Over the years, the National Identity Card Scheme has become a recurring problem. It has also cost the country a large amount of money. It is particularly sad that since the country became a republic in 1963, billions of taxpayers’ monies have continued to go down the drain in the name of a national identity card scheme. The scheme’s fairytale is well known and documented, as it has become a veritable outlet for the squandering public funds. Even before it was re-launched in 1979, the scheme continued to witness one setback or the other.
Although initially conceived in 1963, there was no concrete action taken until 1979 when the then military Head of State, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo established a Department of National Civic Registration, DNCR, with the sole responsibility of issuing national identity cards to every Nigerian of 18 years and above.
However, the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari that took over from the military in October of that year did not accord the scheme the needed priority.
Again, during Obasanjo’s second coming as a civilian President in 2003, the government launched an extensive national identification card drive in which everybody over 18 years of age and above was eligible to participate.
Ironically, of the estimated 120 million Nigerians at the time, about 60 million were eligible to register for the national identity card in an exercise that lasted from February to March of 2004. After an expenditure of over $214 million (about N36.3 billion) the DNCR said 52 million Nigerians registered for the cards. An audit later showed that only 36 million Nigerians actually registered.
Thus, when Goodluck Jonathan launched yet another round of the national citizens’ identification programme in 2013, there where little or no cheers from the sceptics Nigerians. The scheme has been on the drawing board, with little result. That is why President Jonathan’s optimism, when he launched the latest round on October 17, 2013, in Abuja, in which he directed the National Identification Management Commission, NIMC, to ensure that all eligible Nigerians are registered on or before December 31 of this year, can be hardly shared by those who have followed the schemes unending saga.
This is why given the litany of past failures, everything must be done to ensure the current exercise succeeds. NIMC is therefore expected to capture all eligible citizens. We believe the deadline can be met if there is seriousness and commitment.
In the past, failure of previous attempts could be traced to multiple registrations for data of citizens. For instance, it is a common phenomenon to see the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, and Nigeria Police, Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, and the Nigeria Population Commission, NPC, embark on varied data gathering. This, according to the former President is not only expensive, but inefficient. It is against this backdrop that he said it would be better to invest in one foolproof scheme, which other agencies could benefit, than to embark on duplication of purpose.
The former President, no doubt spoke the mind of millions of Nigerians when he directed all government agencies needing citizens’ data to look on to the centralised data bank, which the NIMC is building. There is no doubt also that if the previous exercise to register citizens and issue then with a national identity card had been successful, some of the present security challenges that the country now faces would have been better managed. Also, the recurring dispute between the geopolitical regions on issues such as census may not have arisen.
A central biometric database becomes not only crucial, but necessary, especially with the multifarious challenges the country is presently going through. The benefits aside from helping to generate social security numbers, which is imperative for planning and other issues being dogged by politics. With adequate citizen registration, it would be more difficult to manipulate census figures and the Nigerian economy would be better for it.
It is worthy to note that NIMC has also created a paradigm shift from identity card issuance to National Identity Management System, NIMS. The NIMS project is in five components: the establishment of reliable, secured and accurate national database, assigning of national identification number, issuance of multipurpose cards, provision of infrastructure that will be used for verification and confirmation of identity; and harmonisation of all existing agencies’ databases in Nigeria. But the most important thing about the NIMS is that it will provide a universal identification infrastructure for the entire country, which will help in bringing real and recognisable benefits to the government, individuals as well as for legal residents in Nigeria.
We recall also that the NIMC and the US debit card company Master Card in May 2013 at the World Economic Forum on Africa held in South Africa announced the rollout of 13 million Mastercard-branded National Identity Smart cards with electronic payment capability as a pilot scheme. This was described as the largest rollout of a formal electronic payment solution in the country and the broadest financial inclusion initiative of its kind in Africa. Therefore, the potential social and economic benefits of the scheme for the country are huge.
However, for the present exercise to succeed there must be more publicity and enlightenment. NIMC should increase its publicity blitz to enlighten the citizens on how to register and the dateline for the exercise, which is December 31, 2014. That way, the target is likely to be achieved. Nigeria must get the national identity card scheme right this time. It is of enormous benefit to the country economically, socially, and security-wise that the present administration does all it can to ensure the success of the scheme once and for all.