All Eyes on Digital Identity Project Steering Committee

Boss Mustapha

The recently inaugurated Steering Committee for Nigeria Digital Identity for Development Ecosystem Project is a pointer to the commitment of government to sustain its digital transformation drive, writes Emma Okonji

Since the commencement of the registration of National Identification Number (NIN) and the issuance of national identity cards in 2012 by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), the government agency has been struggling to achieve its mandate of ensuring that all Nigerians including those in Diaspora, are registered and are issued with NIN and permanent identity cards.

The NIMC Act of 2007 stipulates that the NIN is a unique identifier for all citizens and legal residents; and must be presented and verified to confirm their identities before other functional agencies can provide service. According to NIMC Act, all Nigerians are expected to register for NIN and NIMC is mandated by law to ensure the enforcement of the provisions of the law on NIN registration.
In spite of the law, NIMC has encountered many challenges, especially financial, in achieving its mandate. For instance, in eight years, NIMC has struggled to achieve only 41 million NIN registrations, even though the figure accelerated from seven million in 2015 to 39 million by the end 2019 and 41 million.

Worried by the challenges militating against the speedy registration of NIN, the federal government, in September 2018, through 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 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.

Recently, the federal government went ahead to inaugurate a Steering Committee for the Nigeria Digital Identity for Development Ecosystem Project, to fast-track the implementation of the strategic roadmap for accelerating digital identity development for Nigeria.

The committee

Inaugurating the committee, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, who also doubles as the Chairman of the team, said digital identification is central and critical to realising the objective of the government’s Economic and Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP).

He said the strategic roadmap, approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in 2018, “is a culmination of the enormous collective efforts and contributions of so many institutions and stakeholders which began in the year 2015 when this Government took a decision to forge a credible and cost-effective pathway for identification management.”

To accelerate the implementation of the strategic roadmap, therefore, “Government considered and adopted a three-tiered institutional arrangement comprising a Steering Committee, a Strategic Unit, an Implementation Unit situated in the NIMC, and with responsibilities for providing overall governance and coordination, ecosystem partners’ coordination and communication and day-to-day project implementation respectively.”

The Project Steering Committee was established as the highest body with the responsibility of providing policy, institutional and operational guidance towards delivering on the identification vision and promise of the strategic roadmap. Members of the Steering Committee were appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Members of the committee include Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha as Chairman; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed as Alternate Chairman/Member; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami as member. Other members of the committee are: Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu; Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami; Director-General, National Orientation Agency, Dr. Garba Abari, and the Director-General of NIMC, Aliyu Aziz, who is member/secretary.

Committee’s mandate
Among other things, the committee is charged to positively steer the project to accomplish government’s objectives, consolidate efforts to date and deliver goals outlined in the strategic roadmap.

Mustapha said the work of the steering committee shall be guided by the following terms of reference as approved by President Buhari, which include: to review the legal and regulatory framework for digital identity development; implement the strategic roadmap; utilise foundational identity to access services; determine the location of the ecosystem strategic unit; and receive the report on the implementation through the DG NIMC and provide necessary guidance and approval.

Addressing the committee at inauguration, Mustapha said the strategic roadmap would offer a credible pathway for the government to develop identification, at a low cost, fast pace and in a trusted environment.

“The task before the committee is to ensure that Federal Government of Nigeria leverages the existing ecosystem of government agencies, states, and trusted private partners to carry out nationwide enrolment through a viable partnership strategy with an effective public awareness campaign.
“As a nation, we have a lot of grounds to cover and our fundamental ID goal can only be reached through joint efforts and coordinated approach.

“Of course, without meaning to enumerate the issues associated with the absence of a foundational ID system which you are all familiar with, the existence of a National Identification Number (NIN) for all Nigerians would improve our delivery of Government services,” he said.

While giving assurance that the federal government is “fully committed to early actualisation of this Project to enhance effective development and efficient delivery of government services,” the SGF added that discussions, contributions, and decisions of the Committee “are expected to help build foundations towards the institutionalisation of a robust and reliable system of identity envisioned to link all functional identities including a digitised civil registration system with the NIN.”

The task

One of the challenges facing NIMC in the discharge of its mandate on NIN registration is funding, which has over time, limited its speed of operations. Industry stakeholders are looking up to the steering committee to live up to expectations and ensure that the necessary framework is put in place to reposition NMIC to expand its registration centres across the country.

The registration centres are expected to expanded from the present 1,000 registration nationwide to over 5,000 registration in order to decongest the crowd at all its 1,000 centres nationwide.

Nigeria is a big country with a huge population and creating awareness and sensitising about 200 million people is not an easy task and requires a lot of resources and logistics to achieve, in terms of NIN registration. Industry stakeholders therefore, called on the steering committee to ensure that NIMC is able to develop its infrastructure framework that will enable it carry out awareness drive nationwide on NIN registration.

President of Computer Society of Nigeria, Prof. Adesina Sodiya, who had earlier frowned upon the slow pace of NIN registration, called on the steering committee to ensure they put in place, measures that will make NIMC financially buoyant to implement projects that will speed up NIN registration and issuance of permanent national ID cards.
Sodiya said NCS shall support NIMC to create a framework for issuance of temporary National Identity Number using complex data matching algorithm and facial recognition.

“This will allow Nigerians to register for NIMC by themselves using a simple mobile phones. The application will be capable of working offline with upload to the central server when the network is available. Nigerians can get their NIN in a “Do it Yourself,” framework and from the comfort of their homes. NIMC can still collect and add fingerprints later for the temporary NIN to be permanent, if fingerprint is important,” he said.

President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola, called on the steering committee to make recommendations that would address the issue of paucity of funds at NIMC, to enable the government agency have sufficient funds to roll out its infrastructure nationwide in order to reach more Nigerians and get them registered to obtain their NIN.
According to him, “The committee should seek to work with NIMC management to address the issues raised on poor funding, the challenges identified in the Nigerian Broadband Plan 2020-2025. The funding recommendations may bring some solutions to how the identified gaps can be closed.

“With the harmonisation of SIM registration database with NIMC database, it is assumed that most of the challenges identified will be resolved. Further funding will also remove the barriers of access to easier capture of citizen information in a speedily manner. Other solutions will be considered during implementation to accelerate the process.”

He, however, said: “The population size and lack of coordinated birth records alongside an updated census data set makes the task a very cumbersome one. Adoption of innovative data capturing and cross checking of disparate data to ensure a robust national ID database is going to require more effort from all relevant government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).”