Nigeria, the African country whose persona has long been steeped in corruption is taking technology measures to protect its citizens and businesses against nefarious identity intrusions.
On February 14th the Emir of Kano and former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Kano, Lamido Sanusi, unveiled a legacy that has the potential to transform Nigeria into one of the most secure countries on the globe. He has implemented a biometric database for the entire Nigerian economy, the first of its kind in the world.
The governing body of this innovative identification system is the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC). The NIMC is responsible for creating, managing, maintaining, and operating the National Identity Management System.
Specifically the NIMC is tasked with effectively entering citizens and non-citizens into the National identity Database and to issue a general multipurpose identity card to everyone who registered. NIMC has already deployed the National identity Management System to accomplish this goal.
After registering their fingerprints, Nigerians would be able to articulate ATMs, pay for goods at retail purveyors, fuel stations and shops simply by presenting their finger to a reader. The system would be almost impossible to defraud. The system would allow businesses to check credit and criminal history.
National Identity Management Commission has already deployed the National identity Management System to begin the tedious process of registering people in the database.
Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, secretary to the government of the federation issued the following confirmation of progress statement in a circular.
"All government agencies requiring identity verification and authentication services or are involved in data capture activities must align their activities with a view to switching over to the NIMC infrastructure. All necessary arrangement to achieve the set date of 31st December, 2014 has been put in place by the constitution of a harmonization and integration implementation committee in NIMC with membership drawn from the Office of the SGF, the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Communication Technology."
Beginning June 2014 Nigerian banks moved forward with the biometric registration of customers. Customers received individual identification numbers called Bank Verification Number (BVN). The BVN is a uniform and single identity that will be acceptable across the Nigerian financial system as all other bank accounts operated by any individual will be tied to that individual's unique BVN. Customers could go to any branch of their bank, complete and submit a BVN enrollment form. After completion of the enrollment form, they were to submit the required identification criteria (ten fingerprint, facial image, among other unique physical DNA relative collections). After exhausting all sign up requirements the customer is issued a receipt with a unique transaction ID. The system then issues the application within 24 hours, the BVN is generated, and the customer receives an SMS for pickup.
As the database rolls out across Nigeria, the opportunity for forgery, fraud, bribery, and identity theft will be curtailed dramatically. With an indelible imprint at the heart of individual Nigerian identification, the database will also finally give Nigerians what they have lacked since their nation was founded their own immutable and individual identity.
The project does have critics and skeptics. According to the Nigeria's Communication Week, some experts say it is a waste of resources. They feel the government should cooperate with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to build a central national biometric database that can serve the needs of all.
Engineer Lanre Ajayi and Professor David Adewumi, presidents of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and the Nigerian Computer Society respectively described the proliferation of biometric database systems in the country as wasteful and unfortunate (SOURCE).
They point to several other Nigerian Biotech Databases such as the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Population Commission (NPC), and the "Banks Verification Number" (BVN) being implemented by Nigerian banks with government funding. There is also the "Nigerian Police Biometrics Central Motor Registry" (PoliceBCMR).
"All these agencies doing multiple registrations are wasting public funds. NIMC is the most appropriate government agency to do it. With NIMC there wouldn't be need for NCC to even conduct its simcard biometric registration because once you are captured in NIMC database, your phone number is already there." - Lanre Ajayi
Critics and skeptics aside, the Emir of Kano and project spearhead, Lamido Sanusi sees the database in almost mystical terms: an attempt to pierce the mysteries of money and power in Nigeria with facts, figures and records. "It closes off opportunities for opacity and brings more clarity," he says. "It will be revolutionary."