THEWILL EDITORIAL: NIN-SIM Linkage and Endless Duplication of Biometric Data Base

NIN-SIM Linkage Caricature

The Federal Government has extended the deadline for the integration of the National Identification Number and the Subscriber Identity Module to June 30, 2021. This is the seventh extension since the exercise was unveiled in mid-December, 2020:  First, there was a two-week deadline, which lasted December 30, 2020 and really rattled Nigerians. It was later shifted to January19, 2021 and then, February 9.

Another extension of the deadline to April 6 was announced through a court order; followed by May 6, then June 6 and now June 30, 2021. These multiple deadline extensions and the chaos initially witnessed at the NIN registration centres across the country betrayed the Federal Government’s unpreparedness for such a sensitive exercise. Indeed, the ugly scene aired on the nation’s television stations, which also went viral on social media, was a huge national embarrassment. It also exposed a government that claimed superior capacity in managing our national affairs.The world was shocked that Africa’s largest economy could not execute biometric data capturing of her citizens in a seamless manner.

The amazing negligence prompted a court action instituted by a human rights lawyer, Monday Ubani, in February, which led to a two-month extension to April 6, 2021.  Ubani had argued and the court agreed that a short deadline would lead to a rush and clustering of people at NIN registration centres, thereby exposing them to the corona virus.

Like an action taken before thinking, government has decentralised the NIN registration by licensing the network providers and other private sector outlets.  While the exercise is said to be free of charges, Nigerians are being extorted and forced to pay between N3,000 and N5,000 per registrant at various centres.

It is worrying that Nigeria has witnessed unending search for a database for over three decades, coupled with endless duplication of biometric data schemes.

Initially, the harmonised and digitalised driver’s licensing system introduced by the Federal Road Safety Corps in 1989/1990 was to create a biometric data base for the nation.  Indeed, the Commission was empowered to keep records of all registered vehicles, licensed drivers and motorists in the Central Data Bank and make it accessible to sectors on request.

Another database was later initiated by the Nigeria Police Force –  the Central Motor Registry for particulars of motor vehicles and their owners. This was later jettisoned after it created an avenue for corruption and extortion by the enforcement agencies.

Thereafter, the “reform” of the new vehicle number plate meant to enhance the database and check car theft emerged. The Bank Verification Number followed. The BVN, it was declared, would solve multiple biometric-related problems beyond banking transactions.

The Independent National Electoral Commission also introduced the Permanent Voter Card – as a biometric data base to solve the dearth of functional personal identity data.  This was after the SIM registration exercise, supervised by the Nigerian Communications Commission at the cost several billions of naira, had seemed ineffective. The government was optimistic that the SIM registration would tackle the security challenges in the country. But the opposite turned out to be the case.

The new national identity card initiated by the Goodluck Jonathan Administration in 2002 was later suspended for an enhanced version.  At the launch of the all-purpose plastic ID card in September 2014, Jonathan gave the assurance that the card would be targeted at solving many identity-related issues, noting that it would be used as ATM card, voter card and ECOWAS travelling ID card, among others.

He also observed that a number of government agencies, from the Police to the INEC had embarked on their own separate ID card schemes, adding that the plan was to eventually include details such as driving licence, health insurance, tax and pension information on the single card.

“The regime of duplication of biometric databases must now have to give way to harmonisation and unification with the e-ID scheme, which shall be the primary database,” Jonathan had said.

But President Muhammadu Buhari shunned the $3.5 billion National e-ID card project on assumption of office in 2015. The exercise eventually resumed with new challenges that further slowed down the process.

At the budget defence session concerning Diaspora Data in October 2019, the Director-General of the NIMC, Engr Aziz Aliyu, told the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs that the agency could register only a quarter of Nigerians for the National Identity Card, because of inadequate funding by the Federal Government.

He said that for the commission to register all Nigerians, it would have to set up 10,000 registration centres across the country and consequently, require adequate funding from the national budget.

There are still large crowds at the local government headquarters and other registration outlets in the states where power and interconnectivity remain a challenge. The case is worsened by the decision of the Joint Matriculations and Admissions Board to make NIN a requirement for this year’s UTME registration.

The FRSC has also been asked to link driver’s licence holders’ data to NIN, a process that has created hardship for many applicants as the FRSC records showed that applicants’ data are being muddled in a manner that makes retrieval of their particulars difficult.

It is not certain how June 30 deadline will bring the exercise to an end.

We had in our earlier editorial urged JAMB to relax the requirement of NIN for this year’s UTME registration until next year.  There are reports that the exercise is not fluid and efficient in many parts of the country because of epileptic power supply and poor interconnectivity.

We are also urging the Federal Government to extend the NIN-SIM linkage to the end of this year. This will allow the system to accommodate all those to be captured.  The exercise should be further decentralised. The challenge of poor connectivity especially in the rural areas should be addressed.

However, the National Identity registration should be a continuous exercise. Adequate facilities and competent hands should be provided for the NIMC.

Let Nigeria’s endless search for permanent biometric database come to an end.