News Column

A Paradigm Shift

September 4, 2014

Solomon Elusoji

With the support given by the Access Bank, the latest national identity card unveiled last week by President Goodluck Jonathan gives hopes to Nigerians in the areas of security and financial inclusion.

Recently, at a landmark ceremony in Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan unveiled a national electronic identity card for Nigerians. This development, in light of the card's extra-ordinary features, capabilities and the failures of past governments to successfully implement a national identity scheme, is an extremely laudable one. Though it is unwise to conclude that the new national identity scheme is already a success, the novel approach employed by the Chris Onyemenam-led National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) - using technology to co-ordinate and fuse national and commercial objectives - has every potential to silence even the most dogged cynic.

Clearly, the support given to the project by Access Bank plc has made it a paradigm shift. For instance, the national identity card will now serve a dual-function of security and financial inclusion.

For Access Bank, the new identity card is expected to revolutionise the Nigerian economic landscape, breaking down one of the most significant barriers to financial inclusion - proof of identity, while simultaneously providing Nigerians with a world class payment solution and support electronic transactions.

"I am proud to affirm that Access Bank is a supporter and promoter of innovative ideas that would improve the quality of lives for Nigerians. Our partnership with the National Identity Management Commission provides yet another opportunity to highlight our commitment to national development and nation building. As the pilot Bank of the NIMC project, Access Bank leads other financial institutions into the new era of service efficiency that comes with the introduction of the National e-ID Card," said Herbert Wigwe, Access Bank's Chief Executive Officer.

According to Wigwe, Nigerians will begin to enjoy first class payment solutions hinged on electronic transactions as a result of improved identity management in the country.

"We are excited by the challenge of maintaining our leadership status as the most innovative Bank in Nigeria and are encouraged to champion initiatives that support financial inclusion as well as propel our great nation to greater heights," he added.

In 1979, the National Identity Card Scheme was first conceived, but the project did not see the light of day. In 2004, the scheme was revived and about 54 million Nigerians were registered. However, due, largely, to corruption and mismanagement of funds, the scheme failed to fulfill official expectations. Still, in 2011, N30 billion was approved by the Federal Executive Council for the first phase of another National identity Scheme.

After an initial release of N5 billion to the NIMC in 2012, preparations for the scheme commenced. Critics pointed to past failures of such venture and noted that the NIMC's collection of biometric data was unnecessary, since other government agencies like the Independent National Electronic Commission (INEC) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had recently captured similar information from millions of Nigeria.

Public pessimism however did not stop the Jonathan-led administration from pursuing the national identification scheme. And with the recent launch of the card by the President himself, the doubters should be ready to eat their words.

The new cards carry two photographs of the holder, and a chip storing an individual's biometric information, including ten fingerprints and an Iris scan using a system developed by Cryptovision. The card also carries a National Identity Number (NIN), which is the Nigerian equivalent of America's Social Security Number. An individual's NIN is unique to him or her.

More interestingly, the NIMC has collaborated with MasterCard, a global payments and technology company that connects billions of consumers, thousands of financial institutions, millions of merchants, governments and businesses worldwide. MasterCard is providing a prepaid element on each card, which would arm millions of Nigerians without bank accounts, with a global portal to conduct diverse financial transactions. According to the Central Bank of Nigeria, only about 30% of the country's 167 million inhabitants have access to banking services. The MasterCard collaboration is set to skyrocket that percentage.

The electronic national identity cards can be used as an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) card - to withdraw cash from MasterCard certified ATMs worldwide. It can also be used to carry out financial transactions on the internet - paying for goods online, transferring money from one account to another.

Although other banking institutions are expected to join in the nearest future, the national e-ID card has Access Bank as the pilot issuer institution. "Access Bank is a supporter and promoter of innovative ideas that would improve the quality of lives of Nigerians. This initiative provides another opportunity to highlight our commitment to national development and nation building," Herbert Wigwe, has said. 13 million cards will be issued during the first enrollment phase and at least 100 million Nigerians who are 16 years and older are expected to be enrolled subsequently.

"I am happy that this important milestone of the rollout of the National Identity Management System has been realized today," President Jonathan said during the launch in Abuja. "I am impressed with the quality of the eID card and the work of the corporate partners that made it possible. I commend especially MasterCard, and Access Bank Plc, as well as the Commission (NIMC) for achieving a world-class product."

"The card is not only a means of certifying your identity, but also a personal database repository and payment card, all in your pocket," the President also noted. "I have taken keen interest in this project, primarily because of the pervasive impact it can have on every facet of the socio-economic fabric of our dear nation."

The success of the scheme would bring about a unified national identity database, which would help the government in planning and cutting costs. NIMC is working with several government agencies to integrate and harmonize all identity databases including the Driver's License, Voter Registration, Health Insurance, Tax, SIM Card Registration, and the National Pension Commission, into a single, shared services platform.

"The National eID program enables us to create an optimized common platform for Nigerian citizens to easily interact with the various government agencies and to transact electronically," the Director-General of NIMC, Onyemenam has said.

"For the first time, the national eID will have a payment solution: something that is unprecedented in the world, and that's why so many critics believed it can never happen," Onyemenam also pointed out. "Very few public sector institutions have this kind of certification. We opted for this as part of the credibility-built measures, as we know so many people have lost faith in the ability of the public sector to create a basic and support infrastructure to get this identity management issue behind us," he added.

MasterCard's Business Head for West Africa, Omoke Ojumuyide said that "MasterCard does not handle the biometric data. We are strictly confined to the payment technology on the chip."

Although he believes improvements are still needed, Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo was nonetheless delighted that Nigerians are set to enjoy the wide-ranging benefits of a National identification Database. "I hope that as time goes on, we will be able to include blood group of each individual so that if anybody has accident and he needs blood transfusion, it is from his identity card that you will know what blood group and what type of blood such person requires," he said.

"It is a document that every Nigerian deserves and which is even late in coming. But we thank God that after the initial step in 1979, more than 30 years ago, we have come back. I hope that this step that we are taking now will be sustained and will serve all the needs of Nigerians. It will also help us to maintain a little bit of security."

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Source: AllAfrica

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