It is not without good reason that Nigeria and Nigerians are unduly maligned for crimes committed in heinous proportion in other climes such as drug trafficking, Internet and credit card frauds, among others. The reason is simple. Nigeria is among the countries in the world where there is inadequate social infrastructure to combat such crimes effectively through a national identity database which empowers security agencies to track, prevent or apprehend those committing such crimes, and to also keep serial offenders under surveillance.

Until the recent introduction of the e-passport in Nigeria, ordinary Nigerians, as well as the criminal minded ones, and even non-Nigerians, especially those from West and  Central Africa, can be in possession of as many as two to three Nigerian passports procured through the right channel, under different aliases. This ease of procurement and duplicity of access is not peculiar to the National Passport; it applies to other vital national identification means such as the National Drivers’ License and the National Identity Card, thereby eroding the integrity of these national identification medium.

The negative effect of this disquieting development is unquantifiable in proportion. It has not only tainted the image of Nigeria abroad, it has also affected the growth and development of the Nigeria economy negatively. For instance, this duplicity has seriously impeded the flow of credit in the country because the identity and data provided by most Nigerians are unverifiable. Economies with good credit flow have functional national identification system, through which the financial services industry is able to address the issue of fraud and to be able to identify people correctly.

For this same reason, Nigerians cannot engage in e-commerce transactions. Nigerians with credit cards cannot purchase goods and services online because most online merchants and payment systems will not process purchases from cards by customers with Nigerian Internet protocol addresses. However, the decision of the Federal Government to create a functional national identity system through the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), within three years, may be the turning point for Nigeria and Nigerians.

A functional National identity management system has several benefits which include streamlining biometric-linked projects in the public and privates sector, eliminating multiple and ghost identities, reducing identity theft and related fraud (advance fee fraud), enhancing the work of law enforcement agencies, financial inclusion and development of financial services sector, creating new economic and employment opportunities, among others.

It would be recalled that government enacted the NIMC Act in 2007 to empower the commission to develop, manage, maintain and operate an effective National Identity Management System (NIMS). Part of the commission’s brief includes harmonization and integration of existing identification databases in government agencies, integrating them into the National Identity Database. The act also saddled NIMC with the task of setting standards and procedures for the capture, processing, storage and use of demographic and biometric data in the country in furtherance of its mandate.

A key requirement of the National Identity Management System is the capture of biometrics and necessary demographic data of all Nigerians who are 16 years old and above, in a manner that would facilitate enrolment, data de-duplication and reliable identity authentication and verification (on-line real time and off-line), across digital platforms using the unique National Identification Number (NIN) System.

The enrolment exercise will precede the issuance of the unique National Identity Numbers and chip- based identity cards, which will in turn drive the adoption of standardized biometric, demographic and verification procedures across public and private institutions in key sectors of the economy, leading to harmonization, integration and interoperability across many systems. Usually, governments across the world use the NIN for national planning in the areas of job creation, taxation, healthcare and the delivery of essential public sector services. The private sector, especially, the financial sub-sector will also benefit tremendously from the initiative, which will validate Know-Your-Customer (KYC) processes, thereby reducing financial crimes and the unusually high incidence of identity theft in Nigeria.

To achieve this, the National Identity Management Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chams Consortium in 2010. The consortium has the mandate to collect basic demographic and biometric data of Nigerians across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, which are the prerequisite needed to create, operate and manage a national Identity database, to provide standardized identity attribute that will foster the orderly development of an identity sector in Nigeria.

The Chams Consortium was among the local and international companies that participated in the transparent and competitive bid for the NIMS project, coordinated by the NIMC. The competitive bidding produced the Chams Consortium comprising Chams Plc, Nextzon Communications and SuperCard Limited, as one of the institutions that will implement the project through the Public Private Partnership model. Chams Plc, the consortium lead is a homegrown and leading Information and Communication Technology services provider to public and private sector players in Nigeria. Its business concern spans the provision of infrastructure to drive e-payment, transactions and identity management to public and private sector institutions.  Already, the Chams Consortium has a biometric database of over 2million Nigeria from other identity projects it has carried out, prior to its contract with the NIMC.

The Chams Consortium the mandate to implement the NIMS project on a Build, Transfer and Operate basis, which spans conceptualization, design, development, execution and management of the front-end operations of the proposed systems. The Consortium will deploy biometric data capturing machines to enroll Nigerians, issue multi-purpose smart cards thereafter, which will serve a range of purposes, especially as data to be stored on the chip includes personal information, biometrics, residency reference numbers for immigration e-passports, and driver’s license. The consortium will also provide card acceptance devices, among others services, with the aim of recouping its investment in 12 years.

Demola Aladekomo, Chairman, Chams Consortium Limited said his institution has shown faith in the project by committing resources to building infrastructures such as the ChamsCity digital malls located in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, which has the capacity to enroll thousands of Nigerians on a daily basis. “We are very elated at the near commencement of a project that will be of immense benefit to Nigeria and Nigerians. This project will provide job opportunities for Nigerians, because they will be engaged in the data capturing and smart card production exercise, which will definitely boost our country’s knowledge capacity base, making us all better off for it, instead of ceding it’s execution to foreign countries who will take such expertise and knowledge base outside of Nigeria.

“For a country with over 150 million people, with immense resources like Nigeria not to have a sound, secure and sustainable identity system that will stand the test of time, is a scandal. Therefore, we are committed towards creating a new beginning that would lead the way in image and identity management for the people of this country. We are grateful to government for this opportunity, which requires a lot of money to execute successfully. However, in conjunction with Nextzon, our strategic partner, we have been able to source the required funds for the successful takeoff of the project. We believe that this project will introduce a breath of new and fresh air in the identity management system for Nigerians,” he said.

On his part, Director General of NIMC, Dr Chris Onyemenam said the commission will use highly developed biometric technology to distinctively and clearly identify all registered individuals, through a database that will help streamline processes, enhance and make quality service delivery across government agencies and parastatals a reality, while also aiding planning and resource allocation at all tiers of government. “The project also epitomizes government desire to develop and deepen the consumer credit sector, facilitate the enforcement of existing/extant laws and meet global practices, facilitate financial inclusion, development of commerce generally, harmonization of identification schemes and the national security among others.

“Identity Card is not the focus of NIMC, it is the database. The database is government’s responsibility because of its sensitive nature. What we have done is to reduce the cost of this project to government by seeking private sector partnerships in terms of funding and implementation. Our private sector partners will fund the project, collect data, populate the data centre, and issue the general multi-purpose smart cards after the database has been established, while also providing card acceptance devices with which verification can be done.

“In other countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America, they have electronic databases that are running on the same principle.  In Nigeria however, we do not have that. The one we have is the finger print identity and it focuses only on issuing cards alone, not identity management. We are now working on the creation of a database which will be all encompassing,” Onyemenam disclosed.