When the Federal Government early this year approved N30.066 billion for the take off of the National Identity Management Commission, there was uproar across the country. Even in the newsrooms of most media houses in the country, there was a serious debate as to the desirability of another National Identity card. ‘The last exercise was wasteful,’ was what was heard everywhere. Many Nigerians did not take their time to look at what was being proposed for which the money was being earmarked.
A National Identity Management System is not the same as national identity card. The National Identity management will undertake the management of the bio-data of every Nigerian from birth to death. It is billed to coordinate all the personal data of every Nigerian in such a way that in one card, every data about the individual will be obtained. At the moment, the personal data of Nigerians are in bits and pieces from the National Passport Office, to the drivers licence, INEC voter registration, National Population, former national identity card, bank cards, among others. The new cards to be issued would have facilities that could be verifiable unlike the former one that had no verification facility. The expected identity card would be like a smart card with a database that would be readable when slotted into any acceptable card device or reader.
It will certainly be useful to the law enforcement agencies – from the Police to the intelligence community and the security agencies at large because the common denominator is ‘who are you’? Put differently, ‘are you who you say you are?’ At the moment, it is difficult to identify who a Nigerian really is. Some have three to four international passports with different names. Yet, they are the same person. If you want to confirm some persons, the responsibility of the National Identity Commission is to provide an infrastructure that enables you within seconds of a request to obtain valid and reliable response as to the identity of the person that you have asked a confirmation for.
This is a new way of confirming the identity of individuals that has not happened in Nigeria at the moment. It is in this sense that the new system is a shift away from the old way of Nigerians doing things. This new way is the new paradigm and that is not focused on identity card issuance but identity management system. The system would enable security agencies to easily track down people with fingerprints that could be easily matched when crimes are committed. In addition to doing this, the nation would be in a position to identify all its citizens as that should be one of the primary focuses of the scheme.
In Nigeria today, access to credit that drives western economies is absent as a result of the inability of banks to make informed decisions on the true identity of Nigerians. It is generally agreed that one thing that is missing at the moment in Nigeria is credit bureau, although it is being developed and was introduced last year. For a bank to lend you money, it needs to know who you are, not just because you claim your name is Fred. For credit cards to work in Nigeria, bankers need to know who you are; what your exposure is elsewhere for it to make a credit lending decision as to what the risk of lending is. So development of credit bureaus has already started, the banks are working with the credit bureaus to be able to put the information to the credit bureaus so that they can become useful and these are all the fundamental bases on which you now start extending credits. It is not just about credit cards, it’s about the vehicle of finance, to be able to access funds; it’s about mortgages. All of those things are required for a bank to be able to make an informed credit decision.
Developing credit bureau alone will not solve the identity problem. It has to be complemented with a National Identity card management system. The national ID management system will ensure that if you say you are John today, tomorrow you will not say you are someone else because you’ve got the national ID system that is reliable. So then, all your information is connected to you, to your national ID in the system. The earlier Nigeria has these systems in place, the better and the easier it is for banks to make informed decisions.
The proposed new identity scheme would help in identifying illegal immigrants in the country once there is a system to ascertain the identity of citizens; it would also be easy to identify foreigners impersonating Nigerians. As the commission introduces measures and processes for ensuring that citizens are legal residents and are able to ascertain their identities, Nigerians will discover that over time, it will become a lot easier to stop non-Nigerians from claiming to be Nigerians.
Nigeria has lost huge economic benefit for not having a credible identity card system. In most countries, workers are able to access credit from banks through the use of credit cards. This is what drives production as it empowers the ordinary citizens to make purchases on credit. The non-availability of a veritable identification scheme is an inhibiting factor in business and other transactional relationships between people. If you do not know who you are dealing with; that in itself is an inhibiting factor; it limits the extent to which you can go into transactional relationships; it means there is a limit to the kind of trust or business relations that you can go into. If you do not know your counterpart, you are not in a position to appreciate what you can benefit from the relationship. If you don’t know your counterpart, it is even difficult to estimate his capacities.
What government approved is N30.066 billion and the approval is intended to accelerate the rollout of the back-end of the national identity management system. About N5 billion of that amount is already part of the 2011 appropriation act while the remaining part of the money would be part of the 2012 and 2013 fiscal year budget proposal. This would be subject to review. It is a laudable project that would go a long way to sanitise the identification system. It is a system that every Nigerian should support so that we know who really is a Nigerian.