According to the famous physicist, Lord Kelvin, “What is not defined cannot be measured. What is not measured cannot be improved. What is not improved is always degraded”. In considering the importance of having an effective identification management system in Nigeria, I would preface this quote with “What is not identified cannot be defined”. Therefore, knowing our citizens- not just how many we are but who we are, is a no-brainer!
Nigeria’s developmental challenges need a robust system to enable the government to design solutions that bring people out of poverty and build a more inclusive society. One would argue that an effective identification system is a public good that is essential for modern development. The absence of a reliable identification system is a major problem because it is a barrier to economic, social, and political development and prevents the attainment of the SDGs, especially goal 16, which seeks to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. SDG 16’s target 9 is specifically focused on the provision of legal identity for all, including birth registration by 2030.
However, several people have concerns about privacy issues, misuse by the government to track and monitor citizens’ activities as well as exposure to fraudulent activities. Nonetheless, despite these negative factors, a robust identification management system is important because it would allow the government to identify and know its citizens for effective planning and resource allocations. It will also enable key stakeholders to reasonably map out solutions to solve societal problems, build infrastructure and social amenities (such as hospitals and schools), collect tax, and get citizens to participate in the democratic process.
Consider the value of having an effective existing identification system when it comes to the nationwide rollout of the Covid-19 Vaccines. It would have ensured more seamless and methodical scheduling and notification of citizens according to different age and vulnerability groups. So, it is imperative we all support the process to ensure the successful issuance of standardized legal identification cards for all Nigerians.
Everything we do as a nation depends on there being a solid identification management system. The government’s 2017 Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) is meant to drive the country’s economic development, re-position Nigeria as a major player in the global economy and deliver key government services to people in Nigeria, such as agriculture, energy, and transport, without being able to identify its citizens remains a wish list. Having a dependable identity system will allow the generation of reliable and continuous data for policymakers to measure development progress as well as enable the development of digital public infrastructure.
In addressing the concerns about citizen’s data, it is worthy of note that this area is being taken care of under the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation 2019, which was issued by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA)- the government’s agency in charge of Information Technology. Additionally, the Data Protection Bill, which is before the National Assembly, is meant to establish a Data Protection Commission that will be charged with the responsibility of the protection of personal data.
Finally, the identification system must include birth identification for sustainability. It is disturbing to note that, according to World Bank data, only 30% of births in Nigeria (up to 7% within the poorest quintile of the population) are registered. There is no excuse for the non-registration of births in 2021. In accordance with the provision of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) Act, all new babies need to be identified and given an identification so that future generations will not need to go through this exercise from scratch.
It is, therefore, imperative we all support the process and spread the word to ensure the successful issuance of standardized legal identification cards for all Nigerians. The government’s drive to integrate and harmonize ID information should be embraced by all citizens and stakeholders; key sectors should work collaboratively with the government to ensure the successful implementation of a robust identification management system to build a truly inclusive society.