Another national identity jamboree?

A few years after the failed multi-billion Naira national identity card project was mired in financial scandal, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is again bracing up for an enrollment of Nigerians and legally resident foreigners in the country. The exercise is being planned through what the commission calls “National Identity Number” (NIN) through which registered individuals will be given specific numbers.

Director General of NIMC, Dr. Chris Onyemenam, who disclosed the plan in Abuja during a facility tour of the commission’s National Identity Management system infrastructure, explained that the exercise would consist of the recording of the demographic data of persons and capture of their fingerprints, head-to-shoulder facial picture and digital signature. While giving the impression that the exercise would be different from the previous failed effort, the NIMC boss argued that under the current plan, apart from issuing individuals with national identity cards, they will be issued “unique” numbers.

We are not impressed by this explanation. Nigerians and legally resident foreigners in the country have gone through similar exercise in recent past that can achieve the same results. For instance, the compulsory SIM card registration for mobile telephone users that was concluded last year captured the same features that NIMC intends to capture in its enrollment exercise. Also, the voters registration conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) a few years ago captured the same biometrics.

More importantly, the dust is far from settled on the corruption- riddled national identity card project some years ago in which some former ministers and top-ranking members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were indicted, together with the contractor of the Project, SAGEM, a German-based company. We also recall that a panel was set up when the lid was blown off the scam, but none of the officials indicted was prosecuted. It is not on any record that the Federal Government has done anything with the report.

The unanswered question remains: what happened to the fund voted for that failed exercise? It is, in fact, disheartening that government is still living in denial about the myriad of challenges facing the country and its citizens. We view the idea of embarking on another national identity head count as a waste of public funds. We recognize the fact that an exercise such as this is not completely useless. However, it does not weigh much in the scale of preference of more pressing economic and social development challenges facing our nation.

It needs reiterating that in spite of glaring national needs calling for prompt attention, government seems to be revelling in a flight of fancy. It is high time government began to be responsive to serious matters of national importance rather than investing on wasteful ventures that we can afford to do without, at least for now. We have not found any of the reasons advanced by the NIMC boss compelling enough to embark on such money-guzzling project when a welter of criticisms still trails the same exercise that split the ruling PDP down the middle a few years ago with accusations and counter-accusations.

We cannot afford to go through that road again. The plan by NIMC is nothing short of an exercise in futility. The best that can be done now is to put the plan on hold, even if temporarily.

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