How National Identity Card Scheme Will Transform Nigeria – Onyemenam
Chris Onyemenam, a lawyer, is the Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC). Post-Independence Nigeria has struggled with the issue of identity and accurate census. Since the rebirth of democracy in 1999, the nation has gone through several identity motions, all amounting to failure, the worst being the national ID card project midwifed by the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo government. That project was powered by a French company, Sagem, but again it failed. Not only did it fail, it raked up a cauldron of accusations of sleaze and under-hand deals involving top politicians. At the end, the project failed to capture the identity of eligible Nigerians. Besides, it entered the growing national archive of infamy not only as a failed project but one that brought the nation to global ridicule. In recent years, several agencies and organisations, public and private, have made fitful attempts at capturing the true identity of Nigerians but such efforts remain discrete and uncoordinated hence cannot fittingly be profiled as national databank of Nigerians.
It bears stating here that all of these previous attempts were aimed chiefly at issuing identity cards to Nigerians or merely having their biometrics locked up in the chambers and vulnerable vaults of the various agencies. Now, the jinx is about to be broken. The President Goodluck Jonathan government through an Act of Parliament is implementing a national identity management project first conceived in 2007 after the Sagem debacle. The responsibility of implementing the project rests on the shoulder of Delta State-born Oyemenam who quietly and steadily has begun the journey of capturing the most reliable identity profile of Nigerians. The process, unlike the previous ones, is unobtrusive and largely technology-driven thus leaving no room for human manipulation. Unlike previous identity exercises, the NIMC project carries the force of law and has in-built redundancy and safety valves that guarantee the effective storage and protection of the database. This makes it reliable, verifiable and dependable. In this chat monitored by our Correspondent Theresa Igata on Kaakaki on the eve of the formal launch of the project by President Goodluck Jonathan, Barrister Onyemenam outlines the special features of the exercise and why Nigerians should jettison the pessimism that came with the failure of the previous attempts. Excerpts.
What’s so special about this Card?
Basically, it is 100 per cent polycarbonate card, has about 19 security features and the most distinguishing feature is that it is a smart card and it’s an 80 kilobyte card that has multiple applications. Aside being an identity card, it’s also a payment card and that is what distinguishes it from the other identity card schemes we’ve had.
What are the phases and how long is the process?
There are three to five components of the process; it is called the National Identity Management System. The first component is when you get involved in the registration process by submitting your demographics and biometric data. The second phase happens at our data centre where the data is cross checked to ensure that you have not previously enrolled. The fourth component is what makes it possible for you to use the card. It is given to you at the point of registration to affirm your identity anywhere you go across the globe. The fifth component is the one that requires all government agencies and by extension the private sector, to access a single version of truth which is in the National Identity Management Database, meeting the identity management needs of the country. When you register and you’re given a printout that has an eleven digit number; that number is your identity and it will be used to tie everything about you; your demographics biometrics identity card information and it will be stored in our identity database. When you’re given the card, it’s only evidence that you have some part of your information and the payment solution on the card in your pocket or purse.
How is this project going to be different from the others we’ve had?
The Sagem project was actually $290 million, that scheme and other schemes before focused on ID card issuance. Like you attested that after being enrolled you were given a National Identification Number not a card. The National Identity Management System has at least five components; the card is just one of those components. That is a remarkable departure from what we’ve been doing in the past where the end of the entire exercise is to issue a card.
What we’ve done this time around is to design the system in such a way that a service provider that is not needed, that is proving difficult and trying to hold us to ransom or is trying to create a situation where the tail is wagging the dog can be excused. So it’s a service-oriented architecture that we’ve put in place and we followed it up closely by saying the deployment must be with our engineers and staff. Along the deployment we’ve been training Nigerians to make sure that we manage this project from the world go.
Not Just a Card but Identity Management
There’s a paradigm shift, away from focusing on card issuance to identity management and then we have looked at the commercials to see if we can create avenues for consistent or sustainable revenue streams that can help the commission to ensure that you can upgrade the systems, expand, extend and enhance it to make it possible for all government agencies to hook up to this infrastructure so that we can optimise available government resources. The idea is that once there’s a consolidated infrastructure that all government agencies can use and by extension the private sector can also use then the commercials make sense on the one hand and then the flip side is that government resources by way of budgetary provisions for this are conserved. These are what would help to sustain the project as something that we’ve deliberately designed to be managed by Nigerians and I tell you that the President has been very supportive; it’s been slow and steady. This is one Rome that cannot be built in a day if you want to get it right. We’re going to launch the 3rd (card) component and then we’ll show the fourth (ability to affirm your identity by using the number and card) component and then the fifth component is the harmonisation which is already on-going. And this first phase we’ll have 30 million cards issued.
What happens if one refuses to get the National Identity Card?
There’s a transitional phase and it is intended to allow us manage the process of switching over from the old to the new; the old is the 2D barcode plastic card which can easily be counterfeited and can easily be reproduced and distributed, so what we’ve tried to do is to say given our peculiar situation and this happens in the financial services sector; the level of losses we see annually due to fraud that is related to identity theft and even when you look at the cost of maintaining the currency in circulation; close to 2-3 trillion naira, that costs a lot of money to maintain, so we said there must be one way of ensuring that the unique identity of individuals which simply put is saying, the single version of truth of the individual in Nigeria can be made available both to government agencies and the private sector for ensuring that there’s non- repudiation in transactional relationships even when money is not involved and it also helps us to manage security issue because if you want to board an aircraft or go into a high security area or government office we’ll be able to confirm the identity of the person who is doing whatever.
Choice of Card
We chose the highest form of card manufacture that enables you to assure levels of security; there are three levels of security that have been built into this card and like I said it’s a hundred per cent polycarbonate where you can build so many security features into it. If you look at the chip, we’ve edged the Coat of Arms on the chip and you cannot find it anywhere else in the world. It’s something that we’ve had to order for specifically.
There’s a public key infrastructure, the front end is on the card and back end is with us at the data centre in our facility that we manage. Now that’s an electronic key infrastructure that enables us to put on the card features that helps you use it locally and internationally. A set of encryptions and digital certificates that the card holder is involved, the activation of those security features, so if you’re not the card holder and you take someone else’ card it will be difficult for you to do that activation.
Incorporation of other data collation with NIMC
We’re ready and again the Act provides for mandatory use of the NIN to be stated by the commission and gazetted by the government and we will do that shortly and so it’s mandatory for everyone to be enrolled. It’s also mandatory for service providers that have been listed in the Act and also as the commission may from time to time identify and to request for that. Recently a government circular was issued, directing all government agencies to align and switch over their infrastructure. What that means is that going forward the commission will begin to make specific demands and directives to some of the MDAs, in line with government policy this is what you must do at this time and date.
Clash with CBN Identity Project
Specifically, with the CBN Bank Verification Number project, the truth is that, that project is an avoidable duplication of what we’re doing for bank account holders. What we’re trying to do currently and in line with government policy is to get them to align and switch over. By aligning we mean the infrastructure they have procured, and they’ve only just done this two years after we’ve started; should now be reconfigured to ensure that it can fit into what we’re doing and at some point they would hand over the data and subsequently begin to transfer their data to us because constitutionally and in terms of the statutory responsibility of the commission, biometric data is not supposed to be outside of the commission and for those that have recently advertised, we will meet them and ensure that they fall in line and they comply with government policy. It’s all part of the challenge that you have to address when a reform is on-going and there’s the need to also meet the immediate demand for identity management, so we’re trying to handle all that.