How private companies are changing the game for Nigeria’s NIN exercise
Tunji Oluwole returned to Nigeria from Atlanta, Georgia, in 2013. The US-based Nigerian businessman who came back with his family hired a cook who poisoned them. Unfortunately, they couldn’t apprehend the culprit who went by what they later discovered was a fake name.
This somewhat painful incident exposed the importance of digital identities and the gap that exists in Nigeria. The idea for a verification company was born, and VerifyMe was launched in 2014 to provide verified identities for individuals and businesses.
However, the gap was bigger than he had imagined. The identity problem wasn’t a security problem; it was an infrastructure and development problem, a financial problem, and a major economic problem. With this in mind, the company has since transitioned from an Identity verification company into a full-fledged ID-tech company.
Getting a digital identity, or any for that matter, in Nigeria is a tedious process. The landscape is fragmented, so people only get IDs — driver’s licence, permanent voter’s card (PVC), Bank Verification Number (BVN), and an international passport — when they need them.
According to Esigie Aguele, CEO of VerifyMe, the NIN was supposed to be the ultimate form of identification given to Nigerians at birth. He says that no other process collects as much information as the NIN registration.
Aguele believes that the NIN is important for financial Inclusion, getting a driver’s licence, travelling abroad, accessing pension or social intervention programs, opening accounts, and collecting loans.
The recent exercise is also for harmonisation and bringing the fragmented digital identity space under a central database.
“When you go and get your driver’s licence or international passport, there’s no need for these agencies to collect your biometric data as they could just jump off your NIN and complete your registration in minutes.”
Not repeating past mistakes
In 2007, the government created the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to create and manage a central identity database. But despite repeated rebranding and funding, the process of getting a national identification number or card remains a gruelling one.
Unlike the other means of identification, the NIN did not seem to have a clear cut function. Why wait for years for a national ID card when you can get a driver’s licence in a few weeks, at most?
In December 2020, the Nigerian government ordered a new registration exercise, and despite its awkward timing, the country has made significant progress. Ten million people have registered in the three months following the order compared to 47 million people in the last 13 years.