How desperate applicants encourage extortion in NIN enrolment
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INVESTIGATIONS by The ICIR have shown that desperation by applicants seeking to obtain the National Identity Number (NIN) was a major factor in the extortion’s case trailing the NIN enrolment exercise. And some rogue enrolment officers of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) are capitalising on the situation to enrich themselves.
But the investigations also revealed that some applicants go out of their way to offer ‘bribes’ to enrolment officers to ‘quicken’ the process in their favour.
NIMC had commenced enrolment and issuance of the NIN in 2012, about nine years ago. But many Nigerians did not bother to acquire the NIN until the federal government, in September 2018, approved its mandatory use from January 1, 2019. As a result, the NIN became a mandatory requirement for access to vital government services such as international passport and drivers license issuance. The NIN also became necessary for pension, health insurance, payment of taxes and participation in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). Following the development, crowds started converging at NIMC offices, and other registration centres across the country as Nigerians suddenly felt an urgent need for the NIN. The desperation and urgency heightened when the federal government in December 2020 ordered integrating the NIN and subscriber identity module (SIM) cards of all active mobile telephone lines in the country.
Huge crowds gathered at various registration centres, including NIMC offices, in violation of COVID-19 protocols as panicky mobile telephone subscribers who feared that their lines would be blocked made frantic efforts to obtain the NIN.
The situation led to a sharp rise in reports of extortion in the NIN enrolment exercise.
However, NIN applicants and NIMC workers traded blames over which party was responsible for the extortion.
Applicants who spoke with The ICIR said some NIMC enrolment officers demand monetary gratification before attending to persons who want to obtain the NIN.
But NIMC workers, on their part, say ‘desperate’ applicants, who are in urgent need of the NIN, are the ones who go out of their way to influence the enrolment officers by offering cash.
The ICIR reporter visited several enrolment centres in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, particularly those located at the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) office in Kubwa; Public Service Institute (PSI), along Kubwa Expressway; and the Federal Secretariat, in the Central Area.
Enrolment at NIMC headquarters in Abuja was stopped, while 20 centres reactivated within the FCT, from January 18, 2021. The development was largely informed by the large crowd gathered at the commission’s headquarters, in violation of COVID-19 guidelines.
Checks by The ICIR revealed that reports of extortion, which had marred the NIN enrolment in the past, leading to the dismissal of some NIMC officials in 2019, and suspension of another set of workers in January 2020, have continued to dog the exercise even with the introduction of new centres which was meant to make the process easier for both applicants and the enrolment officers.
- NIMC says NIN enrolment is free but enrolment forms are for sale at some centres
NMC had, in a notice published on Twitter on December 31, 2020, emphasised that ‘NIN enrolment is free’. The statement urged applicants to report extortion cases, stressing that punishment for the offence is seven years imprisonment upon conviction.
However, The ICIR noticed that the NIN enrolment form is being sold to applicants at some of the enrolment centres.
At the enrolment centre located in the Public Service Institute (PSI), a federal government agency along the Kubwa expressway, the forms would only be made available to an applicant after payment of N50 or N100.
Applicants who asked for the enrolment forms were referred to a woman, who clutched a large envelope which contained the materials. When our correspondent visited the centre, the woman was sitting among a group of tired, weary-looking applicants who were making efforts to enrol for the NIN. Although the woman refused to disclose her identity, our correspondent learnt that she was not a staff of NIMC, and had no official responsibility in the enrolment exercise.
The middle-aged woman, who appeared to be an ‘agent’ of some NIMC enrolment officers, collected the sum of N100 before releasing a copy of the correspondent’s enrolment form.
A lawyer, who introduced himself as Isaac, also paid N100 for a copy of the form.
“I am a lawyer but can you imagine that I had to pay to obtain the form just because I have an urgent need of the NIN for some official matters?” Isaac complained when our correspondent wondered why, as a lawyer, he did not insist that the form was not for sale.
“Whether N50 or N100 the amount might appear to be small but think of the number of people coming every day to collect forms and you see that some people are making good money illegally from all these. But that is not my concern at the moment,” Isaac added.
Some other applicants, who spoke with our correspondent, shared the same view. But it was also obvious that the clear and present need was to obtain the NIN, and as soon as possible for all of them.
- Applicants advised to ‘discuss’ with enrolment officers, and do ‘something’, to quicken process
NIMC recently adopted a booking system for the exercise, whereby applicants are assigned a date when they are to come to finalise their enrolment. However, the date is not sacrosanct – some applicants told The ICIR that they reported on the given date only to be assigned a further date. Also, The ICIR learnt that, in some cases, applicants are enrolled without going through the booking procedure.
At the Public Service Institute enrolment centre, on February 11, 2021, an enrolment officer informed applicants, who were yet to be assigned a date for their enrolment, that they should wait until April 5, 2021, which was given as the next available date as all other days before then had been fully booked.
The ICIR correspondent observed as the group of applicants appealed to the enrolment officers for more prompt attention. At that point, the woman who was selling the enrolment forms advised some of the applicants to ‘discuss’ with the enrolment officers. She suggested that they could receive urgent attention if they do ‘something’.
“Calm down, when they (enrolment officers) comes out again, you can discuss with them. If you do something they can help you,” the woman selling enrolment forms told the applicants.
It was the same situation at the enrolment centre at Federal Secretariat, Abuja, where our correspondent saw several applicants engaged in frantic efforts to enrol for the NIN.
Our correspondent gathered that, on an unusual arrangement, the security personnel stationed at the centre could ensure a speedy enrolment for applicants who are willing to cooperate.
- Desperate applicants seek ways to influence enrolment officers
At the Federal Secretariat enrolment centre, on February 11, 2021, a woman, who identified herself as Sarah, told our correspondent that she was waiting for an opportunity to ‘discuss business’ with any of the enrolment officers so that she can have her NIN enrolment ‘immediately’.
Sarah, who said she works with a private firm, explained that she was earlier booked for enrollment on a previous date but could not register for the NIN on the assigned day. She disclosed that she has been coming to the enrolment centre all through the week without making any headway in her quest to obtain the NIN.
“I got here today before 7:00 am, I have been coming everyday for the past one week,” Sarah told The ICIR‘s correspondent around 2:00 pm. The woman, who was apparently very hungry, was having a soft drink bottle with some snacks. She explained that she had not had any food since that morning.
“I am ready to pay money to ensure that I do my enrolment today,” Sarah said, with a determined expression on her face. When she realised that she was speaking with a journalist after our correspondent requested a formal interview, Sarah became evasive. Still, she admitted that she had been made to understand that enrolment officers could give her urgent attention if she offers money.
But when asked if she and other applicants who go out of their way to offer cash for the enrolment are not the ones corrupting the process, Sarah was quick to claim that NIMC workers intentionally make things difficult for applicants to make money from them.
- NIMC workers union leader exonerates colleagues, says going by dictionary definition, there is no extortion
Lucky Asekokhai, leader of the NIMC staff union, told The ICIR that his colleagues were not to blame for cases of extortion being recorded in the enrolment exercise.
Asekokhai not only insisted there was nothing like extortion going on, but he also suggested that applicants are the ones offering cash inducement to enrolment officers.
“Somebody will come and tell you I want to enrol, and there is no electricity and no fuel to power the generator and the person that wants to enrol need the NIN urgently. If the staff tell the applicant, there is no fuel and says he wants to buy fuel, the enrolment officer will not say no. Still, by the time that applicant gets the NIN, he will go out there and tell everybody that he paid for it and that is how you will now hear people accusing NIMC staff of extortion,” the union leader observed.
Noting that applicants are not being compelled to bring money for the NIN enrolment, Asekokhai added, “I am still not seeing any extortion – when I use my dictionary to define extortion, it means the money you collected from somebody with force. That is the dictionary definition, including the Oxford dictionary and Webster dictionary. But when you come to the enrolment centres, what is happening is different. If there is no electricity, NIMC is not the one that produces electricity. Now you come to enrol, and you need the NIN urgently to link with your SIM, how do we go about it? Won’t we look for fuel? By the time we buy fuel and say ‘use this one to support the fuel’, will you call it extortion? To me, it is not extortion. I keep telling people it is not by force, anybody telling you to bring money report the person. In fact, in December, we sacked three people who collected money from applicants. They were sacked.
“The people that are extorting money are not NIMC staff. In Kano, a group of people came together, and they were collecting money from applicants and giving out fake NIN. When the information got to us, we made investigations, and those people were arrested, but anybody who does not know the difference between those people and us will say NIMC staff were extorting.”
“NIMC staff are not extorting. The people that are offering money are not being compelled to bring money and secondly, they need the service urgently; that is why you hear about money. To avoid these stories, I have educated my people that anybody that comes and there is no electricity you tell the person to go home. We are not AEDC that generates power but whenever you come, and there is the electricity. I can tell you that the NIMC staff are not extorting. Those that are extorting are not NIMC staff, they are miscreants,” Asekokhai insisted.
* NIMC management opened account to receive money donated by individuals, organisations, states and local governments to support NIN enrolment
The ICIR investigation also revealed that, officially, funding of the enrolment exercise is supported by donations, monetary contributions and grants from individuals and public institutions, including states and local governments.
The NIMC management, in an internal memo dated March 19, 2019, provided an account number for the collection of the money. According to the internal memo, the CBN account – National Identity Management Commission, 0020451061028, signed by Abdulhamid Umar, general manager, operations, is where all monetary support for the enrollment should be paid into.
So far, about 46 million Nigerians have enrolled for the NIN. But many more Nigerians are still struggling to register for the NIN before April 6, 2021, the new deadline given by the federal government for the NIN-SIM integration.