Following the directive by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that network providers viz – MTN, Globacom, Airtel, 9Mobile, should block all Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards not registered with the National Identification Number (NIN) within two weeks from December 15, 2020, Nigerians thronged to offices of National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) for the registration for fear of not having their mobile lines detached.
National Identification Number otherwise known as NIN is a set of 11 numbers assigned to an individual at the completion of enrolment into the National Identity Database. NIN is non-transferable and does not expire. All citizens and legal residents including children are eligible to enroll for the NIN. According to the Federal Government, obtaining NIN will grant citizens access to government welfare benefits, registration for national examinations, enhanced e-passport, and access to credit.
So, when FG announced its decision to block all SIM cards not linked with NIN, hell was let loose. But following public outcry, FG granted a three-week extension for subscribers with NIN from December 30, 2020 to January 19, 2021 and six weeks extension for subscribers without NIN from December 30, 2020 to February 9, 2021 and recently extended by eight weeks with a new deadline of April 6, 2021.
Anyone who had visited any of the NIMC Enrolment centers will marvel at the level of hardship and stress the people of the nation have been subjected to. Most worrisome is the fact that this is going on amidst second wave of the dreaded coronavirus pandemic.
There had been complaints of incompetent staff, malfunctioning machines, extortion and other sharp practices by the staff of the commission, who were taking advantage of the desperation of intending applicants to feed fat on them.
In Imo State for instance, checks by Nigerian Newsguide revealed that as early as 6.00am, intending enrollees had already queued, waiting for turns at NIMC office located along Port-Harcourt road, Owerri. The queue often time, stretched to the gate of the commission’s office with zestful applicants (mostly youths) falling over themselves in a bid to beat the deadline for the registration, verification and subsequent linking of NIN to their SIM cards.
Some enrollees who can afford to part with reasonable amount of their hard-earned money, pay as high as N15,000 to get immediate attention by NIMC officials. This is done in secrecy. Some others pay between N3,000 to N5,000 if you must obtain your NIN in a week time, while those who pay N2,000 will have to wait for two or three weeks. Anyone who wants to follow due process will have to wait for one or two months or even “eternity”. Findings have shown that Imo State residents are not alone in this quagmire. It is the same situation in almost the 36 States of the federation including FCT.
Is it not surprising that in a digital world like ours, citizens are being subjected to this level of hardship and stress when a click on one’s computer or mobile phone can turn the situation around. What does the government expect our parents who are 50 years old and above to do in order to obtain their NIN? Queue with energetic youths at the few enrolment centers amid shoveling and pushing?
It is therefore our opinion that the government considers developing an efficient Mobile App which can be downloaded via Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Intending applicants can download such App and get their ID without stress. Doing this will grant cybercafé operators access to register people, thereby making the process of obtaining NIN less stressful for citizens. But a situation where such mobile app is created and citizens cannot obtain their NIN or even print their ID without visiting NIMC registration centers amounts to efforts in futility and gross inefficiency by those in-charge.
FG should also as a matter of urgent need make it a continuous process to enable more people to register since it has become obvious that majority avoided the exercise because of the stress associated with it and the fear of second wave of coronavirus pandemic.