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National security: Drawbacks from national id card scarcity

The recent announcement by the Nigeria Identity Management Commission (NIMC) that the renewal of the National Identity Card will attract a fee of N5,000 has generated reactions across the country, with hardly anyone in support of the development. The message came through the official tweeter handle of the agency and has since been confirmed by it. Hence it is official. According to the message, applications for renewal shall be accompanied by payment of the stated sum through Remita, the official pay portal for all payments to the federal government, and have to be accompanied by all relevant documents.

The problem with this message is the accent it provides the disturbingly laid back position which the agency had adopted over issuing the National ID Card to Nigerians, many of whom had registered several years ago. In the public rating, therefore, instead of addressing its mind to the issuance of all outstanding cards to the already registered Nigerians, the agency is talking about renewals and payment for such. And since the message did not specify the respectively applicable terms on whether the renewal was for the expiration of the life of the card or loss of or damage to the same.

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It needs to be recalled that on several occasions the Director-General of NIMC Mr Aliyu Aziz had mentioned that the primary objective of the agency was to enlist all eligible Nigerians onto the National Identity Database and assign same with a 16-digit National Identification Number (NIN). However, by tacitly de-emphasising any firm commitment on the specifics concerning when and how all the already registered Nigerians will have their cards in their hands, NIMC has not helped its cause.

Granted that millions of Nigerians had registered with the Agency for several years without having their ID cards, this oft-repeated comment from Aziz raised the spectre of his agency abdicating its statutory mandate, and largely created significant doubt over the actual mission of NIMC; whether it was it out for mere enumeration of Nigerians, or providing specific instrument for their personal identification as bona fide nationals of the country. Hence the Agency’s newfound zeal in taxing Nigerians who want to renew their cards attracts justified suspicion.

The first area of weakness in the NIMC ID Card renewal agenda derives from a seeming contradiction and even violation of the Act setting it up. According to the NIMC Act of 2007 which set up the agency, its functions in respect of the National ID Card project were cut out for it. Sections 5(a-d) direct the Commission to register all citizens in the country in the National Identity, Database, register foreigners who are legitimately resident in the country and issue a General Multipurpose, Identity Card to any person so registered. Against the backdrop of this manifest provision of the Act, it constitutes an affront on law for Mr Aziz and his team to downplay the matter of the issuance of the actual card to deserving citizens of the country. Just as well, hardly can every registered Nigerian be expected to memorise the 16-digit NIN, given the low level of literacy and ICT penetration in the country. Hence, beyond his rectitude of availing the registered Nigerians of their card, it is just their legitimate right, and the denial of which should attract apologies from the NIMC.

However, a more significant dimension is the connection between the National ID Card project and national security, which the scarcity of the former has largely compromised. With the daily escalating and diversifying forms of security threats as well as concerns globally, virtually every civilized country is paying premium attention to the issue of knowing its citizens, and who should be allowed the liberty to stay within its territory. And the primary legal instrument for this exercise remains an official document for physically identifying any designated individual at any point in time, no matter by whatever name it is referred to.

This is where the lackadaisical, presently laid back attitude of Aziz and his team at NIMC constitutes a major drawback to efforts by the security establishment in respect of resolving issues of insecurity in the country. With the problem of trans-border infiltration and the involvement of suspected foreign miscreants and insurgents in the various flashpoint of armed crises in the country, hardly does any other country, need more than Nigeria, a robust national ID card, to define who is who at any point in time.

Hence, reactions to this renewal fee announcement have in the main captured the disappointment with which Nigerians hold the NIMC and its never maturing National ID Card project. As far as not a few are concerned all expectations on the final resolution of the National ID card project qualify as waiting for the proverbial Godot. Even at that, much of the grouse over the recent announcement also missed the main historical substance and focused on the transient card renewal aspect.

Put succinctly, therefore, concerning the history of the ID Card project, public misgivings over any of its features may not always and easily derive from a recent causative factor, given its long history of incontinence. The earliest mention of a national identity scheme for Nigerians was in 1977 under the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs during the administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo. In the course of a convoluted run, the project, which was managed by the Department of National Civic Registration (DNCR) was scrapped in 2003 after it had registered about 53 million Nigerians. In 2007 the NIMC was created through an act of the National Assembly and vested with the function of integrating all existing databases around the country into a single stop. This provision requires that the NIMC serves as a repository of all databases including births and deaths, as well as everyone in the country.

However, since its establishment and after several billions of naira had been invested in the organization, the NIMC – by its admission, is yet to cover the entire country, having registered not more than 30% of eligible Nigerians.

In the light of such abysmal record of performance, it would seem that NIMC is yet to be weaned off the lethargy of its legacy establishment – the DNCR. That is why, if for nothing else, the utility of the National ID card for every Nigerian, for facilitating national security, justifies reading the riot act to NIMC.

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