Nigeria continues to confuse the international community with the way its officials go about issuing directives that ordinarily should be planned and sustained with community-driven campaigns before full implementation.
How does one begin to imagine the implementation of a two-week ultimatum issued by the Nigeria Communications Commission following a stakeholders meeting? I cannot for the life of me comprehend how and why such a directive was issued?
This is a country with such a growing number of disgruntled young people who have no iota of confidence in the government and its officials. Yet, these officials wake up and issue what can, at best, be described as draconian policies. Policies that will not only cause pain, hardship but in today’s realities, help multiply the spread of COVID-19.
Before the spread of the deadly virus, there were already a number of challenges Nigeria was grappling with not to mention a high rate of unemployment, which is adversely affecting the daily existence of many families across the country.
It is very important to note that the year 2020 has brought with it additional challenges. Unfortunately, this directive might be another avenue for unscrupulous elements of the society to exploit the populace out of their lean resources considering the urgency with which registration has to be done.
I know for a fact that people are now being charged as much as N10,000 to get express service at various NIN centres. This is a typically example of how not to fight a corruption.
Reacting to the policy in a press statement, Valery Nijaba, the Communications officer of Paradigm Initiative, sought the Nigerian government’s immediate restraint in actualising the order at the given time frame.
He added that the exercise would only amount to a brazen violation of fundamental human rights and freedom of expression as provided for by Section 39 of the 1999 constitution.
In the statement, it was posited that the policy has created panic among the citizenry since its announcement even in the face of the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is a time when we need to discourage public gatherings, crowding, and the likes, but it appears that the government is not sensitive enough to see those nuances and has asked that 100 million Nigerians should go and register for the National Identification Number within two weeks, so we are left with no choice but to seek the intervention of the court,” the statement reads.
We recall that before the 2020 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination was written, our all-wise government officials compelled candidates to register for the NIN as a pre-requisite to sitting for the examinations. Many students couldn’t register, and there were documented cases of government officials and law enforcement officials exploiting the desperation of the students and parents alike. At that point the idea was phased out, enabling students to write the examination without needless distractions.
There are major concerns about the technological capacity of the stakeholders in making this happen given the very short notice and the teeming population of mobile users across the country who have to comply with this directive.
For one, what novel mercenary has been put in place to make the registration of mobile users within the given time frame feasible if those of students could not be properly carried out?
Again, I ask openly, is there any consideration that a second wave of Covid-19 virus is on-going and cases are increasing in Nigeria? This is a most pertinent question considering the fact that many citizens will not be able to go out there to queue at registration centres owing to pandemic scare. I cannot help but wonder how the stakeholders hope to achieve this within a short period of notice.
Many countries, especially developed nations in Europe, are already enforcing another lockdown as there are rising cases of infected persons. In fact, just yesterday, a good friend of mine based in Abuja shared how he and five of his teammates are down with a ‘strange’ fever. Now, suppose these guys are down with COVID-19 and yet, have to hurry to find a centre to get their NIN registration done – Wouldn’t that be a disaster in the making?
Moreover, were the rural dwellers factored into this decision? Rural dwellers are an important part of our informal sector as their contributions immensely impact our GDP as a nation.
It is not improper to also ask the question: What will happen to their businesses and how will the policy impact national contributions when they cannot make use of their mobile phones to reach out to customers they serve? The stakeholders have to be aware that with this directive, the means of livelihood for the citizenry are on the line.
The frustration that greeted the announcement can be seen from the opinion poll conducted by techbuild.africa. One of our respondents stated that: “Many citizens have tried without success to register for the NIN. I have done so thrice. One was at the Stanbic IBTC branch on Adetokunbo Ademola Street, Victoria Island. I have since tried to use the NIN slip they issued me that day in the bank only for it to draw a null. I have done the online version—the same result.”
Deplorably, this order comes at a time when workers everywhere are shutting down for the year and people are in the holiday mood already. If the National Identity Management Commission which, so far, has notoriously been unable to manage the national identity process for more than eight years, how will it do so in two weeks? Baffling is the fact that the NIMC CEO, though present at that conference, did not own up to the logistical impossibility of such a task.
I call on the government and its agencies to re-think this policy and shelf it for a period of at least one year. The extension will afford them the opportunity to carry out a massive sensitisation campaign that will keep citizens informed. A government is meant to serve its people and not punish them. If this policy stands, then it is nothing short of punishment.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch