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TMCNet:  Nigerians Must Develop New Perception of National ID Card Scheme [Legal Monitor Worldwide]

[February 20, 2014]

Nigerians Must Develop New Perception of National ID Card Scheme [Legal Monitor Worldwide]

(Legal Monitor Worldwide Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Director-General, National Identity Management Commission, Mr. Chris Onyemenam, spoke with ICT journalists on the need for Nigerians to have a positive mindset towards the new national ID card scheme, as well as some of the challenges facing the entire process of registration and card issuance, reports Emma Okonji. Excerpts: The National Identity Management System (NIMS) project appears be slow. What is your take on this? I do not share that view please. If you understand very well what this scheme entails you will discover that we are not slow at all. I think the cynicism that was carried over from past exercises is rearing its ugly head again, this time as 'slow', "impatience" and "misinterpretation" or wrongly comparing two similar but different processes. Unfortunately we have witnessed within a short time in our national history, the introduction of several data capture activities, especially those involving biometric that we are now not sure of what is going on.


You have a contrary view to the general belief that the project is rather slow. How would you balance these separate views? May be an illustration will help here. Do you know how banks in Nigeria establish branches nationwide and link them up such that from any branch the customer can carry out financial transaction? And each branch delivering the same services same way, everyday, looking similar if not the same? With all branches having constant power supply, Internet and dedicated network connectivity that is secure and up all the time? It's not magic. It is careful planning and it happens as planned. We are opening branches and enrollment centres across the country and deploying, in this phase, close to 2,000 enrollment systems.

Already we have over 100 branches. It takes meticulous planning and a regime of adherence to technical standards to establish an enrollment centre. We must get it right each time and in each location. With one wrong data input, everything goes bad. The fact is that Nigerians want to get quickly enrolled and be given a National ID Card, and we understand this. You will recall that the enrollment exercise for the issuance of the National Identification Number (NIN), kicked off formally on October 17, 2013, in all states of the federation, and we are not doing badly at all. There are now permanent enrolment centres/locations across Nigeria. Mind you this enrolment exercise is not for a specified period and it will not end. Very soon we will start issuing the National Identity Smart Cards which is what unfortunately, and very wrongly, everyone sees as 'Identity Management'.

Are you saying there is a fundamental difference that has not been taken into account by Nigerians? You are correct. I think that once this mind set is addressed, once this paradigm shift is achieved, the feeling that Nigerians are worried about the 'slow pace' will disappear. Our survey shows that Nigerians are excited about the process and want to participate. They understand they can go and take part in the exercise whenever they want to. They know it will take time for every Nigerian to be enrolled and have seen the difference. We are focused on ensuring that more enrollment centres are established closer to Nigerians so that they can register at their convenience, and that is what people want. We know this and we are responding rapidly to it. That is why we are co-locating now with other stakeholder agencies and establishing enrolment centres at the local government level.

What other reasons could be responsible for the general belief that the project is slow? Another reason for the unfortunate impression that the NIMC project is slow is that we are used to calling people out for enrollment for a short period of time under the mistaken belief that registration is a one-off periodic exercise and there would be no need to ask people to submit updates and amendments to their records as and when necessary. That is not what identity management entails. Identity Card issuance is what we were doing in the past, and we did not make provision for continuous data capture and or updating of existing records. We did not even make the database available for any form of validation of those identity cards. That was not identity management. In the case of identity management, you must provide avenues for making amendments and for updates. You must deploy the resultant database to other uses, first of which is identity authentication and verification, before the identity card.

Is the problem about technology or our perception? The NIMS infrastructure deployment is technology driven, but not a technology provisioning as an end in itself. In the past we were not mindful of what we call the 4Es - that is the ability to Extend, Expand, Enhance and or Exit any technology, procedures and or processes, and because of this, changes in technology are often very difficult to implement. If you design your system such that any change in technology requires that you start again, especially when you are stock with the vendors, you have a big recurring problem on your hands. That was our experience in the past, but not so now. That is not how NIMC is structured at all, and that is not what NIMC is about.

Sir can you shed more light on this distinction? At NIMC we have deployed a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) that is being well secured and managed by a growing number of Nigerians who are doing this for the first time. It's an 'open system' and we can easily adapt to changes in technology and do away with any recalcitrant vendor or service provider, local and or foreign. In the past the card was an end in itself, today the card is only one of the value propositions. At NIMC now, the difference is that we are doing identity management not identity card issuance. We are building a 'live' identity database involving an instantiated de-duplication process, not storage of database used to issue identity cards. We are building a verification and non-repudiation infrastructure, not a static infrastructure. The true value in the exercise and how it is different from previous exercises is clear to everyone.

Is it compulsory for everybody to be at the enrolment centre before they could get enrolled? Yes and no, funny isn't it? Yes because we need to capture your biometrics under controlled environment. Just like embassies and High Commissions ask Nigerians applying for a Visa to bring passport photographs with certain background. We require such a background. But we have a mobile enrolment kit that can create a temporary environment for this to happen. There is an important innovation: the "enrolment form" is online on a dedicated pre-enrolment portal - www.ninenrol.nimc.gov.ng. So it can be filled on your own, using your computer at home, or at a cybercafe. You can also use the one in the NIMC enrolment centre. It's not a difficult form to fill. At our enrolment centres, you can be assisted by our staff. After you have done your demographic enrolment you have to be present for the biometric enrolment to be captured.

Has the enrolment covered all LGAs in the country? Of course not, but how do you want to achieve that, by mere words of mouth? We have planned to cover all local governments in the course of the year. This will not be an easy task and of course you know we require budgetary provisions and timely releases to be able to do that. But if the concessionaires decide to invest right away, this would happen in 3 months and all that is needed is 13,000 enrolment units (mobile and fixed), and we are about 75 per cent away from that. This whole thing is about deploying an infrastructure, based on global best practice and conforming to specific international standards: people, processes, procedures, technologies and security. Unfortunately we are always looking at the registration exercise, which is only an aspect of the processes with the same mind set as in previous exercises. It is not a "dash" rather it is a "marathon".

Why are you asking Local Government authorities to furnish offices for NIMC, or is there provision for that in your budget? Well yes we have asked for assistance, depending on how you look at it. And no we do not have a provision for that in our budget. The Local Government authorities gave some of these offices to us, at our instance, for the establishment of our LGA office. We have a deployment plan, we do not just open enrolment centres, we conduct enrolment in a controlled environment, and this must be well noted. NIMC can remain with its deployment plan but if they can assist us why not, we would welcome the assistance, after all they have helped out with the office allocated to us in the first place. We will not lower technical standards, honestly.

For how long will these offices be open at the LGAs? That's the missing point. Once a bank opens a branch in a location for how long does it remain open? Technically speaking, for as long as the bank is in operation; it's the same with us. You must note that the plan to set up enrolment centres in the LGAs is to bring enrolment exercise closer to the citizens. Some of the offices allocated by the local government authorities are not suitable. In some others admittedly, the offices were abandoned because they were under the management of ghost workers who have since been sorted out. So they have been taken over by bushes. We now have to address issues around readiness and fit-for-purpose. For some of these locations, NIMC will find a way to renovate them unless the premises are owned by local government and there is nothing wrong for them to "clean up these offices" if they can, why not? For offices rented by the NIMC in these local government areas, costs constraints might make it difficult for NIMC to quickly deploy enrolment centres in the local government areas. But as I said there is a deployment plan within the intervention strategy we have had to adopt.

What are the benefits of the National Identity Management System (NIMS) project for Nigerians and the country as a whole? When the NIMS project is fully operational, it will among other things, provide a convenient and simplified process for enrolment into the national identity database for the issuance and use of the National Identification Number (NIN) and the National Identity (smart) Card. It will help protect people from identity theft and fraud by providing a simple, reliable, sustainable and universally acceptable means of confirming your identity at all times.

It will make life easier by providing Nigerians with an easy and convenient means of providing their identity anywhere in Nigeria and beyond. It will help reform our political process by facilitating the work of the managers of the electoral process. It will make it harder for criminals to use false or multiple, duplicate and ghost identities. This will help government, through the enhanced performance of the law enforcement agencies, to protect Nigerians from crime, especially Advance Fee Fraud and terrorism.

What danger does duplication of identities portends for the country? Duplication of identities is the bane of Nigeria's identity management sector. From the 'photo ID' that can be obtained from any 'Business Centre' really, to various identification schemes in Federal Government Agencies where demographic and or biometric data for specific statutory reasons are collected, the problem is the same - ability to have more than 'a single version of truth' of an individuals' personal information. This has been extended to include the growing concept of 'self-identification' and others.

Agencies like Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), National Health Insurance Service (NHIS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) National Pension Commission (PENCOM), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), have all collected data for the different purposes from citizens. There are common aspects of these data fields, the next step is to adopt the proposed harmonisation process as soon as possible. The common datasets have since been agreed to and what we need now is the best approach to fast track implementation.

When will the National IDs get to the hands of Nigerians? The National Identification Number (NIN) is your Identity. So the question should be when will Nigerians have their NIN? The answer is as soon as you present yourself to be enrolled at any of our enrolment centres. That's it. The problem here is that we have come to see 'Identity Management' as 'card issuance'. We need a shift in paradigm, away from that mindset of card issuance, to a new mindset of identity management, where the 'Number (NIN) is your identity.

How many agencies of government is NIMC working with to harmonise the process? As far back as 2009, the NIMC set up a Harmonisation and Integration Implementing Committee and several government agencies, which have been involved in the NIMS project. Following a harmonisation and integration assessment study, the committee has developed a harmonisation policy, a uniform demographic and biometric standards and the business rules. There are sub-committees working on design issues and we are fast tracking this process now with a few pilot designs testing the data capture.

Are Nigerians actually enrolling? Initially there were very strong reservations. Now the response has improved with the pre-enrollment portal we introduced. The turnout is now impressive and we are gradually getting over stretched because the enrollment centres are few- just so you don't ask me why. We did not budget for that since it was to be driven by the private sector that incidentally have not delivered to date. We will address the issue shortly and decisively too. We now need to rapidly respond to the increasing turnout to avoid frustration and apathy. We need to further intervene in the enrollment centre exercise at the local government level and special locations.

How will this whole NIMS exercise boost Foreign Direct Investment into the country? A major problem we still face as a nation is trust and one sure way to prove it is identity. The NIMS can boost foreign investment in several ways. Aside from the traditional ways, there some more uncommon ways also; for example advance fee fraud and different forms of deception still thrive because of the problem of 'proof of identity'. Access to local credits has not improved and so local partners are unable to come up with their equity contributions to joint ventures with foreign partners. The effect of this is multi-dimensional. Credits, not cash based transactions, drive economies. Its so difficult to achieve securitization in Nigeria, there are so many idle assets that can be used to secure credits, increased trust levels among Nigerians and businesses their businesses.

Any plans to recruit more Nigerians for the NIMS scheme? On recruitment, it is certainly yes. NIMC would recruit more competent and relevant staff. The system has just been put in place. The NIMC has had to restructure its human resource, in particular the one it inherited. It will grow and it will need well-motivated and trained staff to sustain it.

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