Leveraging national identification number for economic growth

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Many Nigerians, irrespective of age, educational background or economic status, would love to fill their homes with children. For most families in the country, nothing is more desirable than having children.

It was no surprise then when the Chairman of the National Population Commission, Eze Duruiheoma, recently declared that the country’s population had increased from 180 million to 198 million.

While large families and a youthful population can potentially lead to economic growth, with the right education, health facilities and safety nets to reduce poverty to the minimum, a key element to turning this into an advantage is by tracking the country’s population. This not only gives the exact size of the population across all social, economic and age brackets; it also helps the Federal Government to plan well with available resources.

To achieve the goal of establishing the exact number of Nigerian citizens and legal residents, a robust national identification system must be in place.

Although the country has been unable to deal squarely with the problem of having a centralised national identification database these past years, a very bold step was, however, taken in this direction with the establishment of the National Identity Management Commission through the NIMC Act No. 23 of 2007.

But, whereas this commendable effort underlines government’s recognition of the need to document every Nigerian and legal resident, with each person having a unique identification, achieving the desired goal has remained a tall order. This is simply because the government, which set up the commission in the first place, has been unable to provide the resources for delivering on the project full-scale.

For many Nigerians, therefore, the hope of having a national identification that captures them in the system is still but a dream. However, a glimmer of hope is being dangled by the NIMC in a new push to register all citizens and legal residents by providing them with the National Identification Number. Thus, smarting up from several failed attempts in the past, Nigeria appears to be on the right path to having a credible and all-encompassing national database of her citizens. As of the last count, over 30 million Nigerians have been enrolled and issued the unique identification number.

While 30 million may seem a far cry, judging by the country’s large population, it is the duty of the people to turn out in their numbers at NIMC’s enrolment centres nationwide to avail themselves of the opportunity of being enrolled.

The NIN, according to NIMC, is a non-intelligent set of 11 numbers assigned to an individual upon successful enrolment. It consists of a recording of individual demographic data, capturing of the 10 fingerprints, head-to-shoulder, facial picture and digital signature, which are all used to cross-check existing data in the National Identity Database to confirm that there is no previous entry of the same data.

The Nigerian NIN can be likened to the United States’ Social Security Number or the National Insurance Number in the United Kingdom. The essence of the NIN explains why the national identity agency has continued its aggressive enrolment of Nigerians, despite the fact that inadequate funding has delayed the printing of physical identity cards for those already enrolled.

Interestingly, as stipulated by the statute that established the NIMC (NIMC Act 2007), the NIN will be required in all transactions and services involving identification. It will be required when you apply for the National e-ID card, a driving licence, a Permanent Voter Card and travel passport, as well as to open a personal bank account and to participate in the National Health Insurance Scheme. Also, the NIN will be required for payment of taxes, transactions related to contributory pension scheme, access to welfare and other relevant services, including transactions with social security implications.

Other benefits of the NIN are that it facilitates service delivery in ministries and other government departments or agencies. It enhances the work of law enforcement agencies and helps to launder Nigeria’s image, eliminate multiple identities and enhances the ability of citizens to assert their identity.

Globally, the importance of national identity to economic growth cannot be overemphasised as it has been identified as a veritable tool for sustainable development. Identity is essential to realising political and social rights and to participate in a modern economy.

Indeed, a well-functioning ID system can help to reduce corruption and wastefulness. Effective identification for remote and electronic transactions can reduce costs and create economic opportunities for every Nigerian, including the poor.

On national security, experiences from many developed countries have shown that all security agencies rely on information from centralised identity database to perform their functions flawlessly. This is why most governments place premium on identification in their budgeting plans.

However, for the NIM to succeed in the ongoing national enrolment, Nigerians must appreciate its numerous benefits and make themselves available at the various designated enrolment centres across the country.

Obuns Solomon, a data analyst at Media Digest, sent this piece from Abuja

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