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Digital Identity and the Verity of Nigeria’s September 16 Revolution, By Walter Duru, Ph.D

Just like many other members of the Nigerian delegation, I felt very proud to be a Nigerian, when, at the 2022 ID4Africa Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, my dearly beloved country was celebrated for leading the Identity revolution in Africa. The message was very clear; the ovation was loudest; many others present at the Conference must have wished that they were Nigerians at that very moment.

Nigeria received global commendation for leading identity reforms in Africa, by being the first country to introduce and celebrate a National Identity Day.

Speaking at the Conference, Executive Chairman of ID4Africa, Dr. Joseph Atick poured encomiums on Nigeria over her leadership role in promoting identification in Africa.

Hear him: “I like to update the call to recognize 16 September as Identity Day, in commemoration of SDG 16.9, which we had first made in 2018. Today, I would like to call on all the relevant African authorities to officially recognize this day as their Identity Day. Identity is a priority for Africa. Nigeria led the continent in this regard, and we applaud them for it. We would love to see the rest of the African countries doing the same.”

Director General, National Identity Management Commission, Engr. Aliyu Aziz, explained that “we adopted September 16 as National Identity Day in order to ensure that attention is drawn to the benefits and implications of citizens having a National Identity Number.”

September 16 is celebrated yearly in Nigeria as National Identity Day, as a way of creating awareness on the benefits and implications of a legal means of identity, and in this case, the unique National Identity Number (NIN). The idea is that a National ID Day is an effective tool to sensitize the population and mobilize national resources around promoting identification.

On the necessity of a unique identification for Nigerians, Director General of the National Identity Management Commission – NIMC, Engr. Aliyu Aziz explained that:

“Digital Identity is crucial for any digital economy. The NIN is therefore essential for its realization. In the United States, three main numbers work there. One is the telephone number. The second is the Zonal Improvement Plan (ZIP code). Every zone has a number attached to it. Then, they have their Social Security Number. Now that we have the NIN, we need to move to integrate the numbers for proper planning.”

“If you have a child, you give the child a name. It is applicable in this case. The NIN is like: how do I give my citizens unique names that the government will call them? The advantages are enormous. You must differentiate one from another. It is a form of differentiation. It also serves security purposes. That is what protects all developed nations, and it must be in a digital way so that it may be verified. The inconvenience is not as much as the benefits. Very soon, whatever the government wants to do with you in Nigeria, they will ask you for your NIN.”

Identification is a right and an instrument of citizens’ protection. It opens the doors for access to government services, benefits, and opportunities. Little wonder in Nigeria today, there is hardly any government service that one can access without a NIN.

Digital Identification helps detect fraud. It also reduces the need for physical presence. It enhances customer trust and helps to protect organisational reputation.

When implemented properly, identification systems have the potentials to assist countries achieve inclusive development, while enhancing security of lives and property, as nationwide use of reliable means of identification can help to combat crime and illegal immigration.

The ability to produce a unique, secure, and reliable form of identification for residents of a country provides numerous development benefits for individuals, from accessing government and business services, to establishing their right of residence and employment in a region.

Ultimately, National Identity is necessary for achieving implementation of social protection systems, particularly, in ensuring that the vulnerable in the society are not marginalized.

Better identification, authentication, and targeting mechanisms can improve transparency, reduce waste, and streamline service delivery.

It will also help in fighting the cankerworm of corruption, while helping the government to plan adequately and accurately.

The benefits of a unique identification system notwithstanding, poorly implemented identification systems could create certain risks for the society.

Now that the Nigeria Digital Identification for Development (ID4D) project has taken off, deliberate steps must be taken to ensure that systems are in place to guide the Digital Identification implementation in Nigeria.

Present efforts by the Nigeria Digital ID4D and the Nigeria Data Protection Bureau towards the enactment of a Data Protection Law for Nigeria could not have come at a better time. Having a law that protects citizens’ data, to prevent abuse is essential to build trust, while assuring citizens of the safety and security of their data.

The National Identity Management Commission must take deliberate steps to upscale and sustain communication and public enlightenment activities, with a view to deepening understanding, while closing trust gaps on the country’s National Identity project.

There is the need for a deliberate strategy for the poor, women, children, rural dwellers, minorities, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable people.

The benefits of having a unique and verifiable ID are enormous. The objectives can only be achieved if stakeholders commit to working together.

Every Nigerian must enrol on the national identification project, own a Unique Identification Number (NIN), to access public services and help the government to succeed.

Visit the NIN enrolment centre nearest to you today, to be a complete Nigerian.

All hands must be on deck!

Dr. Walter Duru is a Communications expert and Public Relations Strategist. He could be reached on: [email protected].

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