It is Christmas season and a time for deep sober reflections for mankind. One thing being a columnist has taught me is that you need to have thick skin to maintain your emotional balance. Yes, it is very easy to get emotional, especially when you have written about diverse national issues many of which went completely ignored and we end up not making much progress.
Last week, I wrote about the unrealistic SIM-NIN integration directive and the need for an extension. One fact that should be taken into cognisance is that when issuing a directive in a peculiar country such as Nigeria, it must be thoroughly thought through, with every base covered. With that done, decisions taken then need to be effectively communicated over a reasonable and practical period of time. Anything short of that would likely bring back repressed memories of the dark days of the military regimes, where consultations and compromise were thrown out of the window and if done at all, were simply a play to the gallery.
On Monday, December 21, 2020, the National Task Force on National Identification Number and SIM Registration released the following resolutions:
- Three weeks extension for subscribers with NIN from December 30, 2020 to January 19, 2021.
- Six weeks extension for subscribers without NIN from December 30, 2020 to February 9, 2021.
- NIMC has provided strategies to enable citizens to attend the registration in full compliance with COVID-19 protocols – particularly the use of face masks which remains mandatory and maintenance of social distancing.
The part of NIMC and COVID-19 protocols made me laugh out loud because on the very day, the dailies were awash with images of Nigerians thronging various NIMC centres with a total disregard for COVID-19 protocols of social distancing and wearing of face masks. The report had it that some NIMC officials had to shut down their offices because the crowd was out of control.
The theatrical spectacle playing out in Nigeria is truly ludicrous! How so? Well, on that same day, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, reeled out a long list of measures that were supposedly in place to halt the second wave of the rapidly spreading virus.
Sadly, watching members of the task force speak one thing while a completely different thing unfolded, as reported, at various NIMC offices makes me wonder which way Nigeria.
Let me pen down a few reasons why I think the three weeks extension for those with NIN and six weeks extension for those without NIN are grossly inadequate.
The second wave of COVID-19 is here
The reality is that a second wave of the deadly virus is upon us and since a lot of people are coming into Nigeria from abroad, we are unsure if the new strain of the virus, as reported by the UK government, is already active in the country. All we know is that the daily number of reported cases is rising consistently.
The government should realise that a sizeable number of the populace think or assume COVID-19 is a scam – alleging that it is a sneaky ploy cooked up by certain privileged group of people to siphon public funds. How do you think these same people would regard COVID-19 directives?
I believe that it would have been a smarter move to ensure that citizens have no reason to gather. This will prevent them from converging out of panic, desperation, and the fear that their already impoverished life will be further degraded by the time their lines get cut off. In addition, that course of action would have given those sceptical about the virus no reason to smirk and say, “we don talk am”.
Rural dwellers will be grossly affected
I struggle to access quality Internet service each time I travel outside the city of Lagos. During a recent visit to Aba, a city in the eastern part of Nigeria, I struggled tremendously to join a zoom call without video. Sad indeed!
If that was the case, the question is how would NIMC cater to individuals particularly the elderly and those incapacitated who would certainly find it difficult to get their NIN especially in the rural areas?
Nigerians in the diaspora
The Nigerian economy as we know is being sustained largely on inflows from our countrymen and women living in various parts of the world. Can you imagine the pathetic state the country’s economy would be in without the $24bn that it receives as annual remittance inflow?
Can NIMC and members of the National Task Force on National Identification Number and SIM registration assure Nigerians living abroad that NIN can be effectively done at all our various embassies? From their action and/or inaction, are they implying that the welfare of those who are also holding this country together means nothing?
These questions are largely rhetorical because the various tales of Nigerians looking to renew their international passports are nothing but a sorry one. Apart from those who are well-connected, getting a new Nigerian passport is indeed a tough experience. I wonder if getting a NIN abroad won’t be more difficult than the proverbial ‘rich guy passing through the eye of a needle.’
NIN integration would not improve security
Anyone who thinks that in this day of end-to-end encryption, integrating NIN to SIM would improve security drastically should have a re-think. We live in an era where apps and platforms are beginning to pride themselves about being able to implement various levels of encryption, making it more difficult for any unserious government to begin to fathom what is going on in its very own cyberspace.
This reason among others is why I have repeatedly called for increased funding of the IT industry particularly, cybersecurity sector is because that criminal you think would make a call with a regular GSM phone now has, at his disposal, secret apps that might make him untraceable. Hence, the desperation to get this done hoping that it would drastically improve security does not hold water for me.
If this government wants to see security improve, provide jobs and opportunities for 50 per cent of the over 30 million unemployed or underemployed youths in the country and see what difference that would make.
Let me state clearly, I am all for the policy because it has a lot of benefits, however, the idea of getting it done in less than two months is completely impractical and would only lead to more pains and increased poverty for those who cannot settle to get express service.
The gentleman referred to as the Oracle of Nigeria’s IT industry, Dr Chris Uwaje, sent the following recommendations in response to my last week’s piece;
- Government should develop a mobile app for all smartphone owners to register online without biometrics and picture capture. This type A registration would be allocated a provisional ID number that expires in three to six months. This option one will expire after three to six months.
- Within the designated time frame of six months, all registered mobile phone subscribers would be scheduled through an online appointment system for biometrics (finger and facial capture) based on location.
- Options one and two would be run on parallel servers and synchronised for proper authentication. New registrants would be mandated to register online and capture physically on appointment. Data cleansing follows for reliable authentication.
About 24 months would be a realistic timeline to accomplish the task — including staffing and staff training — industry monitoring.
What else can anyone in government be looking for? These recommendations are super realistic and I am in complete sync with them.
In another news, NIMC debunked the news flying around that the data of 37 million Nigerians is for sale on the dark web. Frankly, I am not certain of NIMC’s security architecture and to be honest, this hasty implementation would occasion all types of data breaches. So, interesting days ahead!
Once again, I call on the government to rethink this decision and go for a phased-implementation of this laudable initiative.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in advance to all our readers and Nigerians.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch