Nigerian ID rollout raises data protection concerns.

Author:Unah, Linus
Position:Special Report: Nigeria
 
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Nigeria intends to provide all citizens with digital ID to enhance national security and provide better access to services, but efforts have been hampered by a lack of infrastructure and concerns are being raised about privacy. Linus Unah reports

At 8am on an early March morning, more than a dozen people crowded into a cramped office at the Yaba local council secretariat in Lagos.

Desktop computers, a camera and fingerprint scanners clutter this small office, one of the enrolment centres for Nigeria's ambitious national identification scheme.

Citizens fill a form with personal information including their names, date of birth, height, and residential address, and approach enrolment officers who capture their fingerprints, facial image, and digital signature for entry into the National Identity Database.

Once the process is completed, citizens receive a National Identification Number (NIN), a unique set of 11 numbers that consolidate their records.

Created in 2007, the Nigerian Identity Management Commission (NIMC), the agency in charge of the identification scheme and database, believes that getting all citizens to register and obtain the NIN is crucial for national security and essential for providing financial and social services to citizens.

More than 13 state and federal agencies issue forms of ID for distinct services. The NIMC aims to integrate the current proliferation of databases and provide a robust form of unique ID that will mean citizens do not need to carry so many different forms of identification.

For nearly two decades, Nigeria has been struggling to successfully launch such a scheme. After a failed effort beginning in 2003, President Goodluck Jonathan revived the ID plan in 2014. His administration aimed for a national rollout of plastic ID cards by 2019, and the government partnered with Mastercard to include a prepaid payment element in the identity card to expand access to financial services to millions of unbanked people. But amid a lack of equipment and rumours of corruption, Jonathan's drive faltered. Today, only about 38% of Nigerians have some form of official identification, mainly the biometric voter's card.

Herculean task

Under the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, the NIMC is once again trying its luck. In 2018, the agency launched its Digital Identity Ecosystem project to collaborate with public and private vendors to expand its ability to collect data and issue cards and also enhance safeguards to protect...

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