Delays by government in harmonising and integrating the rising number of disparate identity databases is causing the country significant losses in the shape of high degree of inefficiency in governance, economic wastages, as well as the unnecessary cost associated with duplication, industry observers have said.
Various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government such as the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), National Population Commission (NPC), National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), amongst others, are saddled with the responsibility of creating different national identity database systems in the course of achieving their statutory objectives.
This situation, according to industry observers, would have been utterly unnecessary if only a national identity database existed.
Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan had during the tenure of his administration, directed all MDAs engaging in biometric registrations or data capturing activities to align their activities, with a view to switching over to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) infrastructure by December 31, 2014.
Some agencies of government have complied with the presidential directive but NIMC appears unwilling to release information on the status of the harmonisation process.
Several attempts by BusinessDay to reach NIMC for comment have proved abortive. Industry observers are concerned about the country’s inability to achieve a uniform national identity database. They say that harmonisation of databases forms the bedrock of the country’s plans to accelerate socio-economic development and remain globally competitive.
“There is need for us to harmonise. We cannot get meaningful results from all these disparate biometric registrations”, said David Adewumi, president of the Nigerian Computer Society (NCS).
The Federal Government spends enormous resources managing multiple discordant databases. Millions of dollars have been wasted in printing national identity cards, registering voters, especially during elections, conducting population census and many other resource-depleting initiatives.
In the telecoms industry, the NCC in 2011, had budgeted N6.1 billion to conduct biometric registration on telephone users’ subscriber identification module (SIM) cards in the six geopolitical zones, Lagos inclusive.
Mobile operators who were also mandated by the NCC to start registering all phone users on their networks were taken aback when the regulator awarded contracts to the seven firms to duplicate the same effort.
The Buhari-led administration is currently grappling with a revenue crisis, amplified by widespread corruption. Nigeria has recorded a near 40 percent slide in oil prices in the past year, which is beginning to put a huge strain on its citizenry and their businesses.
In view of this, the present government needs to effectively utilise and scarce financial resources. “What Nigeria really needs is a single database that will capture the data of every Nigerian, such that information about individuals and organisations could be sourced from a single database”, said Raphael Omosola, national president of the Nigeria Information Technology Professionals in the Civil Service (NITPCS). With a single national database, Omosola explained that the issue of data duplication would be eradicated, thereby saving cost for government and organisations.
“A single database will address the issue of double identity created by individuals who want to disguise themselves for criminal reasons”. This is critical, considering the unabated waves of terror attacks by insurgents in North. Technology experts have observed that a unique database from where different public and private organisations can assess and pull information, would help tackle the issue of insecurity.
Gooduck Jonathan, former president of Nigeria had harped on the efficiency and economic benefits of harmonisation and noted that the proliferation of identity-based biometric infrastructure does not grant the country any advantage in efficiency nor does it make good economic sense.
“Aside from being unwieldy, the cost of operating multiple discordant databases and infrastructure is unsustainable,” he added. “Government cannot afford the continued proliferation of data capture activities.”
Established by Act No. 23 of 2007, the goal of the NIMC is to foster the orderly development of an identity sector in Nigeria through the development of a modern and universally acceptable identity management infrastructure.
As contained in the National Policy and NIMC Act, Sections 1, 2, 5 and 6, the primary legal, regulatory and institutional mechanism for implementing government’s reform initiative in the identity sector rests squarely with NIMC.