ID4 Africa: A Platform to Sell Nigeria’s Digital Identity Management

This Week In Tech D4 Africa

The recent ID4 Africa Conference in South Africa served as a platform for Mrs. Abisoye Coker-Odusote, Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission, to display Nigeria’s progress in digital identification, reports Dike Onwuamaeze

For the Director-General of National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Mrs. Abisoye Coker-Odusote, the recently concluded ID4 Africa 2024 conference that was held in Cape Town, South Africa, from May 21 to 24, was a crucial platform to share Nigeria’s experience on how identity management could be improved through the application of digital technology and effective articulation and implementation of public-private participation.  

The ID4Africa is the only Pan-African movement dedicated to helping African nations build their strategic capacity to develop robust and responsible identity ecosystems in the service of development and humanitarian action.

This is being accomplished through ongoing grassroots engagement with its 48 African member countries to understand and identify Africa’s identity priorities and convene the experiences and expertise of the global stakeholder community to generate trustworthy knowledge that addresses these priorities and responds to the unique contexts that shape them.

In this capacity, ID4Africa is considered a thought leader in the field of digital identity, playing a role in shaping the global discourse on this vital issue.

The ID4Africa conference was a pivotal moment for the continent’s digital identity landscape and carried enormous significance for Nigeria and the rest of African countries that are still battling to set up an effective and efficient identity system that would ease public sector governance, business and economy more.

Speaking as a panelist alongside key identity management officials from Ethiopia and Kenya, Odusote said that until her arrival at the NIMC, Nigeria’s identity management efforts had been fragmented, with different agencies and sectors operating in silos. This lack of coordination not only hampered efficiency but also left gaps that could be exploited by malicious actors.

But this is no more as the story has started changing for better. The good news is that her inspired leadership has evolved a more holistic and robust identity ecosystem that could be developed by bringing together public institutions, private companies, and local innovators.

She said: “What we have done is to ensure that we have one single unique identifier for Nigerians to use and to gain access to all services. So far, we have had positive feedback on that especially with collaborations with our ministries and agencies. We have over twenty working groups in ensuring that we are able to fulfill our mandate.

“We need to use the National Identification Number (NIN) for issues like the palliative program to know who these beneficiaries are. In the past in Nigeria a lot of time when it comes to government interventions cash was the order of the day. But the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is very keen in ensuring a low cash approach and we are able to use the NIN to track all the beneficiaries if they have received their payments in real time.”

One of the major drivers of the use of digitally enabled enrolment into the national identification system is the mandatory requirement that every Nigerian has NIN. The NIN is the unique number which identifies a citizen for life and is issued by the NIMC after enrolment.

She explained that for this reason, there is currently a rising demand for NIN. In addition, more integration with the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) has driven up the request for NIN.

“We are also planning to go out to the schools to be able to register the children. There is so much that we are doing. I am just providing the summary,” Odusote said.

Odusote revealed that NIMC enrolled over 107 million citizens in Nigeria’s identity management database, which marked a historic milestone in the country’s digital transformation journey.

She emphasised that the enrolment milestone reflected the NIMC’s relentless efforts to ensure inclusivity, accessibility, and security in identity management.

Odusote also highlighted the commission’s efforts under her leadership to modernise Nigeria’s identity management infrastructure, streamline registration processes, and enhance data security measures.

Furthermore, she emphasised the importance of public-private partnerships in driving innovation and expanding the reach of identity services across Nigeria. She is noted for her fervent embrace of the PPP concept. This disposition has cemented her reputation as a trailblazer in collaborative governance and innovation.

Nevertheless, there are challenges militating against the quest for digital identity management in the country that is being addressed. She said during the panel discussion that there is need for physical national identification card because “technology wise, a lot of remote areas seldom have access to internet. Also, the cost of acquiring a telephone must be lowered to make it affordable and encourage access to mobile devices.”

“There is also a trust issue,” she stressed.

Across Africa, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of harnessing indigenous talent and expertise to drive technological innovation that include initiatives such as the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). These underscore the continent’s commitment to fostering home-grown solutions and leveraging technology for sustainable development.

One of the private sector’s voices that echoed at the ID4Africa belonged to  IT expert and Chief Executive Officer of Banksforte Technologies Limited (BTL) Mr. Adedayo Bankole, who pointed out that the time had come for Africa to galvanise the continent’s wealth of talent and creativity in shaping the future of deployment of technology on the continent.

The BTL is a subsidiary of Banksforte Group, which offers services in IT solutions, project management, construction, and engineering.

As Bankole took the centre stage, his message resonated not only with the Nigerian delegation that was led by Odutose, but also with attendees from across Africa, as he offered a glimpse into the transformative potential of robust identity management systems for Nigeria.

He shed light on a promising path forward, which is leveraging local innovation and fostering collaboration between public and private entities to develop home-grown solutions tailored to the needs of African countries.

Bankole also highlighted the significance of multilateral collaboration and synergies between civil registration, identity, and health to drive digital identity. His emphasis on collaboration also aligned with Nigeria’s broader strategic objectives such as fostering partnerships with the private sector and international organisations to strengthen its identity ecosystem.

These initiatives, including the World Bank-supported Identification for Development (ID4D) programme and partnerships with technology companies, have strengthened Nigeria’s ability to provide inclusive and secure identity solutions.

He pointed out that the need for effective digital identity management systems was becoming increasingly crucial for access to services, participation in the economy, and ensuring security. This is vital for Nigeria, with its large and diverse populations that faces unique challenges in this regard that calls for urgent innovative solutions. 

One of the propositions offered by Bankole that sparked a wave of enthusiasm among experts and industry players in Africa at the ID4Africa 2024 conference was the need to harness local innovators to provide home-grown IT solutions on the continent.

Bankole’s suggestion struck a chord with many for several reasons. One, it is the way to go as it signified a shift towards solutions that are tailored to the specific needs of African countries. For too long, the continent has relied on imported technologies that may not fully address local challenges or harness the continent’s rich pool of talent and creativity.

To empower local innovators would aid Africa to unlock its full potential and address issues ranging from healthcare to education, infrastructure and beyond.

According to Bankole, when solutions are developed locally, they reflect the values, aspirations, and cultural nuances of the people they serve. This not only enhances adoption and usability but also empowers African nations to shape their own technological destinies. It is a powerful assertion of agency and self-determination in a world often dominated by external influences.

The prospect of home-grown IT solutions also holds immense promise for economic growth and job creation. African countries can stimulate entrepreneurship, attract investment, and create high-value jobs in the technology sector. This, in turn, could help in addressing youth unemployment and drive for sustainable economic development across the continent.

Furthermore, leveraging local innovators can lead to more inclusive and equitable outcomes. African countries are characterised by vast disparities in access to technology that often leave rural and marginalised communities behind. But home-grown solutions have the potential to bridge this digital divide by offering affordable, scalable, and context-appropriate technologies that cater to the needs of all citizens, regardless of their socioeconomic status or geographic location.

Another key aspect of Bankole’s submission at the conference is the notion of collaboration. He stressed that public-private partnerships play a crucial role in leveraging the strengths of both sectors to create efficient and secure identity solutions.

Bankole’s submission focused on the potential benefits of such partnerships, including accelerated innovation, cost optimisation, and enhanced service delivery. He highlighted the importance of involving both the government and private sector organisations in the design, development, and implementation of identity management systems.

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