Is this the National ID Nigerians need?

Two days ago, a multi-purpose National  Identity Card scheme was unfolded by the Federal Government at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa. How will it work? Is this what Nigerians need?  JOKE KUJENYA reports.

For many Nigerians, the last National Identity Card project was a drainpipe. So, they were alarmed when the Federal Government announced a new scheme was in the offing. They felt this would turn out to be another waste.

On Wednesday, an innovative kind of National Identity Card was announced and the question is: will this mitigate the fraud believed to have been carried out with the last scheme?

The Nigerian Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and MasterCard chose the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa for the roll-out of the 13 million MasterCard-branded National Identity Smart Cards with electronic payment capability as a pilot programme.

The National Identity Smart Card (NISC) is the scheme under the recently deployed National Identity Management System (NIMS). “This programme is the largest roll-out of a formal electronic payment solution in the country and the broadest financial inclusion initiative of its kind on the African continent,” a statement said.

In its first phase, Nigerians, who are 16 years and above and resident in the country for more than two years, will get the new card, which has 13 applications, including MasterCard’s prepaid payment technology which will provide holders with “the safety, convenience and reliability of electronic payments.”

The statement said: “This will have a significant and positive impact on the lives of these Nigerians who have not previously had access to financial services.”

Access Bank Plc is also involved in the project as the pilot issuer bank for the cards. Unified Payment Services Limited will serve as the payment processor. Other issuing banks include United Bank for Africa, Union Bank, Zenith, Skye Bank, Unity Bank, Stanbic, and First Bank.

Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the scheme was important in moving Nigeria to an electronic platform.

She said: “This programme is good practice for us to bring all the citizens on a common platform for interacting with the various government agencies and for transacting electronically. We will implement this initiative in a collaborative manner between the public and private sectors, to achieve its full potential of inclusive citizenship and more effective governance.”

President, Middle East and Africa, MasterCard, Michael Miebach, said: “Today’s announcement is the first phase of an unprecedented project in terms of scale and scope for Nigeria.

“MasterCard has been a firm supporter of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) cashless policy as we share a vision of a world beyond cash. From the programme’s inception, we have provided the Federal Government of Nigeria with global insights and best practices on how electronic payments can enable economic growth and create a more financially inclusive economy.”

MIMC’s Director General and Chief Executive Chris Onyemenam said: “We have chosen MasterCard to be the payment technology provider for the initial rollout of the National Identity Smart Card project because the company has shown a commitment to furthering financial inclusion through the reduction of cash in the Nigerian economy.

“MasterCard has pioneered large scale card schemes that combine biometric functionality with electronic payments and we want to capitalise on their experience in this field to make our program rollout a sustainable success for the country and for the continent.”

CEO of Access Bank Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede said his bank bought into the idea because of the need to expand financial inclusion.

He said: “Access Bank’s involvement in this project is testament to our ongoing efforts to expand financial inclusion in Nigeria. The new identity card will revolutionise the economic landscape, breaking down one of the most significant barriers to financial inclusion — proof of identity, while simultaneously providing Nigerians with a world class payment solution”.

Managing Director and CEO, Unified Payments, Agada Apochi, said the company would use its expertise to ensure the success of the project.

He said: “Unified Payments is the foremost transaction processor and pioneer of EMV processing and acquiring in Nigeria, owned by leading Nigerian banks. We will use our expertise and experience to guarantee the success of the project and ensure that the data of Nigerians are protected. We look forward to working with other partners in delivering value to all stakeholders.”

The Nation learnt that the new N ISC will incorporate the unique National Identification Numbers (NIN) of duly registered persons.

To get the card, an individual’s demographic data and biometric data (capture of 10 fingerprints, facial picture and digital signature) will be recorded and used to authenticate the cardholder and eliminate fraud and embezzlement.

The statement on the project said: “Thanks to the unique and unambiguous identification of individuals under the NIMS, other identification card schemes like the Driver’s License, Voter Registration, Health Insurance, Tax, SIM and the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) will benefit and can all be integrated, using the NIN, into the multi-function Card Scheme of the NIMS. When fully utilising the card as a prepaid payment tool, the cardholder can deposit funds on the card, receive social benefits, pay for goods and services at any of the 35 million MasterCard acceptance locations globally, withdraw cash from all ATMs that accept MasterCard, or engage in many other financial transactions that are facilitated by electronic payments. All in a secure and convenient environment enabled by the EMV Chip and Pin standard.

“Upon completion of the National ID registration process, NIMC aims to introduce more than 100 million cards to Nigeria’s 167 million citizens.”

A Lagos-based lawyer, Akindele Akinyemi, does not believe in the project.

He said: “What happened to the so-called National ID Card we got in 2003? I was among the hundreds of people in my location who were on a long and winding queue for several hours when I was to get one. After that, I had even forgotten about the card when one day, it was brought to me on a bike by one dispatch rider. And since I got it, I have never used it in any way. Banks don’t accept it if you tender it for identification purposes. It is only the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) that accepts it in the case of standing as a guarantor for passport applicants. Apart from that, I don’t know where it has been helpful. And now, someone says they want to spend millions on same. It’s about time we stopped this waste in this country. I could still recall all they required from us such as, name, home and work or school, phone number, email and others. Later, our image was captured and then, we stamped our left thumb print. That was way back in 2003. But till date, do your research and you will discover that like me, millions of Nigerians have never had to use the card and I doubt if it has ever been demanded for.”

History of National IDs

In 1979, a National Identity Card system was initiated by the then Military Head of State, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. The then Department of National Civic Registration was established and tasked with the responsibility of issuing National Identity Cards. The exercise hit a brickwall.

Then in February 2003, Obasanjo, as president, re-introduced the National ID Card scheme in which everybody over 18 years of age was eligible to participate. Registration for the card was compulsory. Nigerians were required to provide information that includes name, age, sex, address, occupation, state of origin, local government area, height, thumbprint and passport photograph.

During the registration between February and March 2004, about 52 million of the 60 million declared eligible to register had participated. Records showed that by 2006, 15 million Nigerians were issued fingerprint-embedded ID cards.

According to Alhaji Shuaibu Sabon-Birni, a former director of Civic Registration, Ministry of Internal Affairs, the estimated number of Nigerians between 18 and above was 60 million. Sabon-Birni noted that by 2007, every eligible Nigerian would have been issued an ID card. But as of June 2007, the cards were only distributed in 27 of the 36 states.

A major scandal trailed the ID Card project. Millions of aliens were allegedly registered, defeating one of the objectives of the project.

The 2003 exercise landed two former Ministers of Internal Affairs, the late Chief Sunday Afolabi and Dr Mohammed Shata, and the then Labour Minister, Alhaji Hussaini Akwanga, in court. They were arraigned in connection with an alleged $214 million fraud.


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