Exploring Nigeria’s multiple National identity system

In April 2017, the Federal Government of Nigeria launched the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) to boost the nation’s economic growth and global competitiveness.

ERGP focuses on delivering key government services, enhancing the macroeconomic environment, investing in human capital, and fostering a local digital economy.

Central to ERGP’s success is the need for robust identification systems, as they are crucial for effective delivery of government services, social safety nets, financial inclusion, and in elections.

It also provides opportunities for firms to innovate in Nigeria’s digital economy.

According to the World Bank, only 42.6 per cent of Nigerians possess birth certificates, highlighting a significant shortfall in identity management.

In 2020, the World Bank initiated a partnership with Nigeria for the Digital Identification for Development project, teaming up with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).

The project’s goal is to register 148 million Nigerians and issue them digital IDs by June 2024.

In a nation where identity verification seems to be a recurrent theme, the recent announcement by the Federal Government to introduce three new national identity cards has sparked both interest and skepticism among citizens.

The initiative, set to launch in May 2024, aims to target 104 million Nigerians, as part of a broader effort to establish a unified and secured digital identity framework across the nation.

The announcement, made in an official statement by the NIMC on April 6, also highlighted the collaboration between various key stakeholders.

They include the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Interbank Settlement System (NIBSS), to implement the new identity scheme.

Powered by AfriGo, a national card scheme established by CBN, the new IDs are designed to facilitate domestic transactions and provide a comprehensive solution to identity verification.

However, amidst the anticipation of a more streamlined identification process, concerns have been raised regarding the proliferation of identity systems in Nigeria.

According to NIMC’s Strategic Roadmap for Developing Digital Identification in Nigeria, identification remains underdeveloped in Nigeria, in spite of the urgent needs for it.

It says about 13 or more Federal Government-run agencies, and another 3 or more State agencies, offer ID services in Nigeria, where each government agency collects the same biometric information of people, overlapping efforts within government, at a high fiscal cost.

It listed many government agencies involved in identification to include; National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), and the National Population Commission (NPopC) Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Others are the Independent Election Commission (INEC), and National Communications Commission (NCC), amongst others.

The roadmap revealed that in spite of a fragmented ID ecosystem, the FGN is on track to spend US$4.3 billion on identification, with US$1.2 billion spent, and another US$3.2 billion to be spent.

Over the years, citizens have been subjected to various forms of identification, including national ID cards, Bank Verification Numbers (BVN), and National Identification Numbers (NIN), each accompanied by its share of controversies.

There are significant concerns about the effectiveness and security of Nigeria’s National Identity document, especially in addressing issues like insurgency, kidnapping, and digital identity fraud.

The findings from the 2024 Digital Identity Fraud in Africa Report highlight the urgent need for improvements in the country’s identity verification systems to better protect citizens and combat fraud.

Under the proposed scheme, Nigerians will be issued with a bank-enabled national ID, a social intervention card, and an optional ECOWAS National Biometric Identity Card.

While the intention behind these initiatives is to enhance security and improve access to essential services, many citizens have expressed frustration over the perceived complexity and redundancy of the system.

Social media platforms have been abuzz with criticism, with many questioning the necessity of introducing yet another layer of identification.

Some argue that the existing identification mechanisms, such as a simple plastic ID with a QR code, are sufficient and less cumbersome for citizens to manage.

Moreover, concerns have been raised about the financial implications of implementing these new identity systems.

In spite of significant allocation of funds to the NIMC in previous years for the procurement of ‘state-of-the-art’ equipment for NIN registration, challenges persist in meeting registration deadlines and linking identification numbers with SIM cards.

This, however, has led to disruptions in telecommunications services for many Nigerians.

A business woman, Mrs Toyosi Olawale, said identity cards should be unified into one card as it was done in developed countries.

“With a social security number and identity system in advanced countries, all information about an individual can be gotten in less than one minute.

“So, government should see how to unify its information and identity systems into one database and card.

“It makes it easier, avoids duplication of identity. It will also be easier to carry. Too many identity cards may be easily stolen or misplaced,” she said.

Prof. Adeshina Sodiya, former President, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), also appealed to NIMC to seek experts’ advice before introducing the proposed multipurpose Identity cards for Nigerians.

He said there should be a strategic workshop for critical analysis before the introduction of the multipurpose cards.

He said there was need for NIMC to get it right for betterment of the country.

“Now, we have many existing cards, platforms, resources for financial transactions. How will the new cards be able to compete with them?

“We were also told that the new NIN cards will also be used for social investment programmes.

“How would vulnerable Nigerians be able to handle and manage it? The issue of privacy also comes in, these questions need to be addressed”, Sodiya said.

He said the success of NIN cards would largely depend on how relevant organisations work together, adding that the e-Naira introduced was not really acceptance.

However, Mr Kayode Adegoke, NIMC’s head of corporate communications, responded to stakeholders` criticisms by affirming that the new National ID card is a General Multipurpose Card (GMPC).

According to him, it will consolidate the need for multiple cards into a single, convenient solution for various purposes.

Adegoke explained that the GMPC offers comprehensive functionalities, including payments, access to government services, and travel, simplifying individuals’ wallets and reducing the clutter of carrying multiple cards.

To facilitate the financial features of the GMPC, he said, NIMC would collaborate with the CBN and NIBSS, aiming for seamless integration of payment and financial services into the GMPC.

“Applicants for the GMPC are required to request it using their National Identification Number (NIN) through online portals, NIMC offices, or their banks.

“Upon approval, the card will be issued through the applicants’ banks, adhering to established protocols for debit/credit card issuance and powered by the AFRIGO card scheme, supported by NIBSS”, he said.

Experts say efficient national identity management system is pivotal for economic development, as it establishes a universal identification framework, facilitating access and verification of individuals’ identities within a country.

They also assert that such a system aids comprehensive economic planning, enhances intelligence gathering capabilities, and fosters a robust internal and external security framework in Nigeria.

As the government pushes forward with its plans to overhaul the national identity framework, it faces the daunting task of balancing the need for enhanced security with the imperative of minimising the burden of procuring them on citizens.

The success of these initiatives will ultimately hinge on government’s ability to streamline processes, addressing existing gaps in the identification system, and regaining the trust of Nigerians that government’s ability to manage complex processes.

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