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Promoting Good Governance.

INVESTIGATION: Extortion, power outage, ‘budget of food’, staff apathy… the national identity card project is failing

On August 1, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) announced that from January 2018, no Nigerian would be able to procure or renew an international passport without providing a National Identification Number (NIN). Coincidentally, that announcement came as ‘FISAYO SOYOMBO, Editor of the ICIR, was rounding off an investigation into the national ID enrolment process. His findings were discouraging. Extortion of members of the public, blackouts at enrolment centres, non-production of ID cards, staff disgruntlement and a budget that is heavy on food and wine but low on vital needs all prove that the project hasn’t fulfilled the objectives for which it was conceived 10 years ago.


Won s’epe fun o ni? Oo p’oo r’owo mi ni?” It is the driver bellowing in raw Ibadan accent, wondering if the road user behind him is “cursed” and if he “didn’t see his hand”. In Ibadan, it is de rigueur to drive cars without a functioning indicator, so long the driver is willing to flap his outstretched hand when turning left, and the passenger seated by him is willing to oblige in the case of a right turn.

A short, bald, old man with full Ogbomoso tribal marks, the driver decelerates on the dusty road and pulls over by a structure that, from the outside, looks like a kiosk. To the left is a wooden bench sitting three middle-aged men sipping dry gin in the scorching mid-day sun; and to the right, a door left ajar plus a ragged generator in a state of extended disuse.

The driver indicates it is time his passenger disembarked but the journalist-passenger imagines there has been a mix-up: only a carpenter’s shop can be around here; this ‘kiosk’ can surely not be the Ibadan North-East Local Government, Iwo Road office of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC). But it is.

Anti, won fe register o, an elderly woman hollers at the NIMC official within.

NO FUEL DONOR, NO REGISTRATION

“I’m sorry uncle, registration is not possible today,” says the fair-complexioned lady in a courteous, in fact apologetic, tone — the type that is uncharacteristic of Nigerian public service officials.

“We have not had power supply for some weeks now, so we have only been operating based on the goodwill of applicants who donate fuel to us. But we have not been that lucky today; no one has donated fuel to us.”

She directs the journalist — although she thinks he is just a random member of the public — to “special centres” where electricity supply is constant.

“You won’t have problems registering at the University College Hospital (UCH) because light is guaranteed,” she says. “Likewise the University of Ibadan (UI). You can go to either of these two special centres on any day of your choice.”

But UI and UCH are centres for the elite — for the professors, lecturers, undergraduates and postgraduates — the people who can pepper NIMC officers with verbose, grandiloquent English, who have the clouts to challenge NIMC’s systemic anomalies and the stage to expose them to the public. What about the NIMC centres for the common man — the ones at Beere, Oje, Oja-Oba, Ona Ara, those people who ‘have no one but God’?

N200 FUEL CONTRIBUTION FOR “FREE’’ REGISTRATION

It is somewhat strange that at least three NIMC staff do not know that the Ona Ara Local Government registration centre is not located inside the LG secretariat itself, like the Iwo Road centre. A rigorous road journey — initially in a car but subsequently on a motorcycle — through Beere and Akanran to the Ona Ara LG secretariat turns out a fruitless journey, despite a downpour neither spares the cyclist nor his passenger. Following a detour, again by motorcycle, we finally locate the NIMC office at Ona Ara, arriving approximately two hours before the 4pm daily deadline for registering applicants. After a one-and-a-half-hour wait, the screeching sound of the generator comes to an abrupt end and a deafening silence descends upon the building.

“We’re out of fuel so it’s over for today,” declares a robustly-built man who had been carrying himself with the swagger of a supervisor. It is a news that devastates an aged couple who had been in the queue for more than two hours. The wife, ostensibly in her late sixties, wobbles towards one of the NIMC officers to register her displeasure with the development. She is told to return the following day, in the morning rather than the afternoon, and with a N200 contribution towards the fueling of the generator. The N200 fuel fee is not specific to the Ona Ara registration centre; it is common to hundreds of centres scattered all over the country where power supply is a challenge.

TWO UNCOMMON NIGERIANS

The situation is far worse at Ibadan South East Local Government centre, located at the LG office inside Mapo Hall, Oja Oba. For “some months” — predating back to July when this visit was made the building housing the NIMC registration centre lacked power. Three people confirmed at different times that the situation was brought to the notice of the LG Chairman but nothing was done. Therefore, for the identity card registration to take place, members of the public contribute money to fuel the generator serving the centre.

“We’re done for today,” the NIMC official says as he switches off the generator at about 3pm on the day of the visit. The reason, he explains, is that he needs to save the remaining fuel to “pull the data” he had gathered all day.

Pulling the data is as important, if not more important, than the enrolment itself. Now, when registrants have been successfully enrolled, they are given what is called a Tracking Slip — a paper they must present roughly a week later to collect their National Identification Number (NIN). The information on the Tracking Slip is stored at NIMC’s back end, and this is what the enrolment officer uses to generate — or pull, in NIMC lingo — the NIN. Therefore, to register an applicant and not pull the NIN is waste of time, both for the officer and for the applicant.

A sudden agitation descends upon the waiting room. A young lady who has waited for long — long enough to have powered her dead phone to roughly 50 percent charge from a socket in the waiting room — responds with a strikingly long hiss. “Why didn’t you tell us from start you didn’t have enough fuel?” she yells. “Why waste my f**king time?”

The enrolment officer, a calm, clean-shaven, soft-spoken, simply but neatly dressed young man with a suspiciously innocent mien — one look at him and you can almost conclude he is a ‘pastor’ — attempts to placate the angry lady, who, rather than hear him out, angrily pulls out her phone from the socket and swings her voluptuous, scantily-covered hips out of the door.

“Okay, we will contribute fuel money,” offers another waiting applicant, as though saying we’re not all as ill-mannered as that one who just ignored you.

“No, I cannot collect money from you. Never!” the enrolment officer cuts in. “The only thing you can do is buy the fuel and empty it in the generator. But for me to collect your money, never.”

This NIMC official is surely not your everyday Nigerian. He belongs to a narrow clique of NIMC enrolment officers who will not demand a kobo from members of the public, and will not accept when offered. From Oyo and Anambra States, where many centres were physically visited, there were two shining lights, the other a fair-complexioned, pint-size woman who supervises the NIMC registration at Idemili North Local Government, Anambra State. One encounter with her and it is clear she loves her job; her banters are so intense, her passion so contagious and are personality so vivacious that even a sadist who enters her office must emerge from it with laughter.

30% EXTORTION FOR ‘OGA AT THE TOP’

However, in numerous centres across the country, NIMC officials have developed the habit of extorting the people, mandating them to pay between N200 and N1,000 for fuel or for lamination, which ordinarily should cost no more than N100.

Dozie Chukwu (not real names, to protect him from victimisation), a repentant NIMC official in Anambra State who says “this is not the kind of livelihood I hoped for”, discusses the practice extensively.

“For my level, Level 8, I earn N71,000. From that N71,000, I am expected to fund my centre. They don’t give you anything to cushion the effects of the expenses on your budget,” Chukwu says blandly, though it didn’t stop his despondence from being spotted.

“In the past, we were given N10,000 to N15,000 monthly to run the centres. But for more than a year, if not two, the subventions have stopped. You are supposed to buy fuel for a generator, service it if it gets spoilt, buy paper, buy data to send your work and print it.

“To make things easier, we had to tell the applicants to pay N200 for lamination of the NIN slips; when you’re done, you have some money left — your spoil of war — something to make yourself happy after the stress.

“Then the most annoying part, which I think most people are scared of and will not tell you even if you went round all the centres in Anambra State, is that you are expected to remit 30% of whatever you make to the state.

“Now, you collect N200, you laminate the NIN slip; by the time you remit 30% to the centre, then there is nothing to share for the three or four of you at the centre. Therefore, people started increasing the amount of money. That is why you go to some centres, they collect ₦500 while others charge up to N1,000.

“So, because some staff have gotten used to this extra cash, every centre is self-sufficient; everybody is relaxed, nobody is complaining — because at the end of the day you go home with N3,000 or N4,000 in your pocket and you still have money to settle the oga at the top in the state. If you don’t do that, they won’t give you the NIN slip.”

ABUJA PART OF THE EXTORTION SCHEME

The NIMC headquarters at Wuse, Abuja

When the extortion first started, Chukwu’s superiors told him the proceeds were used to run the state office; that the state office was no longer getting subventions from Abuja. But even the state offices are now involved in the practice; they make their own money and remit to Abuja. Therefore, he thinks “the money we’re remitting to the state” has no other use than the “funding of an individual’s pocket”. It is a practice he has long been fed up with, one he “can’t even admit” to his child that he was once part of.

“Presently, there is misunderstanding between my colleague and I because I told him we’re stopping this [extortion]; I’m tired. I told him we’re stopping this ‘give me N100 here, give me N200 there’; I’m tired. If you want to effect change, you start from yourself, then you start pushing it forward. When we stopped, he said he would no longer work with me, instead he would leave the centre,” Chukwu says, penitence etched in his face.

“If a state submits its report of normal daily registration, I’m not sure Abuja will not be willing to provide any funds because they know that states are extorting applicants. But like I tell most of my colleagues, the day one of them is caught, their superiors will not defend them. That is why we’ve tried to talk to people; let’s stop this extortion. If we don’t have the money to run centres, let’s shut them down.

“But the practice is blossoming because nobody wants to talk. Secondly, no one wants to step out of his comfort zone, probably because you have established yourself in a particular centre and you know how much you make in a day. You won’t want to be sent to a new place.

“Personally, I have said it a million and one times: I’m not interested in this kind of money. I want my take home to be something that can sustain me, then I can save up. Most civil servants don’t get the opportunity for these daily extortion, but they receive other allowances that come quarterly or monthly. I have been here for four years, since 2013, and I have never received anything called allowance; I don’t know what it is. I get only my salary and you expect me, as a family man, to survive on that, for that long? It doesn’t work. That is the root of all the problem — no pension, no leave allowance, nothing!”

Asked what he had done to bring these concerns to the notice of the NIMC management, Chukwu says he is helpless — as are hundreds of other staff who are wary they could be forced to transit from disgruntled employees to ex-employees. That fear stems from a previous attempt to organise themselves into a union, which was deviously truncated by NIMC.

Indeed, the management played along, egging them on as they fixed an election date for a union, in conjunction with the Association of Senior Civil Servants (ASSCS). Suddenly, as the election date approached, NIMC struck the shepherd and the sheep was in no time scattered.

“All of a sudden, the whole thing turned upside down,” says Chukwu regretfully. “You know, we all thought that once the union came, it was the end of most of the anomalies we had been putting up with.

“Suddenly, there were phone calls from Abuja proscribing the election. Before we knew it, the man who was set to emerge Union President was transferred out of Anambra to Bayelsa State, without any explanation.

“That was how the agitation for union issue started fading, until it finally came to a halt. It became clear to all NIMC staff in the state that if anyone complained, the least punishment would be a transfer out of the state at sudden notice and without relocation allowance.”

MAKING — AND BREAKING —  THE LAW

Engr. Aliyu Aziz, DG of NIMC

Having paid 30% of his extorted funds to the state — and watched his colleagues do the same — Chukwu no longer takes the NIMC headquarters seriously when it releases guidelines for operations. Indeed, NIMC outlawed the very act its staff, from the headquarters to state levels, are involved in.

In a document titled: ‘LEGAL AND REGULATORY COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENT FOR EMPLOYEES, CONSULTANTS, LICENSES, AGENTS AND SERVICE PROVIDERS OF THE COMMISSION & THE GENERAL PUBLIC’, the commission prohibits “all staff, consultants, service providers and security personnel and cleaners” from “collecting money and/or obtaining favours’ for the purpose of providing access to the commission, services of enrolment, card collection, activation or for the purpose of granting/obtaining a contract award”. Quoting “Sections 14, 20 and 21 of the ICPC Act, and Section 10 and 12 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, NIMC says the punishment for offenders will be dismissal and a seven-year jail term.

However, in at least three internal memos seen by the ICIR, NIMC encourages its staff to collect “material and financial support from their host state governments, political office holders and other prominent personalities”, and pay such monies “to the dedicated NIMC state account and not to the state coordinator’s account or any individual’s account”. The quoted memo was dated September 7, 2017 and released by the General Manager, Operations, signed by Florence Oloruntade; the NIMC DG/CEO was copied.

The ‘Legal and Regulatory’ document also says that “heads of Departments, regional and state coordinators, local government and special centre supervisors” who engage in “non-disclosure, diversion of financial aid and or material support to the commission from states, local governments and other persons or organisations without approval from the DG/CEO” will be dismissed in line with Section 13 of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act.

The violations of all these provisions are ongoing. For example, at the NIMC centre at Aiyekale in Ibadan, Oyo State, an official, unaware of the presence of the journalist, tells a prospective applicant, who does not have a valid ID card, to pay N500.

“Registering normally costs N2,000,” he says. “But because you do not have a valid ID, we will have to generate one for you. That one will cost you N500.”

DEDUCTION WITHOUT PENSION, COMPUTERS WITHOUT AIR CONDITIONERS

Decorative! This AC is not working.

In another document, titled the ‘NIMC Personnel Policy’, the commission states thus: “To succeed the system must be secured, have integrity, accessibility, reliability and confidentiality as its core”. However, in its relationship with staff, it fails to exhibit the afore-listed attributes. One example: NIMC lists pension and leave allowance as one of 20 fringe benefits that its full-time staff are entitled to. But, for at least three years, its staff have received neither.

Despite managing to scupper the formation of a staff union in Anambra and transferring the potential union President out of the state, NIMC states in its policy document: “In accordance with Nigerian Labour Law, members of staff of the NIMC are free to become members of Trade Unions or may elect not to belong to any Trade Union. Staff members may register and obtain membership in the Union that is appropriate for their role and position at the NIMC.”

Contrary to its claim of “focusing on building a high performing workforce capable of delivering mission for the long term”, NIMC’s offices are anaemic and the conditions of work are triggers for low workforce performance. At the NIMC office at Ibadan North-East, only one of three computers is functioning. One has been moved away from the centre, while the other has been left unattended to in its dysfunctional state. With two of three computers non-functional, it is unsurprising that the air-conditioner is spoilt. Since hot environments impede the smooth functioning of computers, the NIMC officers usually roll up the window blinds. As revealed by pictures taken undercover, only two of the five bulbs in the office are working. Even the generator servicing the office is older than NIMC itself; it’s been in use since 2003!

Now, to the most bizarre of all. NIMC warns its staff against “illegal usage” of the Internet for “unofficial purposes”. “All internet and email services are provided for professional use only,” it says. “Very limited personal or non-business use is permissible.” Failure to adhere to this warning, it adds, would see the commission “invoke disciplinary measures” against the culprits.

But the NIMC is only trying to regulate the use of an internet connection that does not exist. So says the enrolment officers who spoke with the ICIR, numbering six in all.

“What internet?” one, based in Enugu State, asks derogatively. “The connection in question is the VSAT [Very Small Aperture Terminal]. But Internet connectivity with VSAT is so poor that we use resort to our personal phones or dongles to get the job done.”

“We’re the one supplying Internet to NIMC,” adds another, who works in Ogun State. “We’re the one who should be invoking disciplinary measures against NIMC for making us use our personal Internet for official purposes.”

NATIONAL ID — A FAILING PROJECT?

Don’t be deceived; that computer isn’t working.

As expected, these inefficiencies, mixed with staff disillusionment, are threatening to derail the targets of the identity card project.

“Before, if you didn’t meet the security criteria, a centre won’t be set up for you. The lighting must be perfect, there must be air conditioner or fan to cool the systems. There would be burglary; you don’t dismantle a system after setting up in a certain way,” Chukwu recalls.

“But this is not so today. Now, we carry systems in our hands; I’m used to carrying a backpack around with my laptop and keyboard inside. Now, you carry everything on your head; anywhere you see space, even if it lacks the standards, you just perch and use it the way it is.

“Previously, there was something called ‘Source Documents’ which the enrolment officer presents to show the work he has done. But now people register anyhow, anywhere; I think that right now, staff are just doing it for survival. It’s no more about the standards; the job has lost its taste.

“This was not why I signed up for the job in the first place; the quality of the job is not important anymore. I can come here with my system now and just set up. NIMC is not even interested in checking the quality of job again; anything that comes in, they use: wrong fingerprints, wrong NIN and all those stuff.”

Nigeria’s quest for a single, unified database of all its citizens led to the birth of the NIMC Act 2007, which provides for the establishment of the NIMC, empowered to: (i) foster the orderly development of an identity sector in Nigeria; (ii) issue a National Identity Smart Card to every registered person 16 years and above; and (iii) provide a secure means to access the National Identity Database so that an individual can irrefutably assert his/her identity.

Clearly, the first isn’t happening. The identity registration process is in a shambles at majority of the locations where applicants are not being extorted, as admitted by an enrolment officer in Ibadan: “The work environment is very poor; most of our offices don’t look the way a normal office should. Apart from that, we lack chairs for the applicants. People, both aged and young, stand in queues for hours until it is their turn. When the applicants don’t buy fuel for the generator, we can’t work.”

The second function — issuing ID cards to registered persons — isn’t happening as well. Moses Adegboyega, a retired civil servant who registered in Abeokuta in 2014 — three long years ago — still hasn’t received his ID card. Okafor Chigozie, a recent graduate of the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka, registered in 2013. Four years on, his ID isn’t ready. Babawale Olakunle, an alumnus of the University of Ibadan, registered in Ibadan, also in 2013. Like others, he is still awaiting his card. In fact, he says not one ID card has been produced in the whole of Ibadan North-East, where he registered.

“My friends and I did our registration back in 2013, at the Ibadan North-East Local Government; because we all live in Iwo Road, we went as a group, the five of us,” he says.

“I can confirm to you that no single human being in Ibadan North-East has received the ID card from 2013 till date. This is because there is hardly a month when at least one of the five of us didn’t go to their office to complain. Once, when we threatened to foment trouble, other people in the LG begged us, saying no one had been issued a card since 2013.”

SPECIAL CANDIDATES AND SPECIAL CENTRES

Ex-president Goodluck Jonathan got his card in 2014, but what about ‘ordinary’ Nigerians?

While registrants in other parts of Oyo State are in endless wait for their ID cards, a privileged few get theirs — as it usually is with almost every public item in the country. These are the people who register at special centres, such as the University of Ibadan (UI), the University College Hospital (UCH) and The Polytechnic, Ibadan.

“I registered in 2014 and I have my ID card already,” says a UI professor who asked not to be named. “They say UI is a special centre. You stand a good chance of getting your card if you register here — same way you won’t experience the electricity problem that dogs registration in other centres.”

In Anambra, the case is not so much about special centres but about ‘special registrants’. Production of cards was halted more than a year ago due to lack of funds, but some people are not affected.

“The first batch that was produced, the cards were issued for free by MasterCard. And because they were issuing it free, no revenue was coming, so they could not acquire new ones,” Chukwu explains.

“I know some people who registered in 2013 and 2014, and already have their cards. I have mine, too, but ordinary registrants haven’t got theirs in the last one year — only prominent people.

“I know the governor [Willie Obiano] registered last year, so his card should be ready. His wife registered two years ago; hers should be ready as well. Na normal we-we dem take dey do the cards now.”

While it is true that registrants get their NIN soon after the enrolment, the NIN slip has so far proven an insufficient means of identification.

Abbas Audi, a victim of NIN slip rejection, lodged a complaint with the Facebook account of NIMC, writing on August 23: Even without the eID Card the NIN slip is widely accepted but why is it that Union Bank in Jalingo [Taraba State] branch still rejects it after the directive given by the apex bank CBN? Pls call them to order because they rejected 1 today 22/8/2017.

Oke Paul, another complainant, wrote on August 19: First bank PLC reject d NIN slip, pls help us out.

“It’s 4 years now I did mine in Kano it’s not still ready,” Sadiq Saeed, yet another complainant, wrote to the commission on August 9. “Banks have refused to accept the temporary slip. My first name is Sadiq and surname Saeed. NIN- 19735604837. Tracking ID- S7Y0NYFM80001VA. What’s happening? Can’t I just do a fresh one where other states are collecting theirs in 4 to 6 months?”

TO WHOM LESS IS GIVEN…

When contacted, the communications department of NIMC, says the commission’s challenges are directly linked to inadequate funding.

“Basically, NIMC is an agency of the Federal Government and electricity is a general problem in Nigeria,” says the official, who asked not to be named.

“We are fully dependent on government for funding. So, our budget from FG is what we work with. Most of our challenges are underlined by funding; that is number one. And our budget is so open for Nigerians… to see what NIMC has been getting, and then you can also see what has been allocated to us for electricity and generator.”

He denies the allegation that the NIMC headquarters is a beneficiary of state-level extortion, saying: “No, that is not true. Even as I’m talking to you right now, anybody who has evidence should bring it forward.

“These things are just allegations. Somebody just told you that; you have not done your own investigation to unravel how the state coordinator gets kickbacks. If you can do that, you will be helping Nigeria too. If you do that investigation on your own and you report to us we will appreciate it.”

Curiously, he admits that some extortion cases had been brought to the notice of the commission.

“There have been one or two cases that we have investigated,” he says. “If we see something like that, we have our own in-house mechanism. We have the special unit at the commission that goes out to investigate all of this, and when the case is beyond us we hand it over to state security.”

AT NIMC, REFRESHMENT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ELECTRICITY

Eat, drink, be merry, be happy; it’s a NIMC policy!

Truly, NIMC has a case for improved funding. When compared with similar biometric-capturing agencies, the gulf in funding is wide. For instance, while the Federal Road Safety Corps, which, among others, issues the driver’s licence, got N34.8bn in 2017, NIMC got N11.6bn. Whereas FRSC got N30.7bn in 2016, NIMC got N6.2bn. While FRSC’s budget over the last seven years is approximately N186bn, NIMC’s is N78bn.

Indeed, NIMC cannot be faulted for tying its inefficiency to inadequate funding, but it’s current spending is questionable. For example, in 2017, NIMC allocated N12m to generator fuel. The previous year, the ‘generator fuel’ figure was almost double: N24.7m. However, the millions of naira did not proportionately trickle down to all the problem centres visited. The special centres were immune from power outage not because NIMC fueled their generators but because they were sited in locations with their own internal mechanisms for surmounting the electricity challenge. In all, between 2011 and 2017, NIMC has earmarked N311.4m for fueling generators!

Make no mistake: refreshment is more important to NIMC than service delivery. In 2017, the commission earmarked N13.5m for “refreshment”. This is the same year that it separated N12m for “generator fuel”. Why is the refreshment budget outweighing the fuel budget by a whopping N1.5m? In all, between 2011 and 2017, NIMC allocated N87.4m to refreshment!

Elsewhere in its 2017 budget, a massive N17.5m is for “sitting and honorarium”. Mind you, this figure is the second lowest of the past seven years. In 2011, it was N39.2m. Between 2011 and 2017, NIMC has spent N183m on “sitting and honorarium”! Who are the people holding these sittings? And what are the services being rendered by recipients of these honoraria?

FRUSTRATION TEETERING ON THE ‘RED LINE’

Of the hundreds of thousands of disgruntled applicants, many are bombarding NIMC’s Facebook and Twitter accounts with their frustrations. Some of them are going over the edge, sending “hate” messages that perhaps “cross the national red lines”.

Basu MC wrote in early September: The most stupid commission in de Nigeria space, hate them with [passion], did reg. yrs back bt couldn’t see my card till date.

Engr Omoaghe wrote in August: I think this NIMC is fake. I did my registration since 19th September, 2013, till now, yet to be released. Poor Management, poor government, poor organization. Fake. (2months ago)

And the worst of all was from Ali Mark, on September 6. “F**k NIMC!” he said. “Failed ministry.”

The comments leave no one in doubt that the people are losing it. And that something must be done fast — by the Federal Government and the management of NIMC.

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