- How its requirement nearly marred 2020 UMTE
By Adebayo Obajemu
The current Unified Matriculation Examinations, UMTE, conducted by the Joint Admission Matriculation Board, JAMB, was almost marred by the condition requiring candidates to produce the National Identity card as hundreds of thousands of prospective candidates were stranded. It was the outcry of the public over the ordeals being faced by the candidates that forced JAMB to suspend the condition till next year.
About 1.5 million candidates may be expected to register for the examination this year given that over 1.3 enrolled for it in 2019. Already 0ver 700,000 candidates had registered just after two weeks following the suspension of the National Identity card requirement. Only about 25 cards were issued daily by the centres out of a population of sometimes thousands.
Many parents and candidates had relocated their base to the registration centres, with some sleeping there several nights to complete the process, while others get there as early as 4am without accomplishing the task. JAMB and NIM were hard put to eventually suspend the project to save them-selves from public backlash.
Creating a national database as done in advanced economies around the world has proved difficult in the country. Past efforts have always been bedevilled by lack of proper planning, poor funding, massive corruption and logistic hiccups.
Little wonder that five years, seven months after the launch of Nigeria’s national electronic identity card, the project has remained unimpressive and lacklustre in its performance. Apart from the paucity of registration centres across the states, the process has been cumbersome and uninspiring even as many of those who have succeeded in enrolling are yet to receive their cards many months after.
Former president Goodluck Jonathan had launched the scheme on August 28, 2014. Jonathan, who received the first biometric card on that date, had underscored the imperative of the card.
“The card is not only a means of certifying your identity, but also a personal database repository and payment card, all in your pocket. I have taken keen interest in this project, primarily because of the pervasive impact it can have on every facet of the socio-economic fabric of our dear nation,” he had said.
After the formal launch, the NIMC went ahead to establish enrolment centres across the 36 states of the federation. Many Nigerians were eager to acquire the card and besieged the centres but the process was not as easy as they envisaged. Soon, frustration overtook the process and the enthusiasm vanished.
The result was that in September 2016, not up to one per cent of eligible Nigerians had been enrolled. A statement by the Commission’s Head of Corporate Communications, Mr. Chika Ogbonna, had hinted that only about one million National e-ID Cards were printed while over 400,000 issued to their owners across the country.
Ogbonna also disclosed the Commission’s target in the statement, saying: “By 2019, it is projected that NIMC should have over 100 million unique records at the central database. At that time, we will have commenced the enforcement of the mandatory use of the National Identification Number (NIN) for all services and transactions requiring the authentication and verification to confirm individual’s identity.
“At that time also, whoever that has not enrolled (and is not a child) will be required to pay a token in order to get enrolled for the NIN. So, it is advisable for everyone to get enrolled and get the NIN before that time comes.”
True to the Commission’s projection, the NIN is now a compulsory requirement to obtain the Nigerian International Passport even as it is mandatory for all workers under the Contributory Pension Scheme to produce their NIN as part of their pension requirements. Only 38 million people have been registered by the commission as at November 2019, according to Business Hallmark’s findings.
Director General of the Commission, Mr. Aliyu Aziz, on November 15, 2019 said the country would need the “collaborative commitment” of all stakeholders to meet the sustainable development goal of providing legal identity for all by 2030.
“The world is focusing on digital identity as can be seen in the Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 (provide legal identity for all, including birth registration by 2030). This means that we have just about 11 years to the deadline,” he emphasised.
Nigeria’s population is presently estimated at 200 million. With 38 million registered in five years, an average of 7.6 million per year, it means the NIMC would only be able to register another 83.6 million Nigerians by 2030, which would bring the total to 121.6 million.
So, if no extra measure were taken, about 79 million Nigerians, excluding those that would be born between now and 2030, would still be off the NIMC database.
In Lagos State, where BusinessHallmark sampled the opinion of residents, many said they did not see the need for the new national identity card, hence their nonchalant disposition to the exercise.
But there are those who expressed willingness to enroll into the scheme simply because the Federal Government has started tightening the noose on those who don’t possess the document. To the latter, they could have continued to make use of their other means of identification but for the new development.
However, they bemoaned the cumbersome nature of the exercise in the state even as they condemned a situation whereby officials of the NIMC extort registrants under the guise of contributing money to fuel generators. A resident, Adesoji Sekoni told this newspaper that he was yet to register because of the difficulty associated with the process.
Sekoni, a teacher, said: “I think I probably would not need it since I have my voter’s card which I usually present as means of identification at the bank. I don’t have plans to travel out, not now or in the future. So, I really do not see the urgency at the moment.
“Perhaps in the future when the government figures out a way to make the registration and collection process easy, such that I can just walk in without having to be at the centre as early as 5:00a.m to join a long queue for hours without success as I hear people do; then I might enroll. But now, I’m not sure I have the luxury of time and the energy for an ID card I really don’t need.”
On his part, Ifeanyi Onyeama said: “I applied about five years ago at the Ikotun council secretariat. I was referred to Lagos State University (LASU) for collection. But on getting there, I was told that they could not access my details and that I should go back to the secretariat for proper documentation. I returned to the secretariat and was told alongside others that there was no electricity and we would have to pay a token to fuel the generator.
“I complained to the woman that I had already gone through the process and paid N200 for fuel when I registered initially, but was referred back because I was not properly documented. But she said she would only attend to people who pay N200 for fuel. I got upset and just walked away. I had not gone back ever since. However, if Federal Government now wants to make the NIN compulsory, I think I have to comply especially now that it is required for the processing of the International Passport.”
When BusinessHallmark visited one of the NIMC registration centres in the Ijaye- Agbado axis of Lagos State, a lot of people were there waiting to be registered. There were very few seats available at the centre, which was also poorly ventilated. Some people said they got there as early as 5:30a.m so that they could get a chance to be registered.
More worrisome was the scene at Zenith Bank at Ijaye along Oshodi- Abeokuta expressway. Before JAMB, cancelled condition of using national identity card as requirement, hundreds of student applicants were daily sleeping at the bank’s compound in order to be one of the 20 applicants to be registered for the scheme since the lone Official of NIMC sent to the bank would only register 20 daily. When this Reporter confronted her she said it was a strenuous job, adding after registering 20 she would be tired.
Patience Nwakama recalled that on the first day she decided to go for the registration, she got to the centre at 8:00a.m, adding that when she wanted to put down her name, she realised she was number 303. “I didn’t bother to wait. I just went back home,” she noted.
Speaking in the same vein, Mr. Chidi Okorie said the very first time he wanted to register, he got there by 10:00a.m but was told that they had got the required number of people they could attend to in one day. “I decided to go home and come back the next day. Even though I got there by 6:30a.m the next morning, I was number 63 on the list,” he said.
According to him, the registration officials came by 9:30a.m but the generator did not come on until about 11:00a.m. Giving her own account on the process, Miss Precious Adebiyi said she paid N50 to get the form and also N100 for lamination. An official of NIMC, who pleaded anonymity, told BusinessHallmark that the exercise was poorly funded adding, that the Commission was also understaffed.
“We are just two doing the registration here and we attend to more than 200 people in a day. Sometimes, we end up not allowing people to put down their names, as we cannot attend to all of them in one day. Again, we also face the issue of poor internet connectivity, which makes registration very slow.
“The entire process is very cumbersome, both to us the staff and to the people who are coming to register. So, the government should provide more funds and employ more hands,” the official said.
An Associate Professor of Project Management, Department of Management Technology, Lagos State University, Ojo, Dr. Olateju Olawale Ibraheem, described the compulsory acquisition of the National Identification Number (NIN) as a welcome development. He told this newspaper that the idea would help the country in getting an updated database, particularly for planning and development.
“For you to have an egalitarian society, a perfect environment where things work and monitor activities of the citizens in terms of what they do, the criminals in the society, there is need for us to have an adequate database. Though we are yet to get there, we must start from somewhere. Nigeria as a system has recognised the importance and need of having a database that is working.
“The 200 million-population figures of the country being quoted cannot be relied upon because we have to be sure of the source of the information. As at the last census, that was not the figure that was given out but we keep on assuming that on yearly basis Nigerians are increasing in terms of population. Nobody has been able to compare the death rate and the birth rate. So, that figure is not realistic,” he said.
Olateju posited that “with the NIN number linked to your international passport, bank transaction and other national activities just like the Bank Verification Number (BVN), it would help ascertain the number of Nigerians within the country and monitor their activities anywhere they are all over the world.
“People move from one point to the other without due information. For instance, we don’t know how many people are residing in Lagos, Delta, Rivers, Kano, and even Abuja. Hence it is difficult for the governments (both federal and states) to make adequate infrastructural plans for them. It is important for the government across all levels to have the birth rate and death of the citizenry yearly so that they can be able to make adequate plans for them. Government can only plan when they know you exist.”
According to the university don, the NIN policy would curb the influx of infiltrators, who enter the country unchecked and undocumented especially during the electioneering period.
“The constraints are borne out of corruption and they are doing it to extort the citizens. Whatever the constraints, let us continue. The more people are being registered, the lesser the number becomes and the positive impact of the project. One day, all Nigerians will get it. The constraints are not enough to stop the policy.
The NIN ties together all records such as demographic data, fingerprints, head-to-shoulder facial pictures, biometric data, and digital signature. By an Executive Order signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, one cannot obtain a passport or driving licence without the National ID Card.
The Federal Government also approved September 16 of every year as the National Identity Day, also called 16.9 and the Identity Day (ID-Day), to create more awareness and acceptability.
The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) was established by the NIMC Act No. 23 of 2007. The NIMC has the mandate to establish, own, operate, maintain and manage the National Identity Database in Nigeria, register persons covered by the Act, assign a Unique National Identification Number (NIN) and issue General Multi-Purpose Cards (GMPC) to those who are citizens of Nigeria as well as others legally residing within the country. The new national e-identity card, which abolished the old one, is therefore a project of the NIMC.
An official of the Commission at 9, Obafemi Awolowo road, Agindigbi, Ikeja who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the Commission is grossly underfunded and that the issue of buying fuel, shortage of staff and sundry problems are actually present but the Commission was working round the clock to make the exercise seamless. He further told this newspaper that corrupt officials involved in the exercise will be fished out and dealt with appropriately.