Of Identity Management, the Digital Economy and National Security
By Inyene Ibanga
Most Nigerians appeared to have been taken aback by the decision of the Federal Government to the transfer the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) from the Presidency to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. From all standpoints, the announcement of government’s approval for the relocation was rather strange because, from inception in 2007, the Commission had been under the direct supervision of the Presidency.
Yet, with this development, operators in the Information and Communication Technology, (ICT) sector believe the choice to move NIMC to the Ministry is a demonstration of Nigeria’s readiness to explore the abundant opportunities in the application of big data for efficiency and national development.
Over the years, the Presidency’s supervision of the identity management commission had significantly impeded the vital work that needed to be effectively done as central to the functionality in and development of a late twenty-first into a twenty-second-century globalised economy. As it is obvious, identity is one of the key currencies of the world we live in, and its vast potentials need to be harnessed and brought up to speed with the requirements of the new digital world order. Without this courageous step, the national identity programme would have kept us in the backyards of the modern experience, while still stuck with bureaucratic bottlenecks, and in a cesspool of corruption and sundry abuses.
Current realities have exposed the fact that NIMC was not properly equipped to effectively administer the National Identity Database in the face of emerging digital technologies. Evidently, the Commission lacks the technical capacity, as well as human capital to harvest and manage Nigeria’s enormously trove of data, referred to these days as Big Data.
In one of his published articles, the Director General of the Nigeria Information and Technological Agency (NITDA), Mallam Kashifu A. Inuwa said that the reality of our modern, technology driven-era is that so much data is entrusted to organisations and systems one hardly knows. As a matter of fact, multibillion-dollar infrastructure and resources have been deployed just for the purpose of capturing personal data. Hence many businesses prefer to be paid in data, rather than in naira, leading to the rising wave of ‘FREE’ things on the Internet. The costs of these ‘FREE’ products/services are paid for by the personal information freely given to the platform owner. Data is actually wealth and it is indeed the new oil.
Therefore, the need to develop the technical capacity for the efficient management of big data remains a critical requirement for the successful digitisation of the nation’s economy. Advocates of big data management have spoken on the importance of establishing robust strategies for the exploration and management of data – the vital resource that drives the modern economy, which is essentially digital.
Equally, the capacity to manage big data is essential at this point in time, as it is necessary in assisting government to develop the competencies required in harnessing, exploring, utilising and regulating the different dimensions of data, thereby facilitating growth across many sectors of the economy.
It is remarkable that big data management is the current preference in the leading national economies of Europe, North America and Asia. Several countries across the world are already using big data for monetary and fiscal policy formulation, social security administrations, the detection of suspicious and fraudulent financial claims, anti-money laundering analyses, fraud mitigation, and combating financing terrorism.
Also, big data could be analysed from various government agencies and used successfully for crime prediction and prevention, national defence/security management, national identity management systems, national planning and budgeting, emergency management system, and the overall enhancement of efficiency for faster decision making in governance.
Yet, we should be mindful of the fact that many countries are adopting measures to regulate the flow of data to protect national security, and some of these could have implications for the freedom of expression, privacy, and a range of human rights. To some extent, these may equally have undesirable consequences on Internet freedom, alongside the already prevailing issues of encryption, disinformation, social media blocking, and network shutdowns.
Within the purview of the need for “data privacy”, “data protection”, “data localisation,” and human rights, many activists have expressed concern on the future of a free, open, and global Internet. It is said that national security interests often co-opt arguments for greater data privacy to justify an expansion of censorship and surveillance powers.
No doubt, crime detection and prevention by law enforcement agencies could be enhanced through the effective analysis and assessment of big data to determine the appropriate actions to handle any threat to peace and orderliness. Through the application of big data analysis, the security forces can operate in synergy to protect the nation from both internal and external threats.
More so, the financial industry would be able to regain the confidence of its customers who are more and more susceptible to electronic frauds perpetrated criminals in connivance with staff. Customers/depositors can be assured that their money is safe because effective prevention and detection mechanisms are guaranteed through the efficient use of big data.
As a leader in this field, it is expected that NITDA would be in the active vanguard of the drive for the efficient management of big data in Nigeria. Already, the Act establishing the agency has vested it with sufficient powers to develop, regulate and monitor information technology practices, activities and systems in the country.
So, it becomes incumbent on NITDA to assert itself by ensuring rigorous enforcement of the existing Nigeria Data Protection Regulation, which it issued in January 2019. To this end, the agency should need to intensify its lobby of the National Assembly to ensure the quick passage of the proposed Data Protection Bill 2020 for the protection of all Internet users in Nigeria. It must embark on wide-reaching advocacy to get the endorsement of the public and private sectors for the proposed legislation.
It is expected that NITDA would sustain its current efforts by providing the necessary technical capacity to accomplish the full digitisation of NIMC, while also delivering on its mandate towards the transformation of Nigeria into a digital economy, as being advocated by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami.
A better collaboration between policymakers, technology companies, and civil society would certainly prove effective in this regard.
Inyene Ibanga writes from Wuye, Abuja. Email: [email protected]