I was at one of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) Offices in Lagos to pickup my passport, and during the validation process, the officer-in-charge commented on the addition of National Identification Number (NIN) to ECOWAS passport and buttressed that in few years, he hopes another administration would not phaseout the NIN, due to lack of continuity which is common to successive Nigerian administrations.

After I left the NIS official’s office, I went to visit my contact person, during our discussion, he informed me that National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) office outside the NIS building now charge N20,000 —it was N5,000 two weeks before— for new registrars for NIN now and you would have to pay because without NIN, you can’t register to get or renew your ECOWAS passport. 

I left the NIS premises wondering how many people will be swindled, hurt or had to die from a Nigerian politician’s quest to hold the whip hand.

The NIN Dilemma

The charges for NIN registration increased after the National Communication Commission (NCC) gave Nigerians — with 198.96 million active mobile users — ultimatum to link the NIN with their Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards or they will be blocked by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) by December 30, 2020. 

When the NCC issued this ultimatum, only 42 million Nigerians had been registered under NIMC, this means a large percentage of Nigeria’s 206 million population had fourteen days to register under NIMC for NIN. 

Nigeria had just been plunged into the second wave of COVID-19 when this ultimatum was issued. On December 21, pictures went viral on social media platforms showing large crowds at a NIMC centre with zero adherence to COVID-19 safety precautions. Following uproar from Nigerians, the deadline for NIN-SIM linkage was extended to January 19, 2021 for those with NIN, February 9 for new registrars. 

Few weeks later, there were reports that some Nigerians who went for NIMC capture had tested positive for Coronavirus while the NIMC officials also went on strike to protest over COVID-prone working environment. 

Government Ultimatums And Infringement of Citizens’ Freedom

This is not the first time that the federal government will issue ultimatums to get citizens to enrol for certain policies and programmes, for instance, national identity capture as far back as 1986, BVN enrolment, and voters registration exercise have shown that Nigerians are indifferent to deadlines. 

And this recent one, which lacks proper planning and organisation has proven to be detrimental to citizens’ freedom. Though, freedom is a relative concept across the world but one thing remains clear, it upholds a person’s right to life and dignity.

A World Bank report revealed that NIMC has 404 enrolment centres which covers 332 of 774 LGAs situated in 34 states and the FCT. However, there is no presence of registration officials or centres in most rural communities in the country while there is blatant extortion in enrolment centres in urban and semi-urban areas. These haphazard practices and extortion promoted disenfranchisement of citizens for membership in their country.

Also, at a time when there is a pandemic, Nigerians were given an ultimatum to go and register for NIN; NIMC officials are not provided with PPEs to protect themselves in their work environment; and zero adherence to safety protocols at these centres. All of these clearly endangers the lives of citizens. 

Not only that, Nigerians have indicted the NIMC for data privacy issues as the mobile-ID database has wrong bios or swap citizens’ information, an infringement that threatens citizens’ safety and security.

Next Phase

Though, the commission states that printing of first slip is free, many Nigerians have had to pay exorbitant prices for theirs; the queues at urban NIMC centres keep increasing and some rural areas have no centres, the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy (FMCDE) under which the NCC operates needs to work on these issues before giving deadlines for NIN-SIM linkage. 

Dr. Pantami should work on database protection for NIN captures and mandate MNOs that are authorised for capturing, do the same, before signing off on replacing BVN with NIN. 

For Nigerians, the new extension for NIN-SIM linkage will expire on April 6 and we will still be indifferent because our rights should not come with deadlines.

This article conveys the views of the author and not necessarily that of Ominira Initiative.

About the author

Olakunle Mohammed

Olakunle explores the interlink of public policy, development, education and being Nigerian. He tweets @Olakunile