The inevitability of the use of data in facilitating the optimal performance of any system is way too obvious to be underplayed in the twenty-first century by any kind of organization let alone, a nation. It is the core element that provides a country’s industry with accurate data necessary to accelerate its national progress and create robust projects while managing its resources adequately.

Seeing as data usage consistently worked wonders for many parts of Europe, Asia, and America in the late 1900s and early 2000s, it’s no surprise that the Nigerian government launched a scheme for the same purpose over a decade ago.

When the national database identification project kicked off in 2007, The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) received a funding of 30 billion Naira to collect data and operate a turnkey infrastructure created by SAGEM; a French telecommunications company.

Before the project kick-off, Nigeria's federal government agreed to pay SAGEM about $216 million for offshore components alongside a whopping sum of 2 billion Naira for onshore components intended to be managed by NIMC. The enrollment did not begin until 2013 when the issuance of a multi-purpose ID card with a unique number became a necessity for bank services, SIM card registration, and official business transactions.

When ex-president Goodluck Jonathan spoke at the formal launch of the e-ID card issuance process in August of 2014, he elaborated that the goal of the NIMC was a national database of all Nigerians living in Nigeria.

“To achieve this goal, the National Identity Management Commission should ensure that by December 31, 2014, all persons eligible for registration as provided for in Section 16 of the NIMC Act №23, of 2007 are enrolled into the National Identity Database. By this same date, all government agencies requiring identity verification and authentication services or involved in data capture activities must align their activities to switch over to the NIMC infrastructure.” - President Goodluck Jonathan’s speech (17 October 2013).

Nigeria's population data held by a French company

The foreign company contracted for the project has so far refused to hand over the turnkey system to NIMC claiming it is due to a payment of $6.1 million maintenance fees inclusive of the $2.444 million for 8 million cards it has not delivered. The agency has offered to pay for the two years maintenance fees only if SAGEM agrees to implement an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) on handover procedure in one month because the agency is uninterested in continuing with the SAGEM led project.

The French company wants a long term maintenance agreement instead with terms and conditions designed and approved within its scope of work, therefore, it has refused to hand over a functional ICPF and database in the unencrypted format required by NIMC. SAGEM currently has a database of over 52 million Nigerians but it had issued only 37 million ID cards before it shut down its ICPF in December 2006.

Technically speaking, the fact that a foreign company still has access to an offshore database it collected on Nigerians implies that the stakeholders have not comprehended the implications that a compromise of such data has on its citizens.

Summary of the database that SAGEM has of people in Nigeria. Currently SAGEM refuses to hand over the data due to a payment dispute with the Nigerian government.

Problems and alleged corruption at Nigeria's National Identity Management Commission

NIMC is yet to publish a report since it last updated its website with the 2014 annual report portfolio showcasing its progress and annual budget spending.

It is sadly poetic that an agency responsible for collecting data has been so inconsistent with its data. The agency has been accused of corruption and unprofessionalism by a vast majority of individuals trying to register at the NIMC data centers around the country.

Reports and complaints range from individuals being extorted for fuel to provide electricity to others having to provide Internet access for their registration to take place.

Considering the nature of complaints, it is rightly infuriating that the budget report for 2014 indicates that the agency spent 2% of its budget on diesel expenses as well as an exorbitant 4 million Naira on the football team’s expenses.

How Nigeria's National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) spent its budget as per its 2014 annual report.

A precarious position

Far from being a creative agency, the NIMC is currently in a rather precarious position. It has encountered problems that require creativity and collaboration rather than its dependence on a budget provided by the federal government alone.

The database project spends over 50% of its budget on salaries and wages but it is evident that they have made very little progress in the last 6 years.

Sensitive database records of Nigerians remain in foreign hands and there is presently no infrastructure in place due to the unsolved SAGEM handover tussle.

Act No 23 has created more problems than it was intended to solve. To make matters even less palatable, when the federal government initiated a lockdown due to the pandemic, NIMC completely suspended the registration process without providing an alternative method for Nigerians.

Notice issued by NIMC suspending registrations.

It is now technically impossible to renew your passport, get a driver’s license, or register for a new SIM card if you cannot provide a NIN. The data collection project intended to simplify life for Nigerians has now further complicated issues.

Beyond assessing the validity of Nigeria’s claim to being the giant of Africa or the possibility of the average Nigerian’s dream of local access to first world governmental output, one needs to take a closer look at the simpler things that can be done better. A central portal accessible to the health sector, banks and security force is capable of solving problems beyond the powers of the Presidency, National Assembly, and the economic intricacies of wealth creation and distribution.

Without a functional infrastructure and a central database that can service all major stakeholders, Nigeria can neither accurately evaluate its progress nor plan for the future.

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