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NIN/SIM Linkage: Why Nigeria May Never Achieve A Harmonized Database

Despite the corrupt practices, lack of capacity and numerous challenges that have deprived the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) from achieving a harmonized database for the nation, the Federal Government has chosen to keep a blind eye to them and urged the Nigerian Communications Commission, (NCC) to enforce a policy of compulsory National Identification Number(NIN) enrolment by blocking subscribers’ SIM cards.

The public reactions to this directive have been mixed though, it has been punctuated by condemnations and derisive emotions which portray government as unserious.

This development simply suggests that NIMC is not only incapable of exploring a seamless method by which the National Identity Management System(NIMS) could be managed but also made a bold statement that NIMC has failed as a Commission with the preoccupation of delivering a common digital database for national identity management.

NIMC is the statutory government agency that operates and regulates matters of national identity in Nigeria with services covering NIN enrolment and issuance, National e-ID card issuance, identity verification as well as data harmonization and authentication.

Founded 13 years ago in 2007, NIMC has not made any success in its brief or galvanized sister agencies of the government as partners or effectively deployed the private sector as agents to help realize its objective of a harmonized digital identity database for the nation.

On December 15, 2020, the Federal Government declared that after December 30, 2020, all SIMs that were not registered with valid NINs on the network of telecommunications companies would be blocked.

It later extended the December 30, 2020 deadline following widespread opposition against the earlier announcement and gave three weeks’ extension for subscribers with NIN from December 30, 2020 to January 19, 2021.

Nigerians have frowned at the directive as wrongly timed given that the world is faced with a global pandemic known as Covid-19, which makes it socially ill-advised for people to troupe out and engage in mass enrolment at close range with the certainty of standing for long hours and days in wait for turns at few registration centers without capacities across the country.

The consequence here is a spike in the number of C-19 cases even as government makes efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic. There is also low publicity of the directive as many Nigerians do not read national dailies.

The government also gave six weeks’ extension for subscribers without NIN from December 30, 2020 to February 9, 2021, but with the failure on the part of the government to provide necessary facilities to help with the ease of the process, the Federal Government earlier announced today the exercise has been extended by eight weeks, it said the new deadline was now April 6, 2021.

In Nigeria, there is no age limit for SIM registration, as teenagers, children and aged adults can own SIM card at any time, a factor that has also invalidated whatever reason or logic behind the sudden directive of harmonized database.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives, (HoR), had earlier instructed NCC to extend the deadline for the re-registration of all SIM cards in Nigeria, till February 2021.

This disposition by HoR, needs to be questioned as the arm of government failed to do the needful, which is clamoring for the harmonization of the national identity management system rather than seeking the extension of the directive’s deadline.

Over the years, many government agencies have been involved in data collection of citizens in many areas with finger prints inclusive. FRSC collects data for driver’s Licence, Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) uses commercial banks to generate Bank Verification Numbers(BVN), Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) issues voter’s card with personal data, NCC uses the telecommunication companies to get subscriber’s personal data, Nigerian Immigration Service(NIS) gets personal data for international passport issuance and then NIMC for NIN. All these, come with various forms of e-ID and a hard copy.

The question now is, why has it been difficult to have a harmonized digital identity operating system that can make it difficult for duplication of any sort with a thumb or finger prints on any of the agencies’ platforms?  This model will ensure that as a person places his or her thumb print on the surface of the data capturing system, it will display all the personal data earlier imputed, while displaying the new areas needed to capture for the given purpose of the data capture.  For birth certification and death, all clinics and hospital must be made national identity system compliant digitally such that when someone dies and it is imputed the system deletes the deceased’s personal data automatically.

The model makes it possible for every citizen that has attained the age of voting to be automatically issued an e-voter’s card on regular basis.

Meanwhile, the NCC is yet to explain how millions of users will be able to comply with the new directives within the stipulated time. What happens to other unique numbers that have been given? Where are the personal data  collected by different agencies of government stored?

The new directive has also caused the suspension of registration of new SIM cards nationwide and Nigerians with existing SIM cards have also been directed to update their SIM registration details with their NIN.

In October 2020, the NCC said there were over 152 million Internet subscribers in the country, while NIMC  claims that about 42 million Nigerians already had NIN as of September 2020, out of the current population of about 206million people in the country.

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