The proposed national identity card is one too many

For more than a decade, Nigerians have repeatedly been asked to provide their biometric data for some forms of identification. This has generated concerns about the time, money and energy being expended in the process. Sadly, that is not about to end. The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) recently unveiled plans to launch three new national identity cards, subject to the approval of the presidency. They include a bank-enabled National ID card, equipped with payment capability for financial services. a social intervention card for government social programmes including cash transfers, and an optional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) National Biometric Identity Card.

The new initiative is a collaborative effort between NIMC, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and the Nigeria Inter-bank Settlement System. The card, according to the NIMC technical adviser, media and communications, Ayodele Babalola, will address the need for physical identification by allowing holders to prove their identity, gain access to government and private social services, promote financial inclusion, and encourage greater participation in nation-building initiatives. But Nigerians have heard all these before. Besides, the idea is coming months after the World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, Shubham Chaudhuri, also announced plans to collaborate with the NIMC for a rollout and registration of digital national IDs for all Nigerians. Chaudhuri at a meeting with the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Bosun Tijani, stated that the target is to provide about148 million people of working age with a digital national ID by the middle of 2024, marking a significant step towards inclusion and accessibility.

The logic behind establishing NIMC was first to eliminate the duplication which has continued unabated with every government agency taking the same biometric data of citizens and residents without sharing the information with other agencies. Indeed, In the last few years, Nigerians were made to provide their biometrics, some of which clearly bordered on extortion. Several agencies of government including the National Population Commission (NPC), the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and indeed the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) had at different times asked Nigerians for their biometric data. The biggest of the exercise undoubtedly was the Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) cards where more than 100 million Nigerians biometrics were captured. NIMC was meant to warehouse the basic identity infrastructure that would be available on need basis to every agency. But after more than a decade of operations it is apparently yet to deliver on its full mandate – harmonising biometric data in Nigeria into the National Identity Database.

As things stand, the government and private ventures are still incurring significant costs due to fragmented identification landscape. Perhaps even more curious is the bank-enabled National ID card, said to be equipped with payment capability for social and financial services. In 2014 the CBN and the same Inter-bank Settlement system introduced the BVN policy to all commercial deposit banks across the country to boost financial inclusion, aid credit extension, besides checking identity theft in the banking system. The policy involved capturing customers’ biometric data for financial transactions across all banking platforms.

The BVN is a unique identification number for customers of banks in Nigeria. It is linked to the biometric details of customers including their fingerprints and facial images. Is the new multipurpose national identity card essentially different from the earlier one? Why is it that data captured cannot be fed into a central database for further sharing for documentation as done in other climes? Only recently, public anxiety was raised with reports of some unauthorised persons breaching NIMC’s database and selling people’s personal information.

We hope that the NIMC management will be more professional in their operations.