Nigeria in the Security Vortex

Aimed at capturing the identity of mobile phone subscribers for identity and security management, the Subscriber Identity Module, SIM, registration initiative by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, came into effect on 28 March 2011. The initiative sought to track and curb criminal use of telephones in the country and aid the establishment of a central database of SIM card subscribers, which could also be used to streamline the National Identity Database, NIDB.

Backed by its massive campaign, the NCC urged all mobile phone subscribers to register their SIM cards with authorised mobile network operators across the country. Although old SIM card registration officially ended on June 30, 2013, new SIM registration continues to date.

One widely regarded maxim states that to obey is better than sacrifice. Hence, as a national resident in the Diaspora, during a trip to Nigeria in May 2015 I bought a SIM card and registered it at a facility I considered to be an MTN authorised dealer. My request for a receipt reflecting the registration was met with the response: ‘Oga don’t worry, your number is registered’. Recently, I discovered that my registered number has been sold to another customer. During a phone call to the number, the chap who answered claimed he acquired the line since February 2019. Whilst most of the debate centre largely on unregistered SIM cards etc., practices wherein so-called registered SIM cards are sold or reissued also deserves attention.

Meanwhile, security agency chiefs and operatives have advanced that improperly registered, unregistered and pre-registered SIM cards are exacerbating security challenges in the country. Nearly a decade since the NCC directive came into effect, arguably the SIM card registration exercise has brought measurable results, but greater progress is needed to stem nefarious activities perpetrated via mobile telephony.

Again, Nigerians are being asked to register for national identity cards. One claim is that henceforth without a national identity card, issuance of an international passport or renewal will be impossible. Now, let us look at a short history of the national identity card scheme. Conceived in 1967 under erstwhile Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, the scheme failed to gain traction and was shelved. Around 1976 it was revived and launched on 1st September, 1979 by the Obasanjo military administration at a cost of about N15 million. Thereafter, the scheme ran into problems – the resulting outcome was inertia.

Since its inception, the scheme has proved to be a challenge, including when it featured in the 1976 federal budget. Following the establishment of the Directorate of National Civil Registration, DNCR, in 1978 – backed by decree 51 of 1979 – the scheme was again revived aegis department of civil registration, ministry of internal affairs. The department was expected to register people and issue simple laminated identity cards to nationals18 years of age and above. Reports show the exercise would be conducted manually at a cost of US $16 million. Regrettably, the National ID card scheme failed before General Obasanjo handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari – Nigeria’s first democratically elected president.

The e-ID card or national identity card is a key component of the Nigerian Identity Management System, deployed by the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, as part of its mandate to create, maintain and operate the country’s first central National Identity Database. However, from registration to actual issuance of the National Identity card the waiting period may be from 6 months to years. Some people have complained that the printout issued in lieu of the card is not accepted in some instances.

The Nigerian Security Printing and Minting, NSPM, was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria, FGN, in 1963. The NSPM is the only full-fledged security printing organisation in the entire African sub-region. Security is the NSPM’s principal asset, which forms the cornerstone of its operations. The NSPM’s two core product lines are security documents, banknotes, and coins. Currently, the country’s passport booklets are printed in Malaysia. According to the report dated 6 February 2019 – by Titilola Oludimu, Nigeria will soon begin printing its international e-passports locally. If truly so, the move is welcomed and should be accorded the needed support. Hopefully, the national identity card and e-passport will in actual sense become the remit of the NSPM. With Nigeria mired in the global and national security vortex, these two instruments of identity are exceedingly sensitive and should not fall under the purvey of any far-flung entity. God bless Nigeria.

This independent and unsolicited article is one in a series of the social change framework. The article does not apportion blame to any person(s) or institutions. It is a constructive critic written without prejudice. It calls for national reflection and seeks to help promote growth.

Ita is an Environment Consultant and Independent Journalist

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