For so long Nigeria has been plagued with the issue of a centralized database for its citizens.
Pre-NIN registration directive, Nigeria had embarked on different attempts at having a central database that attempts to capture a good chunk of Nigerians but this has been largely unsuccessful. Rather what we have had over the years are efforts by different agencies of the government both at the federal and state level to get this done. INEC, Lagos State Residents Registration Agency, NIMC, FRSC and the CBN are some of the agencies that have had one form of data capturing exercise or the other at different times in the last couple of years.
Particularly notable is the Bank Verification Number which was embarked upon some few years back by the Central Bank. Some years back, the CBN issued a directive mandating all Nigerians to enroll for what is now known as Bank Verification Number (BVN). Everyone, including myself felt we finally had gotten it right. The BVN appeared to be, at least to a large extent, a near comprehensive database system which covered almost all Nigerians.
With the BVN, many felt that there wouldn’t be any other need for a data capturing exercise on the national level but it appeared the man at the helm of affairs as Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy in Nigeria, Isa Pantami had a different thought and was working with a bigger picture most Nigerians could not yet relate with.
On December 15, 2020 the National Communications Commission via a Press Statement titled, ‘Implementation of New Sim Registration Rules’ sent Nigerians into overdrive by mandating anyone who does not have a National Identification Number (NIN) to go out and register. This was at a time when the word ‘Social Distancing’ was still very much like a sacred code everyone had to abide by in order to live. And this they had to do before 30th December or their mobile lines would be disconnected
It turned out that a good chunk of Nigerians were without one. Many who had theirs needed to link the same to their mobile numbers. Nigerians thus trooped out in their numbers and besieged the very few NIMC enrollment centres sparingly scattered across the country.
Four months down the line, with the deadline shifted four times in total since then and the enrollment centres now enlarged to incorporate telcos who now have select offices where enrollment can be done, I went out to experience first hand what the process is like checking out one major center in Lagos and Ibadan.
For Lagos, the choice was glo world center on Allen Avenue.
On the chosen day, I decided to go as early as possible to see if this would translate into prompt attendance.
Upon alighting from the bus, I approached the security man who beckoned on me to put on my face mask before approaching. No problem. I did this all the while looking round to see how many people were already there. Seeing just a lady and guy, I thought to myself that this was going to be easier than I’d thought.
Face mask done, I approached the young security guy who appeared to be within the same age range as myself but with a facial expression looking like he had a bad night with someone and was still quite angry.
“I want to enroll for my NIN” I said to him as enthusiastically as I could muster, beaming with smiles.
“Nah today be your date?” He fired back in pidgin.
“Date how” I asked, not understanding his question.
He frowned and looked on not bothering to explain further, he was obviously not in a good mood. Realising his snobbish disposure, I turned to his more matured colleague seated with an enquiring face.
“Yes he means is today the date you were given to come and register?”
Ah, now it’s getting interesting I thought, surprised.
“I don’t understand, this is my first day here,” I replied.
“You will need to register now, it takes an interval of about a month since we already have people booked down for the next one month plus,” he explained.
“Wow, one month?” I asked.
“Yes, the people that will be registered today are those who have booked down their slot weeks ago, put down your name for May 16” he said as he opened a log sheet with a fresh page for the day with May 16th boldly written on the top.
“Interesting” I bellowed as he looked at me curiously,” So I can’t register today at all” I asked again rhetorically as he looked at me briefly and moved on to the next person who had just arrived.
With this, I realised that even with the telcos now also involved in the enrollment, the process was far from being smooth.
Three weeks later, my next stop was Ibadan. I chose the MTN regional office located at No 1, Olubadan Avenue out of the five centres the telco giant has designated as NIN enrollment centres.
On the appointed day, I set out early enough and got to the address at about 8am. Given that Ibadan is a less populated city compared to Lagos, I’d reckoned the situation should be slightly different. How wrong I was. The site I met was indeed discouraging.
As early as eight, people in their numbers were already at the gate but not allowed in. I mingled around to get a grasp of what the situation really was. I gathered that only those who had been booked down for that day were being attended to. But this was even all the more interesting because those already in the building were enough and until they came out, the security men weren’t going to allow any more. Why so many people, I wondered.
I had to get in somehow, I thought. Quickly, I devised a plan. I walked up to a security man afar off directing cars out and pleaded with him that I needed to get this done today.
“Oga people are much, it’s not possible, you will have to put your name down” he initially said.
“But you can help me now,” I replied as I wasn’t going to let go and he saw the desperation in me and decided to cash in, as he has probably done for many others.
“Ehen okay,I can help you, just bring 3k, we can arrange something,” he offered. Now we are talking, I said to myself.
“Ah, 3k ke” I replied back raising my voice a little.
“Oga don’t raise your voice, you want people around to hear ni?” He said.
“Oh sorry, but I don’t have 3k now, oya let me give you 2k” I offered, as I feigned desperation.
“At all, ko le work, shey I will now be giving others tashere money ni” he said in a mixture of English and Yoruba as he made to move away. I quickly held him and pleaded for patience. I then offered to increase to 2,500 to which he grudgingly accepted.
Apparently, the racketeering process involved both the workers involved in the registration and the security men at the gate as they all used this to make some quick, extra cash. In order words, if you have some cash to spare, you can get your fast tracked placement to do your enrollment the same day.
The drama continued after I had given him the money and he provided me with a signed registration form which he produced from nowhere. It had a unique number written on it. He then asked that once I got back to the entrance gate, I should just ask for one ‘Tunde’ (not real name).
With N2,500 I was granted entry with a pre signed enrollment form and this gave me a spot on the waiting list, but I was soon going to realise that the higher the money involved the more the preference given even as some others lined up outside the door.
For over 2 hours, I realised no one was called and so the line was as it is. This got me worried as I wondered what exactly the problem was. After what seemed like eternity, I beckoned to an official who strode by asking why it was taking so long for the queue to move and the only explanation he could give was that the network was slow.
This can’t be a case of a slow network, I reasoned. It can’t be this bad. So I realised I had more to unravel.
Fortunately, a senior official walked out briefly and I quickly accosted him asking why the NIN enrollment queue wasn’t moving. He beckoned on me thinking to explain the reason for the slow call up and I followed him into the office floor.
He then explained that there was only one system working for now even though they were trying to fix another. Still not convinced, I looked in the way of those seated and waiting to be called by the enrollment officer and saw what the problem really is.
These people were not on the queue! They had never been.
I pointed his attention to this, insisting the individuals seated were not part of those on the queue.
Apparently, some others were being smuggled into the premises. For a higher amount, they were made to by-pass the queue altogether and went in after telling the security at the door that they were going in instead for SIM retrieval. The security man at the door would get a signal from those afar off and let them in and thus they continually bypassed those on the queue who had paid a lesser amount.
This apparently is how these officials billed those who appeared to be more affluent while individuals who had nothing to give were continually pushed aside on a daily basis.
Also, I realised this was also happening mainly because even with the telcos setting up a few centres to cater for the NIN enrollment, they were still largely inadequate as the numbers yet to register still run into thousands going by my assessment.
With the latest deadline for enrollment set for May 6, it does not appear Nigeria is even close to getting this done and over with. Even with the threats by the Minister that all lines not connected by the end of the exercise will be disconnected, it is almost certain another shift in date beckons.