would license private companies to participate in the data capture. When will this commence. What are the criteria for such registration and how will those companies operate?

Registration of over 180 million Nigerians into the National Identity Database is a challenging task and, to deliver effectively and timely on this mandate, the Commission is willing to enter into partnership with private and public sector organisations through licensing, to capture the data and issue the unique identity number within the next two to three years. NIMC is at an advanced stage to commence the licensing.

After the gazette is approved and published, the framework for selecting the eligible companies will be published and it will contain the criteria, rules of engagement, terms of conditions, among others.