The Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Aliyu Aziz, in this interview with BODE ADEWUMI speaks on the activities of the Commission, particularly on data capturing, the journey so far in enrolling Nigerians and the issuance of the National Identification Number (NIN), and many more. Excerpts.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently approved the renewal of your tenure for a second term of four years. What is your agenda and areas of focus for the second tenure?
The mandate of NIMC hasn’t changed and my focus remains to ensure that every person is enrolled and issued a unique National Identification Number (NIN) also known as a digital identity. We have a population of about 200 million and the commission’s target is to register all within the next 3-5 years. Whilst pursuing this target, the commission would also work to expand, extend and strengthen the infrastructure that is enabling the enrolment and identity authentication to happen.
What specific achievements did you record and challenges faced during your first tenure? What plans do you have to record more achievements and address those challenges you encountered?
One of our greatest achievements was increasing the enrolment figures from 7 million in 2015 to 39 million at the end of 2019. As of today, we have reached 41 million records by sheer determination and hard work. I owe all of these to the great staff of NIMC who pushed themselves beyond their limits to see this happen.
The challenges we are facing are still the same challenges the Commission has been facing for years. Power issues at our Enrolment Centres (ERCs), sensitisation and awareness to the general public, inadequate enrolment centres and enrolment devices, maintenance and support of our IT infrastructure, consumables etc. All of these issues affect our operations and require a lot of funding to address. We will continue to do our best to address them in consultation with all the relevant stakeholders, government and with the help of the media.
How prepared are the government and NIMC to meet the demands for enrollment for the National Identification Number nationwide?
Government and NIMC have made significant strides to scale up enrollment for the issuance of NIN. In September 2018, The Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved a strategic roadmap for accelerating the development of digital identity in Nigeria using the ecosystem approach (leveraging the capabilities and facilities of public and private sectors to speed up enrolment). Government has also got commitment and approval from three development partners – the World Bank, Agence Francaise de Development (AFD) and the European Union (EU) – to fund the roadmap implementation to the tune of $433 million. You can obtain a copy of the roadmap on the NIMC website.
The project preparation is currently ongoing and full implementation was originally scheduled to kick start by June 2020, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, we may extend to September or December this year. Our target is to have at least 4000 enrolment centres across the nation: one enrolment centre per 50,000 people.
What is your advice to Nigerians on enrolling for the NIN?
The Federal Government has approved NIN as the only valid means of identification for government services by Law. As a foundational ID, everyone must register and obtain a NIN. Kindly do so to avoid any restrictions on use or access to government services in the future. The process takes less than 10 minutes and can be further reduced if you pre-enrol online. Visit www.nimc.gov.ng for more details on enrolment. The law provides punitive measures for those who fail to comply with or disregard the law.
NIMC is collaborating with a number of government institutions including JAMB and other examination bodies, which are making the NIN a prerequisite for registration for their respective examinations. What plans do you have in place to enrol eligible and intending candidates in time for those examinations?
With NIN as the valid means of ID for government services, it is the responsibility of every individual on the soil of Nigeria or of Nigerian descent to register and obtain the unique ID. Enrolment commenced since the year 2012 that is 8 years ago; and the NIN is issued instantly upon complete registration.
Eight years is enough time for people to present themselves for registration in accordance with the NIMC Act. We should not always wait for the last minute or for the government to resort to aggressive enforcement and punitive measures for people to do the right things. NIN is issued free of charge to everyone, children and adults alike. Do not wait to be told you cannot transact or access service to register.
You recently raised concern about poor funding of NIMC programmes by the Federal Government. Has the funding situation improved, given the apparent increased pressure on NIMC to enrol Nigerians for the NIN?
NIMC through the Federal Government has obtained funding to accelerate digital identity enrolment within the next 3-5 years. The funding covers digital ID enrolment, issuance and usage; strengthening the enabling law, security, privacy, data protection and cybersecurity mechanisms; as well as strengthening the IT and other backend infrastructure.
There is still the need for funding on the card aspect of the programme as well as on the other regulatory functions of the commission. We are consulting with the Federal Government on these aspects.
What will you say is the rationale behind the Federal Government’s making the NIN compulsory for government services?
The NIMC Act of 2007, which is the legal framework on which the Commission is operating, stipulated that the National Identification Number is a unique identifier for all citizens and legal residents; and must be presented and verified to confirm your identity before other functional agencies can provide service. This is the law and the government is simply reminding us to comply and working to ensure the enforcement of the provisions of the law. It is not a new thing or new policy.
Many Nigerians who have the e-ID card seem to have difficulty on how to use the card for financial transactions. How can the card be used for financial transactions and what are the security features in the card?
The payment applet on the card is usually activated before the card is issued to the rightful owner for use. The card carrier contains the information on the use of the card for financial transactions. In a simple term, the card functions as a debit card (with virtual account) where money can be loaded and used on Point-of-Sales (POS), Automated Teller Machine (ATM) and other payment channels including the web.
The card has 18 security features and has been ranked as one of the most secured National ID cards in the world. Some of the security features can be seen with the eyes (ghost image, hologram, coat of arms, etc), while others require some special tools and light to see.
There was a recent news item on a court order stopping activities related to Nigeria’s national identity card system. What can you tell us about that and how is it being resolved?
The court case you are referring to is between Chams Plc and MasterCard. Unfortunately, NIMC was included as a co-defendant and that affected some of our card operations. Because it is still an ongoing court case; therefore, I will not be making any further comments on the matter. We will await the outcome of the court proceedings and ruling.
How are you repositioning NIMC to increase awareness creation to sensitise Nigerians about the importance of the National Identification Number (NIN)?
Nigeria is a big country with a huge population. Creating awareness and sensitising about 200 million people is not an easy task and requires a lot of resources and logistics to achieve. Even though we collaborate with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), National Orientation Agency (NOA), Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Voice of Nigeria (VON), and all other national media outlets and companies to enlighten the general public, we still need to do more. As stakeholders in the ID sector, we need the support, partnership, cooperation and assistance of all media companies and outlets on this national assignment. The best repositioning is to start with our communities, local governments and regions to share the news and speak to the people in the language they best understand on the ID need and use. Let’s join hands to bring everyone on board.
NIMC has extended registration to Nigerians in the diaspora. How have those in the diaspora welcomed this and what is the level of diaspora enrolment so far?
Diaspora enrolment was greatly received by the Nigerians in other countries and it has been going well since the launch. Enrollment is happening in over 15 countries across the world, with more countries to come on board in the near future. We are optimistic that more Nigerians will turn up to obtain the NIN; since it is a requirement for the application of a new and renewal of an expired Nigerian passport.
NIMC, in collaboration with the Federal Government declared 16 September as National Identity Day. What is its significance to the Nigerian society from a global perspective?
Nigeria formally launched and celebrated as the first country in the world to adopt and declare 16 September as International Identity Day. The event is a culmination of an enormous collective effort, which began in April 2018 when our country Nigeria successfully hosted the 4th Annual Meeting of the ID4Africa Movement here in Abuja and joined a global coalition for recognition of 16 September each year as International Identity Day. That call was embraced with tremendous support and over 1500 individual signatures endorsing the proposition were collected from delegates which cut across 81 countries, including 41 African nations.
The endorsement represented nearly 99 per cent of the participants that attended the Conference in Nigeria. To formalise Nigeria’s membership of the global coalition, the National Identity Management Commission, sought and obtained approval from the Federal Government through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Providing legal identity to all including birth registration is one of the global SDGs target, specifically SDG 16.9; and Nigeria is endorsing and supporting this achievement by declaring 16 September each year as National Identity Day as a way to create awareness and get the buy in required.