,Pantami has issued a directive mandating citizens to link their mobile numbers to their identity numbers by Oct 31, 2021, or risk being blocked from accessing telecommunications services. — Photo by Olumide Bamgbelu on Unsplash
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LAGOS: Joining several other countries, including Kenya, Uganda and India, Nigeria's government is in the process of rolling out a digital identity system to enable easier access to public and private services.
But, like those and other digital ID projects around the world, Nigeria’s initiative has been dogged by privacy concerns, with citizens and rights groups saying the country’s lack of data protection leaves their personal information open to abuse.
By October 2020, six years after the government launched a national electronic identity card, less than a quarter of Nigeria’s 200 million people had signed up for a National Identification Number (NIN), according to the agency overseeing the scheme.
Communications minister Isa Ali Pantami has issued a directive mandating citizens to link their mobile numbers to their identity numbers by Oct 31, 2021, or risk being blocked from accessing telecommunications services.
Even this has not convinced everyone, and only about 60 million citizens and legal residents have enrolled for the NIN so far, the National Identity Management Commission said last week.
“I will not link my numbers to my NIN,” human rights activist Aisha Yesufu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We do not have data protection laws in Nigeria, and my data are not protected,” she said.
Uche Chigbo, acting general manager of the NIMC, said the national identity database is well protected despite the lack of a national data protection law.
“Even I do not have access to the database,” she said at an event on digital identity in Port Harcourt last month.
“For those who have access to the database, there are so many things required for them to have authorisation,” she said.
Missing out on enrolment
The Nigerian government has said the 11-digit NIN is the foundation for a comprehensive digital ID system which will help to tackle insurgency and other crimes.
Including the indirect impact of the fighting, northeast Nigeria’s 12-year conflict with insurgencies had killed nearly 350,000 people as of the end of 2020, the United Nations Development Programme said in June.
NIN enrolment involves the recording of an individual’s demographic data and capturing their fingerprints, photo and digital signature.
The number is required for all transactions requiring identity verification, such as opening a bank account, applying for a driver’s license, voting, getting health insurance, and filing tax returns.
While the NIN is mandatory for both children and adults, the biometrics of children under 12 years old are not captured due to the instability of their fingerprints, Chigbo said at the event.