The recent suspension of the enrolment of National Identity Number for the 2020 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and direct entry registrations, calls for the development of a strategy to forestall future occurrence, writes Emma Okonji
Penultimate week, the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), in collaboration with National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), the government agency responsible for identify management and enrollment, suspended the National Identity Number (NIN) enrolment for the 2020 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and direct entry registrations.
Although both bodies gave reasons for the suspension, which bothered on the difficulties encountered by applicants, including their parents and guardians in trying to enroll and obtain the NIN from NIMC, which elicited public outcry, the suspension, however, exposed the weakness of NIMC in the areas of capacity building and infrastructure, occasioned by the inability of the federal government to adequately fund NIMC to enable it carry out its statutory obligations.
While NIMC explained that the decision to suspend the exercise was as a result of the inadequacy of NIMC’s enrolment centres across the country to match the huge population of applicants registering for this year’s UMTE, the public, however blamed government for underfunding NIMC in performing its national duties.
Speaking about the need for collaboration between JAMB and NIMC on NIN enrolment, JAMB Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, had said the collaboration had enhanced the capacity of JAMB in identity management. He stressed that many persons were prosecuted last year and that JAMB was even more prepared now to expose identity fraud and multiple registrations by examination fraudsters. According to him, “You will recall that in compliance with statutory provisions, we commenced making NIN prerequisite for registration for 2020 UTME. This decision was based on law, on directive, but more importantly, is the fact that this is the right way to go. All nations of the world go that way and we have no option because we cannot be an island on our own. It has been very productive but we got stalked at a point.”
Speaking in Abuja while announcing the suspension of NIN enrolment for the 2020 UMTE registration, at a joint conference between NIMC and JAMB, with the Director-General of NIMC, Mr. Aliyu Aziz, had regretted the inadequacy of enrolment centres and irregularities observed in the process. The limited NIMC centres had been thronged by an unprecedented number of applicants, including non-applicants who wanted to get enrolled for NIN, a situation that caused chaotic situations at the enrolment centres.
Oloyede, had blamed the situation on observable lapses and logistics challenges on the part of NIMC, which he said, made it difficult for the commission to cope with the upsurge in the number of those wanting to enroll for NIN.
“We are therefore suspending this till the subsequent year 2021, when all candidates would have been given what appears like a one-year notice that they would have the opportunity to enrol for the NIN. This does not affect our staff. All our staff, permanent and ad hoc, who are going to participate in this year’s exercise would be required to submit their NIN for verification,” Oloyede said.
He commended NIMC for the enrolment exercise, noting, however, that after going around the country in the last few weeks, it became obvious that the desire to use NIN for registration by candidates was not attainable. The director-general of NIMC, in his remarks, admitted that the commission lacked the capacity to cope with the upsurge in enrolment in the last few weeks, saying NIMC has only 1,000 centres nationwide while over 4,000 enrolment centres are required for the exercise.
He corroborated Oloyede’s position that the purpose of the collaboration was to eliminate fraud and examination malpractices related to identity. Aziz, emphasised that it was the role of the government to provide proof of legal identity in the form of unique digital identity for citizens to give them access to services, rights and protection.
“The upsurge and demand for NIN within the limited centres and facilities have caused us to review and rethink, for us to consider a shift in the commencement date for the use of NIN as a prerequisite for JAMB examination registration. This is to give more time to intending applicants to obtain NIN, roll out more registration centres and equipment nationwide under the digital identity ecosystem and provide identity authentication and verification services anytime anywhere,” Aziz said. He added, “Though, we have about two million JAMB registers when they come to our centres, they come with their parents and siblings to enroll them for NIN at the same time, thus increasing the targeted number of UMTE applicants. We have only 1,000 centres and based on the standard, we are supposed to have at least 4,000 centres. In the coming year, with the ecosystem in place, we believe that we will have more than 10,000 centres across the country to address all the issues of rush,” he said.
Funding NIMC to effectively perform its duties of NIN enrolment and identity card issuance has been an issue with the federal government that set up NIMC. Between 2012 and 2015 when NIMC commenced national identity enrolment and issuance of card, federal government made it clear that enrolment and issuance of permanent identity cards were free and those that enrolled within that period, got their permanent identity cards free of charge. Few years later, government could not sustain the free issuance of cards and people were enrolled with NIN numbers without issuance of permanent identity cards. This continued until NIMC devised a means of making Nigerians pay for their permanent identity cards, even though NIN enrolment was still free.
Those whose cards expired after five years, had to pay close to N3,000 to renew their permanent identity cards. To ease payment, NIMC had to collaborate with SystemSpecs to use its Remita payment software for the collection of money and issuance of receipt for the purpose of getting permanent identity cards and in few days. The processes were completed via online registration and permanent identity cards were issued within one week.
In order to address the issue of funding, NIMC had made several moves to let the federal government understand the need for adequate funding of NIMC, but such moves never yielded results. Last month, while speaking at the 6th General Assembly of the Northern Traditional Rulers Council (NTRC), which held at the Arewa House, Kaduna, Aziz expressed concern that the national identity programme may not succeed unless there is strong political commitment on the part of government backed by adequate funding.
According to Aziz, “Like any government reform, political will and strong leadership are required to implement the national identity project. Without strong political leadership and commitment, financial resources and stakeholder collaboration, the national identity programme will not be successful and sustained, despite the success recorded in the past four years.”
He said a robust digital identity for Nigeria would lead to access to finance, gender equality and empowerment, access to basic health and educational services as well as child protection. He listed other benefits include migration and labour market opportunities, reduction in the cost of governance, better government service delivery and improvement in the enforcement of law and order thereby leading to improved security.
While bemoaning challenges the NIMC was facing in executing the national identity project, which includes poor funding, inadequate mobilisation and limited awareness, among others, Aziz appealed to the royal fathers to help with awareness and mobilisation as well as assisting their subjects with source documents to enable them enrol for the NIN.
In order to address some of the challenges of NIMC, the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), has said that NIMC needs to acquire and deploy the technology of digital addressing system and develop its capacity building strategies, in order to meet up with enrolment demands.
President of ATCON, Mr. Olusola Teniola said in order to address identity issues in JAMB registration and curb exam malpractices, NIMC must first address its infrastructure issues, including that of logistics.
Disturbed by the situation that led to the suspension of NIN enrolment for the 2020 UMTE and direct entry registration, Teniola said both JAMB and NIMC underestimated the huge volume of JAMB candidates. Citing Nigeria’s population of over 200 million people, Teniola said 85 million of the entire population, is below 18 years, and that JAMB candidates are between the ages of 16 and 18, where the large number of Nigeria’s population resides. He therefore said it was a miscalculation for both JAMB and NIMC to match the limited infrastructure of NIMC to such huge population, within a short period of time given for JAMB registration.
Teniola strongly advised that going forward, NIMC, which is saddled with the responsibility of identity management, must acquire sufficient infrastructure and technology in digital addressing system and ensure it builds its capacity to the fullest, to handle the registration of such large volume of JAMB candidates.
“NIMC must work with the National Population Commission (NPC) to have a good idea of the population of different demographics of Nigerians, as well as with the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), to understand the digital addressing system of the country,” Teniola said.