May 13, 2021

NIN Registration: Fighting insecurity or free speech?

NIN is necessary for security, but Nigerian securities are still unequipped. Will they track and arrest with bare hands?

I first applied for the National Identity Card in 2011. Three hundred friends and colleagues applied at the same time. However, those whose cards were issued in the end were barely up to 30.

I went to the National Identity Card Management Office several times to inquire about my ID card and was referred to my Local Government. At the Local Government, I was referred to the State Government House. From Government House, I was referred to the State Polytechnic until I got fed up.

I tried to reregister but went to the registration centers more than eight times, wasting whole working days without success. It was three years ago that my office lobbied for a temporary registration outlet.

Registration was fairly fast at the centre, but never taking less than 30mins per person. Meanwhile, hundreds of people from other places came everyday to take advantage of the center, mostly arriving before the staff. After days of waiting in queue, I finally registered.

The ID card was however not ready. I was told to return in two weeks for the temporary slip. I did, but was told the slip was not available. Henceforth, I was told, I’d have to check with the NIMC office as the makeshift centre created at my office had closed down.

I went to NIMC office several times and was told there was no power supply. The last day I went, a security guard advised me to go to a certain bank in Jos, and ask for the NIMC desk. I did, and waited for about three hours, and got the slip. However, the slip has only been useful for local identification.

All international engagements requiring identification have only been successful with international passport or related documents. The national ID card is rejected at first sight.

Matters arising

The delay in registration and insurance of my card was caused by obsolete equipment, weak manpower and poor knowledge of the system by agency staff. This was somewhat heightened by corruption and bias among registration officials, who registered people based on familiarity, received or expected favour.

Power was yet another factor. Without this, no equipment could have been operated. Another factor was overcrowding, due to shortage of registration centers. During voter registration wherein only people from 18years and above, those without a voter card are captured, registration points are created at each electoral ward with adequate manpower, equipment and backup electricity sources.

How a system that is expected to register over 200million people, including those just born is only approved for local government headquarters and a few zonal offices of NIMC is amazing.

Why the registration?

The federal government’s only reason for the rushed registration during a pandemic, when overcrowding is highly dangerous, is “insecurity”. The emphasis is on kidnappers and other low risk criminals who use mobile phones. But given that even the deadliest and most sophisticated crimes were solved in the 60s and 70s when mobile phones were non-existent, and the fact that terrorists who increasingly hold Nigeria to ransom are almost untraceable, and sometimes untouchable even when identified, it is likely that security is not the target of Government.

Considering the recent camp down on public criticisms against the government and its allies, it will not be out of place to say that the NIN registration and the directive to link such with mobile phone subscriber identification module (SIM) cards is to muzzle free speech.

It started with social media regulation, then NGO registration, then “hate speech” criminalization, persecution of anti-government media agencies and practitioners, to hiking of mobile service charges. Government has never been ambiguous about its dislike for people who speak against it or its allies since the coming of APC into power.

But even if the registration and linking of NIN with mobile phone lines is only for security, all the factors militating against the smooth conduct of the exercise ought to have been addressed first. Giving a short deadline on short notice without putting all the necessary logistics in place is simply hasty and irrational. This is why Nigerians are increasingly getting frustrated, leaving the work and business places to go queue up for hours, sometimes without success.

Even more frustrating is that, Nigerians have registered and provided their details for different purposes and still do. The Bank Verification number has NIN, Drivers license, voter card or international passport and phone number. The voter card likewise, just as the international passport and driver license. If all these do not solve insecurity, what difference will this new concept make?

Nigeria like any other country has problems of crimes and insecurity. Majority of its citizens are law abiding and patriotic. Many of them have given their lives in the defense of the country. Many still are applying every year to join the nation’s security system to help take down criminals.

But NIN or no NIN, if the right tools are not available, will securities storm criminal hideouts with bare hands after tracking them using the NIN?