The Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission, Aliyu Aziz, speaks on the journey so far in enrolling Nigerians and issuing the National Identification Number. He also addresses the challenges and the way forward. Emma Okonji brings the excerpts:
How prepared is the government and the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to meet the demand for enrolment for the National Identification Number nationwide?
Government and NIMC have made significant stride to scale up enrolment for the issuance of National Identity Number (NIN). In September 2018, The Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved a strategic roadmap for accelerating the development of digital identity in Nigeria using the ecosystem approach by leveraging the capabilities and facilities of public and private sectors to speed up enrolment. Government has also got commitment and approval from three development partners – the World Bank, Agence Francaise de Development (AFD) and the European Union (EU) – to fund the roadmap implementation in the tune of $433 million. You can obtain a copy of the roadmap on the NIMC website. The project preparation is currently ongoing and full implementation was originally scheduled to kick start by June 2020, but with the COVID 19 pandemic, we may extend to September or December this year. Our target is to have at least 4000 enrolment centres across the nation: one enrolment centre per 50,000 people.
Given the new date for full implementation of identity registration in the country, what is your advice to Nigerians for NIN enrollment?
The federal government has approved NIN as the only valid means of identification for government services by law. As a foundational ID, everyone must register and obtain a NIN. Kindly do so to avoid any restrictions on use or access to government services in the future. The process takes less than 10 minutes and can be further reduced if you pre-enrol online. The law provides punitive measures for those who fail to comply with or disregard the law.
NIMC is collaborating with a number of government institutions including JAMB and other examination bodies, and they are making NIN a prerequisite for registration for their respective examinations. What plans do you have in place to enrol eligible and intending candidates in time for those examinations?
With NIN as the valid means of ID for government services, it is the responsibility of every individual on the soil of Nigeria or of Nigerian descent to register and obtain the unique ID. Enrolment commenced since the year 2012, that is eight years ago and the NIN is issued instantly upon complete registration. Eight years is enough time for people to present themselves for registration in accordance with the NIMC Act. We should not always wait for the last minute or for government to resort to aggressive enforcement and punitive measures for people to do the right things. NIN is issued free of charge and to everyone, children and adult alike. Do not wait to be told you cannot transact or access service to register.
You recently raised concern about poor funding of NIMC programmes by the federal government, has the situation improved?
NIMC through the federal government has obtained funding to accelerate digital identity enrolment within the next three to five years. The funding covers digital ID enrolment, issuance and usage; strengthening the enabling law, security, privacy, data protection and cybersecurity mechanisms; as well as strengthening the information technology (IT) and other backend infrastructure. There is still need for funding on the card aspect of the programme as well as on the other regulatory functions of the commission. We are consulting with the Federal Government on these aspects.
What will you say is the rationale behind the federal government making the NIN compulsory for government services?
The NIMC Act of 2007 which is the legal framework on which the commission is operating stipulated that the NIN is a unique identifier for all citizens and legal residents; and must be presented and verified to confirm your identity before other functional agencies can provide service. This is the law and government is simply reminding us to comply and working to ensure the enforcement of the provisions of the law. It is not a new thing or new policy. Please feel free to read the NIMC Act and in particular sections 26, 27, 28, among others.
You have explained a number of times that NIMC’s focus now is the enrolment and issuance of the NIN. At what time do you think the National eID card could be issued to those that enrolled?
The commission is currently issuing the National ID card but on a low scale due to the capacity of the card personalisation bureau deployed to pilot the scheme in 2014. We are still working out strategies to scale up the card production and issuance with the help of the government and in future with the private sector. NIN is your identity and is sufficient to prove or assert your identity anytime, anywhere. The commission is also aware of the demand by the public for the physical token (ID card) for a number of valid reasons. Please bear with us as we do what is necessary to issue this card to those who are in need of it. Also, NIMC is modifying the NIN credential to address the physical token request. All these new initiatives are in the works and would be released soon.
Many Nigerians who have the eID cards seem to have difficulty on how to use the card for financial transactions. How can the card be used for financial transactions and what are the security features in the card?
The payment applet on the card is usually activated before the card is issued to the rightful owner for use. The card carrier contains the information on the use of the card for financial transactions. In a simple term, the card functions as a debit card with virtual account where money can be loaded and used on Point-of-Sales (POS), Automated Teller Machine (ATM) and other payment channels including the web. The card has 18 security features and has been ranked as one of the most secured National ID cards in the world. Some of the security features can be seen with the eyes (ghost image, hologram, coat or arms, etc), while others require some special tools and light to see.
There was a recent news item on a court order stopping activities related to Nigeria’s national identity card system. What can you tell us about that and how is it being resolved?
The court case you are referring to is between Chams Plc and MasterCard. Unfortunately, NIMC was included as a co-defendant and that affected some of our card operations. Since it is still an ongoing court case, therefore, I will not be making any further comments on the matter. We will await the outcome of the court proceedings and ruling.
How are you repositioning NIMC to increase awareness creation to sensitise Nigerians about the importance of NIN?
Nigeria is a big country with a huge population. Creating awareness and sensitising about 200 million people is not an easy task and requires a lot of resources and logistics to achieve. Even though we collaborate with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), National Orientation Agency (NOA), Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Voice of Nigeria (VON), and all other national media outlets and companies to enlighten the general public, we still need to do more. As stakeholders in the ID sector, we need the support, partnership, cooperation and assistance of all media companies and outlets on this national assignment. The best repositioning is to start with our communities, local governments and regions to share the news and speak to the people in the language they best understand on the ID need and use. Let’s join hands to bring everyone on board.
NIMC has extended registration to Nigerians in the diaspora. How have those in the Diaspora welcomed this and what is the level of diaspora enrollment so far?
Diaspora enrollment was greatly received by the Nigerians in other countries and it has been going well since the launch. Enrolment is happening in over 15 countries across the world, with more countries to come on board in the near future. We are optimistic that more Nigerians will turn up to obtain the NIN; since it is a requirement for the application of a new and renewal of an expired Nigerian passport.
NIMC, in collaboration with the federal government, declared September 16 as National Identity Day. What is its significance to the Nigerian society on a global perspective?
Nigeria formally launched and celebrated as the first country in the world to adopt and declare September 16 as International Identity Day. The event is a culmination of an enormous collective effort, which began in April 2018 when our country Nigeria successfully hosted the 4th Annual Meeting of the ID4Africa Movement here in Abuja and joined a global coalition for recognition of September 16 each year as International Identity Day. That call was embraced with tremendous support and over 1500 individual signatures endorsing the proposition were collected from delegates which cut across 81 countries, including 41 African nations. The endorsement represented nearly 99 per cent of the participants that attended the conference in Nigeria. To formalise Nigeria’s membership of the global coalition, the NIMC, sought and obtained approval from the federal government through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Providing legal identity to all including birth registration is one of the global SDGs target, specifically SDG 16.9; and Nigeria is endorsing and supporting this achievement by declaring September 16 each year as National Identity Day as a way to create the awareness and get the buy in required.
Having entered your second tenure in office, what specific achievements did you record. What are the challenges faced on the Job so far and how are you addressing them?
The mandate of NIMC has not changed and my focus remains to ensure that every person is enrolled and issued a unique national identification Number (NIN) also known as a digital identity. One of our greatest achievements was increasing the enrolment figures from seven million in 2015 to 39 million by the end 2019. As at today, we have reached 41 million records by sheer determination and hard work. I owe all of this to the great staff of NIMC who pushed themselves beyond their limits to see this happen.
The challenges we are facing are still the same challenges the commission has been facing for years. Power issues at our enrollment centres, sensitisation and awareness to the general public, inadequate enrollment centres and enrollment devices, maintenance and support of our IT infrastructure, consumables, among others. All of these issues affect our operations and require a lot of funding to address. We will continue to do our best to address them in consultation with all the relevant stakeholders, government and with the help of the media.