By Adebayo Obajemu
A look at many registration centres across the country, and most especially Lagos and Ogun states is enough pointer that the April deadline for National Identity Number registration may after all, be a pipe dream going by hiccups characterising the exercise and the slow pace of the registration nationwide.
When BusinessHallmark visited the Alausa, Ikeja office of NIMC, what immediately registered was that beneath the appearance of calm from the distance lay buried was a jumble. As one approached the premises one could see chaos as well as frustration on the face-of the crowd of mostly angry applicants who thronged the centre.
This kind of grim atmosphere characterised registration centres across the country on a daily basis, as applicants struggle to register with little success, yet the deadline has been shifted to April, with evidence on ground suggesting that the new deadline may not be realistic.
No one needs a soothsayer to tell that there were glaring gaps, enough to make one wonder whether the NIMC was properly set up for the national assignment. The exercise was temporarily disrupted when the Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASSN) of NIMC embarked on a strike over several challenges, including staff exposure to COVID-19 risks, lack of personal protective equipment, irregularities in promotion, and poor funding, among other issues.
To limit the number of people coming to their offices, the agency announced in December that enrolment would be done through a booking system. Despite this, applicants still thronged NIMC office in the Alausa area of Lagos State.
Some officials who spoke to BH said most applicants refused to follow the instruction as they would rather show up at the enrolment centres hoping to get the process done as fast as possible. However, it was the duplication of the process and ineffectiveness of the online platform that forced people to flock the centres.
But the situation was entirely different at the local government offices visited by this newspaper where the control of the process appeared to have slipped off the agency’s hands. Officials of the local governments tried to create a semblance of orderliness, but the bottlenecks were very visible.
Only one computer was kept in a usually dark and discreet part of the local council – with a large number of people waiting in line to be registered. This was noticed at Ifako-Ijaye, Ifo, Surulere and others.
An applicant, Demola Agunbiade informed this newspaper that he tried registering on NIN app set up but after 20 attempts without success, he resumed his daily visit to Alimosho Local Government in a bid to get registered.
“My brother, I have come here more than twelve times without headway, government just want to punish citizens with this crazy registration. We can no longer go to our businesses because of this exercise”, he said.
He claimed that the officials were intentionally slowing down the process to execute their extortion plan.
“Can you imagine, those that can afford to give the officials N5000 will have their own registration accelerated for them. This country is finished!
Demola’s outburst of anger and apprehension were similar to the situation in other registration centres- Agege, Kosofe, Surulere, Mushin, Ikeja, Yaba and other local governments visited.
BusinessHallmark’s discreet investigation revealed that the whole process may have been hijacked by middlemen who were on hand to assist those who want to fast-track the process.
This breach of procedure breeds more frustration for enrollees, especially for those who genuinely wait in line. In December, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ordered all telecommunications company to suspend sale, registration and activation of new Subscriber Identification Modules (SIMs).
This followed the minister, Dr. Pantami’s directive that the NCC should embark on another audit of the nation’s Subscriber Registration Database.
The Federal Government believes harmonising all phone numbers through the NIN will help to curtail and checkmate the lingering security challenges in some parts of the country.
Many Nigerians have pooh-poohed the timing and execution of the directive, the government insisted there was no better time for the digital identity ecosystem framework to be executed. Those tabling the timing argument have reservations, especially with the total COVID-19 figures rising by the day in the wake of the second wave of the virus.
According to the NIMC, no fewer than 15 million people with bank verification number (BVN) have been linked with the National Identity Number. As the exercise continues, the agency is expected to overcome the data integration challenges and issues of touting, extortion, and COVID-19 concerns.
Many Nigerians are not in bed with the federal government on this issue of NIN registration because of timing, pandemic and how to control the spread.
The obvious problem with the NCC’s directive is that most Nigerians do not have a national ID number. Figures obtained by BH suggest that as at October last year, only about 42 million people were enrolled by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC). This is less than half of the 99 million unique mobile subscribers in the country according to estimates from GSMA Intelligence.
Assuming everyone with a NIN is also a mobile subscriber, the number of people that would need to be registered is staggering.
If all 57 million mobile subscribers without a NIN decide to get one, the NIMC would have to enroll more people in two weeks than it has registered in the last eight years. How can this be achieved before April deadline?
John Adeosun, a demographics expert and public analyst told BH that “COVID-19 cases are likely to rise as people crowd into NIMC enrolment centres and mobile network operators’ offices trying to comply with the policy.”
What happens if the NCC enforces SIM deactivation? Now that NIN app to register is not working, and there are issues characterising centres across the country, how will the deadline not turn out to be a tall dream?
“Giving Nigerian character, and going by the way things are moving now, I can’t see how the deadline will be achieved. Corruption has so far characterised the operation, delay and logistics issue”, Adeosun informed BH.
Currently there are 207 million active GSM lines in the country. “If one consider the potential impact of the NCC’s policy under three possibilities. The best-case scenario is that each of the 57 million subscribers without a NIN has only one active line. That would mean blocking 28% of all active lines in the country by April”.
“On the other extreme, if subscribers with NINs only have one active line registered, then 165 million SIMs are at risk of being blocked, and mobile network providers would lose 80% of their customer base at the end of the year. The most likely scenario is that subscribers with and without NINs have the same number of lines on average, meaning that GSM users would decline by 58% due to the NCC’s directive”, said Adeosun.
BH findings showed that the economic consequences would be disastrous. Last year, GSM providers made ₦1.96 trillion in revenues from 184 million active lines—that’s an average of ₦5.3 billion earned per day.