The federal government has introduced a new national identity card, a smart card, as well as a general multi-purpose card that would be a reliable means of confirming the identities of Nigerians
If there is anything that inhibits the business of Olabode Oruku, chief executive officer of an e-business consultancy outfit, it is the fact that Nigerians are excluded from exploiting many business opportunities on the Internet. According to Oruku, Nigerians are excluded not because there is anything particularly wrong with the person, but owing to the fact that the identity of many Nigerians cannot be easily ascertained. “The problem of identity theft has been with us for a long time. This (theft) is the possibility of people to assume multiple identities, particularly with the intention of perpetrating fraud,” he noted. This is the reason the federal government has been trying to introduce an identity card scheme. The last attempt under former president Olusegun Obasanjo was a failure. But that effort culminated in the passing of the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, Bill into law in 2007.
With the advent of the NIMC Act 2007, a new national identity management system, NIMS, has evolved, which is expected to help protect Nigerians from identity theft and fraud by providing a simple, reliable and universally acceptable means of confirming their identities at all times. When the scheme is fully operational between now and 2013, it is expected to provide a convenient and simplified process for enrolment into the national identity database for the issuance and use of the National Identification Number, NIN, which is assigned to an individual upon successful enrolment. Enrolment consists of the recording of an individual’s demographic data and capture of the 10 fingerprints, head-to-shoulder facial picture and digital signature, which are all used to crosscheck existing data in the national identity database to confirm that there is no previous entry of the same data.
NIMS differs from the old national identity card in so many ways. In the first place, it is backed by law therefore all its features are well thought-out and comprehensive. Unlike the old national ID card, which has no personal identification number and signature for the card carriers, the new card has a NIN which is unique to the person in the sense that it would remain exclusive to him, and even when he eventually passes away it would not be assigned to another person. Besides, there is also a provision for self-service. Thus, every citizen from the age of 16 years and above and legal resident can pre-enrol online by accessing the enrolment form through the NIMC website, completing it and securing a summary sheet afterwards, which would later be presented to the enrolment officer at the registration centre in his or her locality to complete the process. Alternatively, one can pick up an enrolment form from any of the registration centres or from a mobile registration centre and either complete same personally or request for assistance in that respect from an executive assistant or a support staff.
Chris Onyemenam, director-general, NIMC, the commission which has the mandate to manage the NIMS, said unlike in the past when the project was mainly focused on identity card printing and issuance, the new NIMS will not only allow for an identity authentication but also verification, through the creation of access to a national identity database and the upgrading of the identity card to a smart card to be known as the general multi-purpose card, GMPC, which would support multiple ID application. He also noted that the commission has offices in all the state capitals and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and also all the 774 local government areas, which makes it easier for citizens to register themselves at their convenient time.
The director-general added that some of the benefits of the NIMS included improvement in physical security, allowing a more secure business environment, improving on human rights, deepening of financial services, including financial inclusion, and improving governance and service delivery. Onyemenam said the commission has created a fibre optic connection to all the security agencies.
According to Section 27 of the NIMC Act, 2007, at a date to be announced by the commission, the use of the NIN shall be compulsory for certain transactions, including application for and issuance of international passport, opening of individual and or personal bank accounts, purchase of insurance policies, consumer credit transactions, registration of voters, and payment of taxes.
So far, the ID card project had become a major conduit pipe for draining national resources and the corrupt enrichment of government officials. Even though this appears to be a well thought-out project, Nigerians cannot forget in a hurry their experiences over previous attempts to come up with a national ID card. Indeed, the current project, which is going to cost the country N30.066 billion, is the fourth time the contract would be awarded. The idea was first mooted in 1967, during the civil war, but it was not executed. It was Obasanjo who revived it in 1979. Before he handed over to Shehu Shagari in October 1979, the project had gulped $16 million (about N10 million then). Under Shagari, it was awarded to two American firms, one to source for the funds and the other to execute the project over a period of 18 months. The contract was later terminated in 1981, but later re-awarded to one of the firms at the cost of N56 million. By 1983, the contract sum had been reviewed upwards to N96 million, but there was virtually no single ID card to show for it.
The project was revived in 2003 under the civilian administration of Obasanjo, when a contract was awarded again, in spite of objections from the National Assembly, to a French company, Sagem, for N38 billion. This was under Sunday Afolabi, who was then the internal affairs minister. In December 2003, Afolabi stood trial along with his successor, Mohammed Shata, Hussain Akwanga, former labour minister and others on charges that they had sought bribes worth some $2 million from the French firm in connection with the contract.