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Nigerian National ID Card: Another White Elephant Project!

A “white elephant project” is a phrase used when referring to expensive endeavours which fail to live up to expectation. The phrase originated in East Asia where in spite of the fact that they couldn’t do hard work like other elephants and despite their maintenance cost being exorbitant ownership of white elephants was considered prestigious.

Nigeria has a history of white elephant projects worth billions of Naira initiated by federal or state governments and abandoned by their successors.

Regrettably, many of these projects were financed through loans which are still being serviced! Government officers who find it difficult to conceptualise projects which will actually improve the lives of citizens immediately, appear to be very innovative when it comes to squandering money on ill-considered ideas.

After an undisclosed sum likely running into billions has been spent on national ID cards, the Minister of the Interior revealed that federal government plans to abandon plastic identification cards for digital identification. Cards have now been declared as unnecessary without apology despite the time and money citizens have invested in swearing affidavits, and shuttling to the Nigeria Identity Management Commission (NIMC) offices.

The minister said the cards were only “symbolic” and the important thing is a national identification number not a card because Nigeria wants to move to what he referred to as “e-identity”. It’s common knowledge that Nigerian digital platforms are inefficient, cumbersome and mostly frustrate users.

NIMC has already been criticized over errors in its mobile application. There are complaints that wrong identities are displayed against the numbers and other wrong details even when the name is correct. Developing a fully functional on-line digital identity system may cost as much as $2 billion, yet this humongous figure the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy said Nigeria’s focus is now on digital ID because “the world has gone digital”.

The primary duty of the NIMC is to establish, own, operate maintain and manage the National Identity Database and register persons covered by the NIMC Act No. 23 of 2007. It never made any sense in the first place for their mandate to encompass the procurement and issuance of the General Multi-Purpose Cards (GMPC). There was never any need to procure cards. The elements of fraud and corruption are lined up in the processes of government procurement. Most corrupt dealings are perpetrated during the pre-contract award processes. It beggars belief that nearly 15 years after its formation, the Director-General of the NIMC has only just realized that procuring the cards overseas would make then too expensive and provide a simple means of corrupt enrichment in foreign exchange. It’s quite evident that the NIMC is incapable of processing the application, registration and issuance of national ID cards in a cost-effective, timely and stress-free manner.

Many Nigerians, having waited for more than two years, had become frustrated by the rigmarole involved in collecting the national ID cards. Many applicants have long since relocated form the particular town or city where they applied for their ID card and, due to the delay, see no reason why they should bear further expense in returning to collect their cards or making any enquiries. They are now told that it’s no longer required. Indeed these days the national ID card is no longer accepted as a means of identification in many places. This means that citizens have wasted their time, risked their lives in unnecessary travels, and incurred unnecessary expenses for what now turns out to be no reason whatsoever.

The national ID card saga is somewhat similar to the manner in which FRSC introduced new number plates which citizens with already registered vehicles were forced to buy, that served no discernible purpose whatsoever. The current situation as regards ID cards is that many government agencies issue their own forms of acceptable identification documents or cards, many containing biometric details. NIMC officials claim that there are over 13 of such agencies at national level and another three or four at state level. These include FRSC’s driving licenses, Immigration’s Passports, Police Firearms Licenses, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) voter’s cards, and FIRS Tax Identification Number (TIN) amongst others.

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Although the national ID card was “free”, the NIMC was prepared to charge N3,000 for renewal and N5,000 for replacement at a time when many Nigerians had received no satisfactory explanation as to why the card should have an expiry date and renewal fee in the first place. It seems contradictory that a government which clams that lifting 100 million Nigerian out of poverty is its main objective, believes that he best way to do this is by borrowing money to finance white elephant projects, while at the same time increasing taxes, the price of fuel and other financial burdens upon citizens.

There has been no serious explanation as to why national ID is a priority at this moment in time. National identity is not supposed to be a card or number, it’s supposed to be a sense of belonging to a state or nation as represented by its culture, traditions and language. Surprisingly there was no requirement that applicants for National ID cards provide any proof of being a Nigerian before an application for a card was successful. The end result being that so many non-Nigerians were amongst the first to collect their cards! In all truthfulness there is no national consciousness or shared sense of national identity in Nigeria these days and with little of substance being done to foster national consciousness, Nigerians feel more allegiance to their tribe than their nation. In Nigeria patriotism is continuously being tested to its limits by government. It’s nothing short of tragic that as the nation fails to solve its most pressing problems, and despite all our virtues, the main defining trait of a Nigerian will have little to do with character but all about a number issued by government as a result of a white elephant project.

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Source: allafrica

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