The Director General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Barrister Chris Onyemenam is a lawyer, seasoned administrator and a professional manager with over 25 years post qualification experience spanning Banking, Academics, Financial Training Institutions and Consulting Industry.
Until his calling to the public service, he was the Chief Economic Strategist and Head of Research at Zenith Bank Plc. He was also pioneer Executive Secretary and later Director Operations and Administration, at the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG). In this interview with the Economic Confidential this pioneer DG/CEO of NIMC advocates on the importance of National Identity Card Scheme. Excerpts:
Can you give us a brief background to the National Identity Card Scheme?
In May 2007, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) Act established the commission and provided the legal framework for the reforms in the sector. The reform mandate includes collecting basic demographic and biometric data, creating,operating and managing a National Identity Database, providing an on-line/off line cost effective verification and authentication infrastructure in Nigeria, integrating with ID schemes, providingstandardised identity attributes and fostering the orderly development of an identity sector in Nigeria.
What are the reasons for the National Identity project?
The scheme is Government’s desire to develop and deepen the consumer credit sector, facilitate the enforcement of existing laws and meet global practices, facilitate financial inclusion and development of commerce generally, and harmonisation of identification schemes committee in 2005. The commission has shifted focus from issuance of identity card to management of identities.
How do you situate that with the Nigeria’s economy?
As you may be aware, one of the major constraints to economic development in Nigeria has been the dearth of data useful to economic planning. Of central concern to Government has been the huge expenditure incurred annually by its agencies in the conduct of registration and recently biometric enrolment activities, repeatedly, when it can be better served by a centralized system.
Under the Commission functional responsibilities, the NIMC Act provides for, amongst other things, the NIMC to create, operate and manage a national identity database, assign unique identification numbers to citizens and legal residents, harmonize and integrate various existing identification databases in government agencies, provide secure communication links to the database and partner with any public and or private sector organization for the achievement of its objectives of instituting an identity management system for Nigeria information.
What is then the policy direction?
The national policy direction is to establish harmonized and seamlessly integrated NIMS which is anchored on the unique NIN and yet provides for the various institutional databases which are integrated under a single platform, the NIMS.
What are the benefit of the scheme?
The new harmonised National Identity Management System (NIMS) will curb financial crimes and launder the image of Nigeria abroad. The scheme streamlines biometric linked projects in the public and private sector, eliminating multiple and ghost identities, reducing identity theft and related fraud, enhancing the work of law enforcement agencies, financial inclusion and development of financial service sector, creating new economic and employment opportunities, among others. The biometrics, demographics data standards and verification procedures for the new scheme will also reduce identity theft, advance fee fraud and other related vices.
How are you relating with other institutions?
We have created wider collaboration with key institutions in the public private sectors in our effort to address the shortcomings in the identity management sector. We enjoy strong collaboration with the Nigerian inter-bank settlement system and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) means that financial crimes and fraudulent practices are being addressed head-on.
When would you commence the registration of Nigerians?
We plan to commence nationwide registration for a new national identity card in June 2011 as we intend to register 100 million Nigerians. We are ensuring a full proof system that cannot be duplicated. Our target for 100 million populations is for the purposes of cutting cost and making this infrastructure very useful because we need to take in as many people as possible since the infrastructure is built to accommodate more than 100 million. What we are focusing on now are those that can readily register from the ages of 16 and above. Under the new harmonised ID Cards, a National Identification Number (NIN), with a nine-digit number that is unique to each Nigerian, would be issued to individuals that registered. The exercise will last for 30 months. The number is associated with a single set of biometrics belonging to the subject individual would not expire. NIN is not the same as the National ID card number which may expire, discontinued or be re-assigned. Only the NIMC can assign the nine-digit to a subject, once NIN is assigned to a subject; it can never be changed or altered in any form.
Where are you likely to commence the registration?
The pilot exercise for the enrolment of people will commence in six states, including the FCT, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Enugu, Kaduna and Lagos in June 2011.
What are the strategies you put in place for proper identification of Nigerians through the scheme?
Though it will take time for us to fully populate the database, we intend to use the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and National Communication Commission (NCC) data base with a view to ensuring that harmonization can be achieved and utilized and share data. Our target is that over the next 30 months we will achieve it. Already we have concluded everything and we are currently testing under what we call the development environment, the pilot. And going live will be under the production environment so that whatever goes in there will no longer be retrieved that is why everything we are doing now is under development environment. A disaster recovering centre has been put in place to support this system that would provide a 24-hour service in identity verification services. With the scheme a newly married people can now update their data which they could not do before.
How do the tiers of government come in?
The National Identification Number would be the basis on which the federal, state and local government shall interact with a citizen of Nigeria, each ministry, agency, regulatory body and entities must tie an individual to a NIN before services can be rendered to the individual. You cannotenrol more than once and you cannot have more than one identity number. The registration exercise will be flagged-off in six states across the six geo-political zones. We plan to restore sanity to the gravity of challenges in identity management in the country; the commission will tackle these challenges head-on by ensuring that proper structures are put in place.
What are the challenges facing the scheme?
The challenges facing the scheme include multiple identification initiatives by institutions such as pension commission, land registers, Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), SIM registrars, law enforcement agencies, financial institutions, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigerian Immigration Services, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and several others who have to embark on their own personal registration and the absence of core identity sector infrastructure.
You should know that for many years, the contract for the implementation of the scheme was awarded to SAGEM of France. However, the contract, which was laden with alleged bribery scandals, did not yield the results Nigerians expected because years after the registration, majority of Nigerians had neither a national card nor numbers with which to be identified.
Are you sure of getting support from other relevant agencies?
It may interest you to know that our policy document had been worked upon by a committee consisting of all these institutions; CAC, Pencom, FRSC, NHIS, FRSC, health, Nigerian immigration, EFCC, Police force, INEC, NPC etcall of them they deal with Nigerians in one way or the other in term of information.