THE Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board dismayed millions of Nigerian youths last week when it stuck to its decision to make registration for the National Identity Card a prerequisite for candidates wishing to sit the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination in 2021.
Hosting a virtual meeting with operators of computer-based test centres, JAMB Registrar, Ishaq Oloyede, explained that security imperatives and the need to check perennial examination malpractices necessitated the measure. It was also created to make it extremely difficult for terrorists to create false IDs.
While these appear to be sound reasons, the unpreparedness of the system to successfully process the number of Nigerians seeking to register within the short time amid a raging global pandemic is insensitive and unwarranted.
JAMB has joined a growing number of agencies demanding possession of the National Identity Number as a precondition for services. Obviously hangovers from the “immediate effect” culture of the military era, agencies are setting tight deadlines that impose pain on Nigerians, expose them to the novel coronavirus and create a new front for corruption.
This is how the sleaze goes: you pay between N2,000 and N5,000 and you are registered immediately. You refuse to give a bribe, you are asked to come back several times over.
Oloyede and JAMB should not join the bandwagon of a corruption-ridden process and those inflicting needless pain on the youth. These children are too young to be exposed to public corruption and Nigeria’s systemic failure. Inflicting pain and suffering on the people should not be a password for the government.
The unnecessary and agonising panic began in December when the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, threatened to disconnect all telephone lines that were not linked to the NINs of their owners.
Outrageously, he gave December 30 as deadline, expecting millions of Nigerians to register within a month when barely 41 million had done so by May 2020, years after it was re-launched and six years after a new ID card was introduced. The ridiculous deadline has twice been extended after public outcry with April 6 the latest closing date. Instead of being fixated with deadlines, Pantami should find more innovative ways to curb bribery and inefficiency that define NIN registration.
He should understand that like most of the world, the country is witnessing the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, making social distancing imperative and crowds to be avoided at all costs.
But even without this, the National Identity Management Commission that statutorily manages the enrolment and issuance of NIN and National ID cards, despite recent frantic efforts – 1,060 registration centres and units in the 774 LGAs – is still not logistically capable of processing the rush of enrolees scrambling to meet the tight deadlines.
The Nigerian Immigration Service and the Federal Road Safety Corps are demanding NIN for the issuance and renewal of passports and driving licences. The National Pension Commission has similarly made linking of NIN to retirement savings pension accounts compulsory. Like Oloyede, they say they are acting on the directives of the Federal Government. This is an invitation to a systematic logjam.
Undoubtedly, the National ID card scheme is a worthwhile project that properly utilised, can enhance security and law enforcement, and check fraud, corrupt practices, examination malpractices and terrorism.
Over 100 countries have laws on mandatory National IDs. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a US non-profit, national ID cards and the databases behind them “comprise the cornerstone of government surveillance systems and habituate citizens into participating in their own surveillance and social control.”
Among its key functions, Nigeria’s is an electronic ID, a travel document, a National ID card, a biometric identification and a payment card. The problem is in its implementation. First mooted in the 1980s, after years of inertia, the project was rejuvenated and the NIMC Act made NIN compulsory for transactions requiring an individual’s identity from July 2015.
However, achieving its initial target of registering over 100 million Nigerians has been beset by delays and logistical hurdles. This has bred corruption. Officials are reportedly charging illegal fees and bribes for a supposedly free service, capitalising on the desperation of citizens. From 37 million registered by October 2019, only 41.5 million had been enrolled by May 2020, the Director-General, NIMC, Aliyu Aziz, said.
Despite $433 million support promised by the World Bank, the European Union and AFD, the French aid agency, a flurry of rollouts of enrolment centres and licensing of SIM Swap Centre partners nationwide, millions could not be enrolled by February. Some 143 million out of 207 active telephone SIMs had been linked by January.
The hallmark of democratic governance is respect for the citizenry by officials: elected governments should be responsible and responsive. It is apparent that poor infrastructure and weak institutional capacity make it nigh impossible for many of the millions of admission seekers to be enrolled in time for the UTME. This is further punishment for the youth, 14 million of whom are jobless.
An NIMC target of registering 2.5 million per month was derailed by COVID-19 lockdown for six months and a strike by its workers. Worse is that amid the pandemic, by forcing thousands to join the crowds already thronging registration centres to link their phones, renew passports and driving licences, agencies are creating potential “super spreader” gatherings. This is not responsible governance.
In contrast, in June 2019, despite their advanced technology and capabilities, the EU still gave member countries two years to implement new continent-wide security features in ID cards.
Registration should be seamless and free of stress. There should be more time to roll out facilities and the requisite technology nationwide. One goal should be the ability to complete data capture from the comfort of one’s home or office using a phone or PC.
Conducting this year’s UTME without the NIN requirement is not a national calamity. Therefore, Oloyede should have the courage to advise the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, not to make NIN compulsory until next year, when hopefully, the NIMC would be fully ready.
The Independent National Electoral Commission has rightly rejected NIN as a condition for getting voter cards on the unassailable grounds that democracy must be as inclusive as possible. Nigerian professionals, academics and technocrats should take a principled stand when political office holders insist on unpleasant policies.
Going forward, the federal and state education ministries, the NIMC and its partners should initiate a programme to take the registration to schools. The stony-hearted provision should be dropped to allow millions of youths to pursue their dream of higher education through the competitive UTME; the society owes them nothing less.