The Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission, Aliyu Aziz, in this interview speaks on a number of issues around the enrolment target for the National Identification Number and SIM linkage. Emma Okonji brings the excerpts:
The federal government has a target date for National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to enrol all Nigerians and legal residents. Are you on course to meet this target, and what is the total enrolled as of now?
Thank you for that question, and for the opportunity to address Nigerians through your esteemed media organisation. The federal government’s statement was first made in 2018 upon the federal executive council’s approval of the strategic roadmap for accelerating digital identity project using ecosystem approach. The target of year 2022 was on the premise of partnership with public and private sector agencies to support the commission in data capturing services and making the National Identification Number (NIN) enrolment centres easily accessible to the people. The Commission is on course to meet the target of enrolling all Nigerians and legal residents within timeframe subject to availability of funds and the ongoing pandemic easing out. So far, we are making progress in these respects. As at February 1, 2021, the total enrolment and successfully generated NIN is 56.18 million. You, of course, know that in late December 2020, we reported a figure of 43 million NINs issued. So, we have added additional 13 million records between December 2020 and February 2021. The commission is still working tirelessly to populate the database and has licensed over 203 agents for the intervention enrolment drive of the government.
Federal government’s directives last December on NIN-SIM linkage has brought several thousands of people to NIMC offices nationwide in clear violation of COVID-19 protocols. What should be done to stem this tide, given that NIMC still has just 1,000 as against the projected 10,000 enrolment centres in the country?
First, the NIN-SIM integration is a policy of the federal government through the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy due to the improper registration of SIM. So, the directive by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr, Isa Pantami, to link SIM with NIN was in compliance with the NIMC Act 2007 and Regulations 2017, which stipulate mandatory use of the National Identification Number (NIN) as a valid means of identification for service delivery in Nigeria.
On the issue of the COVID-19 protocols, the commission works with relevant government’s agencies such as the Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC) and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to institute, and ensure compliance with all COVID-19 safety protocols and guard against the spread of the virus within and around our office premises and special centres. It is pertinent to state that NIMC received support from donors such as Red Cross, Dantata, World Bank, Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, among others for the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Items donated include hand sanitisers, water dispenser buckets, hand wash basins, thermal scanners, disinfectants, face masks, mops, and information banners to raise awareness about the COVID-19 protocols that must be observed by applicants before, during and after visiting any of our offices. The Commission will continue to do its best and comply fully to the set protocols on the COVID 19. Likewise, citizens have a responsibility to adhere and observe the federal government’s directives on COVID-19 protocols for their own safety and wellbeing. It is a collective responsibility for us all.
To reduce the crowd besieging our offices for enrolment, the commission introduced a number booking system, which allows only persons who have been pre-booked for a particular day to visit our offices. The system took effect from December 30, 2020 even though most applicants failed to comply by showing up anyway without booking. We also encouraged NIN application through the pre-enrolment portal on the NIMC official web page- www.nimc.gov.ng. In terms of enrolment expansion and extension, it is projected that by the end of the first quarter of this year, 2021, given the speed at which our licensed enrolment vendors are setting up, especially the telecoms operators, the existing 1,000 enrolment centres would have been tripled.
Nigerians are wondering why NIMC is so slow in enrolling citizens. Are there challenges that are hindering the smooth enrolment activities at NIMC offices?
NIMC started enrolment and issuance of NIN since the year 2012, which is over nine years ago and our enrolment and registration centres have been functional and open all year round to provide identity services to the general public. It is quite unfortunate that a large number of citizens and legal residents did not take advantage of those years to enrol for their NIN. Based on the above, it is unfair to state that NIMC is slow in enrolling Nigerians. What you are witnessing is sudden surge of applicants showing up for enrolment because of the SIM-NIN Linkage deadline. As with any complex national project that is targeted to the entire population, there would be challenges, constraints and unforeseen issues. The federal government is fully aware of the challenges and doing its best to resolve them especially on the area of power supply, broadband connectivity, awareness and sensitisation, among others. The Commission is also collaborating with the private and public sectors in order to leverage their capacities and facilities for a cost effective, faster and better coordinated implementation of identity services delivery.
NIMC staff went on strike on January 6 this year, complaining about a number of issues, including poor pay, lack of PPE to protect them from contracting COVID-19. How are you going about resolving all the issues raised by the workers?
The management of NIMC has always taken steps to resolve issues and welfare demands of the staff of the Commission amicably. The federal government’s intervention is continually sought when such demands are beyond the control of the NIMC’s management. All of the issues tabled by the union are being looked into with a view to addressing and resolving them. I believe this is a NIMC family affair and we will resolve them as a family like we have done in the past.
NIMC commenced Diaspora enrolment last year. How far have you gone with this, and in how many countries so far. How do those enrolled abroad fit into the NIN-SIM linkage especially for Nigerians who may visit home?
Our Diaspora enrolment commenced in April 2019 and tremendous progress has been made in enrolment and issuance of NIN to Nigerians in Diaspora. Presently, we have started enrolment operations in about 16 countries where we have successfully licensed private sector companies to partner with us. The countries include – Austria; Benin Republic; Canada; China, Ghana; Germany; India; Ireland; Italy; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; South Africa; Togo; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; and the United States of America. In some countries, we have offices in two or more cities, depending on the location preference of the licensed agents. The commission is working to license more partners and expand Diaspora enrolment to more countries. For Nigerians abroad who have enrolled and have their NINs, they should visit the website of the telcos for specific instructions on how to submit or link their SIM with the NIN. If they can’t remember their NIN, they can simply retrieve it by dialling *346# from the phone number with which they were enrolled. For those who haven’t enrolled for the NIN, they have to locate the NIN enrolment centres closest to them. Our centres abroad are listed on our website.
NIMC has licensed over 203 agents – public and private sector operators for NIN enrolment, in what is meant to help fast- track enrolment in the National Identity Ecosystem project. Have these agents started enrolment, if no, why have they not started? What is NIMC doing, as a regulator, to make sure licensees don’t just collect the licences and file them away while Nigerians suffer trying to be enrolled?
There are certain processes involved and conditions required before a licensed agent can commence data capture operations. So far, some of the licensed enrolment agents have fully met the laid out conditions, which include: procurement of enrolment equipment, certification of equipment, training of enrolment personnel, among others and have started data capture services. Some of the agents are at various stages of configuring their devices, training of enrolment agents, and setting up of enrolment equipment to ensure people, technology and processes are aligned with the standards and specifications of the overall National Identity Management System architecture. From all indications, all of the licensed agents may not be able to start at the same time; however, as many centres are set up for operations, we shall be updating the general public through our various media platforms. As the regulator of the identity sector, NIMC has built in the necessary clauses into the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with the licensees to ensure timely roll out of enrolment operations and periodic performance evaluation for licence renewal. The issue of obtaining a licence and not going further to fulfil the terms and obligations of the licence is foreclosed by these time-based conditions.
Although the federal government has extended the deadline for submission and linkage of NIN to April 6, 2021, industry players are pushing for June in the first instance, considering the fact that NIMC’s enrolment centres have not increased beyond 1,000 and it is clear the crowd that throng NIMC’s offices may not be fully enrolled by that given deadline. What is your view about further extension to June?
NIN enrolment is an ongoing exercise. The NIN-SIM integration exercise is a federal government policy, and there is a standing committee and Ministerial Task Force responsible to seeing that the tenets of the policy are implemented to the letter. The committee meets from time-to-time to review the progress and challenges of the policy implementation. So, it is their prerogative to either advise for extension of the deadline or otherwise. It is not in the hands of the National Identity Management Commission to extend or halt the process. It is instructive to note that this policy was not just announced in December 2020 as many have been led to believe. This Policy was officially announced in February 2020 by the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. The announcement in December 2020 was a reminder to the effect of the deadline.
Many people have alluded that NIMC has gulped hundreds of billions of Naira since it started but with little to show in terms of identity card issuance and now the NIN enrolment. What has been invested into NIMC so far, and how much more is required to be invested for NIMC to give Nigerians a robust identity database with all Nigerians enrolled?
The commission has institutionalised accountability and probity in its financial dealings. All budgetary allocations and releases to the commission can be verified from the Budget Office of the Federation and the Accountant General Office. We should speak with facts and these facts are easily accessible to everyone. Since 2007 when NIMC was established, the commission has made it a duty to publish its annual financial statement and audited accounts. There you can find total appropriated funds and actual releases to the commission since inception. On the issue of how much needs to be invested into the commission in order to have a robust identity database, it is not possible to sit and announce any figure. Progress has to be measured yearly, with budget tied to necessities. This is how we operate each fiscal year. Additionally, the strategic roadmap for accelerating the digital identity project using ecosystem approach is a public document on our website and has detailed the cost of registering and issuing NIN to the population, scaling up the infrastructure, safeguarding the identity infrastructure, rolling out nationwide authentication services, providing linkages with all stakeholders for identity utilisation in service delivery among others. I want to encourage the general public including members of the media to visit the NIMC website to read and fully understand the project and what we are doing.
What is the situation with the World Bank loan of $433 million meant for the Digital Identity Ecosystem project? Have the funds arrived in Nigeria? If so, where are the funds sitting- with NIMC? How much of those funds have been utilised so far, and how are the funds being utilised?
Since the approval of the strategic roadmap for digital identity project by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in September 2018, a lot has happened with the Development Partners’ Board approval of the loans and the Federal Government of Nigeria approval of the financing agreement between Nigeria and the development partners for the funding in the tune of $433 million.
The funds, which will be domiciled in the Accountant General’s office, is subject to certain effectiveness conditions to the financing agreement of which one of them is the enactment of a Data Protection Law in Nigeria, which primarily seeks to establish an effective regulatory framework for the protection of personal data, regulate the processing of information concerning data subjects and safeguarding their fundamental rights. Furthermore, it is instructive to also know that not the entire $433 million is to be expended on increasing number of registration centres and NIN issuance. Other components that stand to be strengthened from the funds include supporting usage of digital ID by building linkages between NIN and additional key services; ensuring cybersecurity of the ecosystem; strengthening the infrastructure for e-government and digital signature; and linking civil registration with national identification through provision of NIN at birth. The approved institutional arrangement is a Project Steering Committee with overall oversight and guidance on the project; an Ecosystem Strategic Unit with responsibility for coordinating the ID partners on the project and a project implementation unit in NIMC for day-to-day implementation of the project components.