One cannot but recognise a good initiative when such is seen. The National Identity Card project is a brilliant one to say the least. Though we know this project is more than a decade late, it is still a relief that it is now on its way at most by December 2014, going by the Presidential mandate. I really thank the President for this. Someone told me, “Hold your compliments, wait till then!” But all the same, I’ll rather want to trust the weight of the President and hope the card really rolls out by the end of the year. Even if the earlier attempts along the same line suffered terrible failure, it is the fervent hope of Nigerians that the experience of that failure would now give birth to a resounding success. May no “vested interest” bring down that hope.
It is probably evident to all the importance of such a small smart card. Till date, there is no reliable database in this mammoth enterprise called Nigeria. For instance, I was embarrassed a few days ago, checking for a citable source of the Nigerian population and finding no official figures to cite. Simply because there were several! The publication of the National Population Commission gives the figure as 140, 431,790, going by the 2006 census, but of course that is eight years ago. Even as I write and for the past four days, the official website of the commission is even down! Several other sources give our population to be well over 160 million. Yes, granted the fact that the obviously controversial 2006 census was done some eight years ago, this is understandable. But it does not seem right that it is only from sources like the CIA World Fact Book (170 million) or the World Bank Data (168 million) that the population of Nigeria can be given a reasonable confirmation. That in itself is a national threat: Having its numbers assumed by international bodies who invariably work with that figure anyway, since the country has contradictory, inaccurate figures to give. By the way, the erstwhile Chairman of the National Population Commission, Festus Odimegwu, had to resign because he had in conscience said our past censuses lacked credibility. For me, that is not even the most important point. The most important point he made is that the imminent census of 2016 will suffer the same fate as the past ones if the present constitution is not amended. I do hope the response to all these is not just a replacement of this man, but a detailed look into the veracity of his claims. But enough of the digression, our point is that the NIC, even though not a replacement of a census, would serve as a most vital verification tool as far as the national population is concerned. The more reason it needs to be out by year end, well before 2016.
Now, we grapple with several security issues daily, ranging from financial crimes to the now popular terrorism of koboko or Boko Haram which in any case is giving us several lashes of the koboko. A NIC in the form of a small smart card as being proposed would go a long way to help confront these national security challenges. With a personal number assigned by this card, an identity of each resident in the country, with proper biometrics, is registered and preserved in the database.
This is not a novel idea nor some whim of a thought, but a well-tested effort in developed countries as we know. The Social Security Number in the United States of America and in Russia, or the Social Insurance Number in Canada etc is a number without which you can hardly do anything in these countries. But the ease of life it gives to citizens and residents in their daily lives is unquantifiable. With this number, all government and private offices recognise the identity of an individual, without much ado. Meaning, several hours are saved daily in these offices without having to struggle with determining the identity of millions of individuals daily. The proposed NIC would be serving purposes related to that of SSN/SIN, verifying identities, making different sorts of transactions possible even from your house or in nearby offices, without having to travel all the way to some central offices in the town. But most importantly, it would render to the country a surer tool of ensuring security.
No single identification means in the country as it stands seems above board. The present SIM registration process for instance has been seriously rubbished. There are reports the different little kiosks which mobile telecommunications companies provided are busy registering rams and bulls as owners of phone numbers. The driving licence is produced in three days even in the absence of the person requesting same. Perhaps, the present National Passport is the only identification means that could guarantee some trust since it also makes use of biometric data. But the NP is not meant for daily transactions, it is a special document in its own right. The risk of the aforementioned abuses in the other identification means are brought to a most minimal level,almost entirely eradicated, since the NIC would be making use of automated biometric data including the fingerprint and, in the future as it promises, the iris recognition.
Furthermore, the NIC would provide a synergy approach to the one thousand and one needs of identity verification in different areas of life. It could be used to verify, authenticate or even replace the voters’ registration database, driving licence, income tax history to mention a few.The validation or even replacement of these several databases would of course equally save the government billions of naira that could be ploughed into other needs of the country.
Other related advantages like the possibility of access to consumer credit from the banks by the public, organisation of a better and comprehensive health insurance scheme, organisation of a better vehicular insurance system, are few of many others that this project would bring to our people.Without any gainsaying, it is an urgent priority for a country that is talking of being one of the 20 top countries by 2020. That is six years away.
It is therefore good news to hear Senate President David Mark warn that this initiative of the NIC must not become a white elephant like in the past. That warning must go beyond utterances and be given some legal framework within which the National Identity Management Commission must work and to which it must adhere. Given all the reasons above, we must do all to make this project a success. It is a major step in the right direction. And it is one that should be delivered at its set time mandated by the President: December 2014.