By Grace Yussuf
Perceptive observers note that with the just-concluded 1D4Africa’s 4th annual meeting in Abuja seeking the declaration of every September 16 as International Identity Day, there is need to work faster and harmonise identity schemes in Nigeria.
ID4Africa is an ID-4-All Movement that requires African nations to develop robust and responsible identity ecosystems around digital identity in the service of development, humanitarian action, security and facilitation.
It is a tripartite initiative with representation from African governments, development agencies and industry, motivated by the need to promote legal identity for all in Africa and empower individuals to claim their rights in development.
The meeting was from April 24 to April 26 in which concerned citizens observed that Nigeria had been grappling with its National Identity Number (NIN) scheme for some years with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).
They observed further that although NIMC started enrolment in September 2010, issuance of multipurpose ID cards only began in 2013.
Investigations, however, indicate that so far, Nigeria has been able to capture only10 per cent of the population of more than 180 million, people which NIMC puts at 30 million people.
Although, the Federal Government pledged to hit the 70 million people-target of NIN registration by December 2019, observers advise that there ought to be pragmatic efforts toward accomplishing the feat.
They observe that major challenge confronting the NIN is the duplication of efforts by other agencies engaging in some identity projects, making harmonisation imperative to accelerate the delivery of the scheme.
Dr Joseph Atick, the Executive Chairman, ID4Africa, alluded to this, saying in practice, achieving full harmonisation could be difficult and the road to getting there might be long depending on the the country’s capacity.
He called for an ID ecosystem, which is an ensemble of the components pooled from all sectors and integrated to empower the beneficiaries to assert their unique identity to claim legal, human and administrative rights.
“In the absence of a central or coordinated planning or national regulations, it is inevitable that the identity ecosystem in a country will develop into silos.
“Which is the case in most African countries today, where multiple identity systems proliferate, serving different functions with little link among them,’’ Atick said.
Unarguably, agencies such as the Federal Road Safety Corps, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission and the Nigeria Immigration Service, among others, have their identity programmes aimed at achieving different purposes for national development.
Experts then note that authorities ought to evolve better methods of synchronising the databases of these organisations for sustainable national development.
Apparently considering this observation, the Federal Government, in an effort to address the challenge of lack of synchronised database, employed the services of experts from countries which had successfully implemented identity programmes.
For instance, the Federal Government started a national smart card-based e-ID programme through the implementing agency, NIMC to evolve a new citizen-database to drive inter-agency identification in an effort to harmonise government services.
A German company, Crytovision was selected as one of the key contractors in the NIN programme, not only for card applications but also for the back-end Public Key Infrastructure.
Mr Markus Hoffmeister, the Chief Executive of the company, said: “Contrary to solutions of most of our competitors, our solution, e-Passlet suite, renders Nigeria independence from proprietary and undocumented technologies to deliver a true converged multi-applications.’’
Hoffmeister explained that the Nigerian government chose e-Passlet suite because of its powerful solution that implements all common e-ID applications as a base and flexible enough to allow for custom sovereign applications.
Some participants at the conference argued that if countries such as Kenya, Malawi and Ethiopia, among others, have developed better ID systems, Nigeria should do all it could to capture 50 million citizens by December.
Mr Aliyu Aziz, the Director-General, NIMC, however reassured Nigerians that the commission was prepared to accomplish President Muhammadu Buhari’s target of capturing 70 million Nigerians in its database by December 2019.
Aziz said that the commission was collaborating with its partners in public and private sectors to meet the target.
“We are working towards that by having all our partners; that is our partners in the public and private sectors to capture data.
“So, wherever a citizen has interface with the government, they will be able to capture the data and send to us.
“With that, we should be able to take up that 70 million and even beyond,’’ he said.
He also said that Nigeria had been able to showcase in the conference that it had doubled the number of enrollment from 2017 till date based on enrollment and harmonisation.
Aziz said that the commission was able to show that it would use an ecosystem approach to grow its database.
During the conference, many international ICT solution providers exhibited their technologies for biometrics and verification equipment.
Many of them were interested in partnering with Nigeria to bring their experiences to bear coupled with the fact that Nigeria is a huge market because of its population.
Some of them called on the Nigerian government to develop roadmap for strategy to effectively implement the country’s identity programme.
Mr Nandan Gopalakrishna, the Director, Techno Brain, a Kenya-based company, said that the Nigerian government needed to develop the correct strategy and plan to make informed decisions on its national identity programme.
“This meeting should help the government to adopt a more rational way of managing its ID system and this should be the outcome from this meeting,’’ he said.
He said that the company would bring its experience bear in Nigeria’s ID system, describing the system as too slow.
Also, Mr Hennie Meeding, the Sales Director of Laxton, a China-based identity company, called on NIMC to devise a strategy to increase its speed in capturing more citizens in its NIN programme.
He said that the company was keen on partnering with Nigerian companies and government agencies to fast-track the process.
“This conference is a platform to have the visibility for our brands, which have been tested to be efficient for years,’’ he said.
To press home the importance of ID programmes, the conference resolved to petition the UN to declare every September 16 to observe International Identity Day.
The petition is supported by the General Secretariat and Board of Advisers of ID4Africa with representatives of the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme, Centre for Growth and Development and NIMC.
The 2018 ID4Africa conference was entitled: “Harmonisation of Identity Schemes’’ with more than 49 African countries in attendance.
The conference announced that its fifth edition in 2019 would be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the theme: “Identity Ecosystems for Service Delivery’’.