The project was in a state of suspended animation until August last year when former President Goodluck Jonathan re-launched it and thus putting it back on the implementation table
The National Identity Card project has for long remained a signpost of our unfortunate penchant for treating issues critical to the political, social and economic welfare of our country with levity. It was conceived as a means of developing a reliable database on the population that will include all relevant demographic data needed for national planning. The concept changed several times over time to become what it is today – a comprehensive electronic, multi-purpose card that can be used for financial transaction in addition to personal identification. But the project, even in its old form and design, was never achieved. It remained in limbo for decades during which it gulped more than 120 billion of tax payers’ money.
The idea of a national identity card was conceived by the military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1976 but the project itself was launched in 1981 by the administration of President Shehu Shagari with a completion cost of 100 million Dollars, an amount believed to have been inflated and considered too high to be successfully accommodated by the resources of the country at that time. Yet almost every successive government since then redesigned and reviewed the terms of the contract which in most cases brought more trouble for the project. Since then, it has been all motion and no movement for the National Identity Card project, mostly because it was always awarded to wrong and incompetent contractors at over-priced contract fees and under contract terms that were detrimental to the project. All of these happened to the project because of corruption and lack of political will of government in the past.
The project was in a state of suspended animation until August last year when former President Goodluck Jonathan re-launched it and thus putting it back on the implementation table. During the launch, he received the first biometric identity card which, besides serving the purpose of personal identification, can also be used for electronic financial transactions. Nigerians were told then that they would all be issued with the electronic identity card which would also serve as voters card for the 2019 general elections. “The card is not only a means of certifying your identity, but also a personal data base repository and payment card, all in your pocket”, President Jonathan had said then. This revived hope in the project once more.
The new concept of the National Identity card is laudable. We believe it is also achievable. Officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, have assured that substantial progress has been achieved in the process of integrating information already generated on the banking public through the introduction of the Bank Verification Number (BVN) into the other aspects of the database required for the project. If this project is implemented faithfully as conceived, it will end the periodic general compilation of the voters register by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and save the nation the huge financial outlay that normally comes with the exercise.
Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari was registered for the electronic National Identity Card. He expressed confidence in the process, thus reinforcing the hope that the project would materialise this time round. Chris Onyemenam, director general of the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC also said on that occasion that registration for the card was a continuous exercise and assured that additional enrolment centres would be created in all local government areas, in hospitals, primary schools and university campuses. According to Onyemenam, seven million Nigerians had been registered for the exercise. There is still a lot of ground to be covered. This calls for re-doubling of effort on the part of NIMC.
The import of a comprehensive electronic identity card needs not be belaboured here. From the picture of the card that had been presented to the public so far especially the multiple purposes it will serve, it is unarguably a magic card that Nigerians cannot wait too long to own. It will eliminate the burden and inconvenience of a multiplicity of identification cards that Nigerians now carry, reduce crime and make financial transactions and voting in election less stressful.
National appetite has been sufficiently aroused in expectation of this miracle card. What remains to be achieved is taking the concept out of the proverbial pipe where it has remained and still remains a dream into the world of reality. Nigerians are anxious to see that transition take place and quickly too.
We are happy with President Buhari’s endorsement of the project. We are also satisfied with the excitement and determination so far demonstrated by Mr. Onyemenam to see this project succeed. President Buhari’s administration should not hold back whatever is required to achieve the project before the next general election date. His administration should play its role in facilitating the project by providing needed funds and thereafter demand that its handlers keep religiously to the implementation time-table. Onyemenam and his team should not lose sight of the import of this project to the development of the country. They owe the nation a duty to make a success of it. Registration for the exercise should be comprehensively decentralised and made easy to encourage compliance with the call to register. Other critical stakeholders like the CBN, banks and traffic management agencies required to contribute to the database of the project, must play their roles decisively and comprehensively.