The set of eleven-digit Nigerian National Identification Number (NIN), issued and managed by National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and assigned to over 16 year-old Nigerians and legal residents by government may run into trouble unless the authorities do something urgently about its current dispensation.
In the first place, it doesn’t seem to me that any specific attention was given to Diaspora Nigerians when the plan was hatched years ago. But as a matter of fact, there are millions of Nigerians living abroad who come home to Nigeria about once in five or more years. That does not make them any less Nigerian than those who live permanently in the country.
I came back from the UK and was eager to get myself registered as is done in more democratic countries. From the internet, I checked out the NIN centres in Imo, my state of origin, and discovered that as many as 22 local communities were centres for NIN registration.
They included Alvan Ikokwu College of Education, Aboh Mbaise Local Government Area (LGA), Ahiazu Mbaise LGA, Ehime Mbano LGA, Ezinihitte Mbaise LGA, Ideato North LGA, Ideato South LGA, Mbaitoli LGA, Ngor Okpala LGA and Federal University of Technology. Others were Njaba LGA, Obowo LGA, Oguta LGA, Okigwe LGA, Orlu LGA, Orsu LGA, Oru East LGA, Oru West LGA, Owerri West LGA, Owerri North LGA and Owerri Municipal Government Area.
When I went to Owerri Municipal to register, I was told the registration was at the state headquarters along Port Harcourt Road. I went there and met a huge crowd of over ten thousand people literarily climbing over each other in an attempt to get at least an officer to attend to them. Many tired and hungry looking people just sat there lost in what steps to take next. The doors to the NIN office were securely locked, apparently to ward off the thousands of people who needed attention. The very few people who could muster the muscle were attended to from the windows.
Everywhere was chaotic and it was just impossible to make sense from whatever was said to be going on. There were no queues, for example, and people were scattered all over the place. And as I could make no head of what was going on, I decided to go home.
The next day, I decided to go to Mbaitoli LGA which was nearest to my home. I had hoped that I would not meet the same huge crowd I met at the state headquarters of the NIN offices. When I got there, I was told that nothing was going on because the local government staffs were on strike. And that was for the entire 27 local government areas of the state. So, as at the time this medium was going to press, no one could get his or her NIN from any of the designated 22 LGAs because all of them were on an industrial action.
I am sure that indigenes of every of the 36 states of the Federation have similar stories to narrate.
It is obvious from the look of things that the government had, among other ideas, the good intention to curb crime in the Nigerian system by identifying mobile phone fraudsters through their registered mobile phone numbers and their National Insurance Numbers. But the fact that government had not made adequate preparations for the success of the project makes one wonder what would possibly happen if, as they threaten, mobile phone service providers like MTN, Glo, Airtel, Etisalat and others decide to block all those who failed to meet up with the deadline for the exercise? Millions of Nigerians would be plunged into total darkness and hardship.
Imagine a situation where you are unable to make use of your mobile phone. You cannot call or talk to your family and friends. You cannot communicate with your business associates. You cannot watch your favourite programmes on your mobile phone or even send email or SMS messages. That would be total chaos in anybody’s life. And so, if the exercise would succeed, it has become necessary to involve the 4th tier of government.
Just as people can go to their Royal Fathers for identification to LGA or state agencies, they should now also be able to get their NIN from the office of their Emir, Igwe or Oba as the case may be.
All the traditional rulers who are recognized and are paid by government should now be deployed to help citizens meet with the deadlines. Otherwise, I do not see how millions of Nigerians can actually cope with the deadline for the exercise. And if they don’t and are excluded by service providers, there is going to be a huge problem. Government will sadly discover that it encouraged rather than discouraged fraud via mobile phones because many people who would have gladly become whistle-blowers were abandoned in total darkness. For this exercise to succeed, government must involve Royal Fathers immediately.
Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (Website: www.imostateblm.com)