National Identification Policy For Nigeria: An Action Agenda

 

By

 

Emmanuel Uzo Obi

bizon586@yahoo.com, uzoobi@msn.com

 

 

 

April 2, 2006

 

 

The issue of a National Identification system in any country is usually the subject of controversy and resistance. A major reason for the resentment of the National ID system is the notion that it would invade the privacy of the citizens.

In Nigeria for instance, the reasons for resentment are varied and include suspicions by sections of the country that it would offend the religious sensibilities of Muslims and that if used as a voter registration card, it would affect the voting strength of sections of the country.

 

In the United States, the idea of a national ID system has met with very strong resistance especially since civil liberties groups argue it would erode the privacy of citizens. The irony of it all is that there is a national identification system already in existence in the United States since 1935 known as the social security number. This national identifier essentially stores all the information about the individual in a national database.

In 2002, Japan launched a mandatory nation wide system whereby every citizen is assigned an 11 digit identification number. The Japanese database stores personal data such as name, address, date and place of birth, gender and possibility for more data. Even at the launching of the project, there was mounting opposition and government had started working on privacy protection legislation to pacify opponents of the system. Prior to the introduction of the national id, the government bureaucracy was inundated with piles of paperwork in processing transactions which caused delay and affected efficiency. The introduction of the national identification system according to Government was expected to streamline the cumbersome paperwork system.

 

The case of Nigeria is quite different. The project which was originally conceived in 1977 was eventually executed in 2003 after several controversies and bottlenecks.

Registration exercise was reported to have taken place at 600,000 centers across Nigeria registering about 60,000,000 adults from the age of 18 years. The information collected in this exercise were name, gender, address, occupation, state/local government, height, photographs were collected and fingerprints taken.

A National identification system is needed in Nigeria because many people in the country operate with fictitious identities and this has hindered Government programs in many sectors. For example, the tax system, criminal justice system, banking and financial system does not operate on real identities thereby making the various systems less productive and efficient.

 

The Federal Government of Nigeria has the authority to make this Policy and it would apply to all citizens and residents of the country.

 

 PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION

 

1.  An effective national identification system is a key requirement for the proper application and execution of policies and programs in different sectors of the economy. These include

ü      Tax administration

ü      Crime Control and Administration of Justice

ü      Administration of Poverty alleviation programs

ü      Financial and Banking System

ü      Educational System

ü      Healthcare System

ü      Immigration and Passport system

ü      Motor Vehicle Administration

ü      Highway Safety

ü      Employment Eligibility Verification.

 

What then are National identification numbers? These numbers are unique identifiers assigned to each individual in the country.

 

Tax Administration

 

Taxpayer identification is a key and crucial requirement for the proper and effective application of tax laws in Nigeria. Tax evasion or non-filer problem affects the potential of the tax system to generate revenues internally and also equity and fairness within the tax system.

It is therefore imperative, to design a taxpayer identification system to identify potential tax payers and reduce the possibility of evading taxes and making false declarations on tax returns.

The relationship between the total number in the population in any given country and the total number of registered taxpayers provide a very clear indication of the level of the non- filer problem.

The following table gives an indication of this problem in some advanced countries and the third World.

 

COUNTRY

TOTAL NUMBER OF REGISTERED TAXPAYERS

TOTAL POPULATION

% OF REGISTERED TAXPAYERS IN TOTAL POPULATION

Argentina

4.98 million

36.6million(1999)

13.9

Canada

25million

30.3million(1997)

82.5

Columbia

8.15million

41.5million(1999)

19.6

France

30.82million

58.1million(1995)

53.0

India

21.4million

997.5million(1999)

2.2

Netherlands

12.54million

15.38million(1994)

81.5

Source: www.worldbank.org/publicsector

   

Crime Control and Administration of Justice

 

There are no criminal records in Nigeria and as a result convicted felons could remain in the system with fictitious identities and criminals do not really suffer the consequences of their crime. It is difficult to arrest wanted suspects who remain in the system with multiple identities and thus make crime control extremely difficult.

The effective use of the national identification system in crime control requires a significant change in the manner and way our law enforcement agencies operate.

A streamlined procedure in the way the law enforcement agencies deal with the public will showcase the wonders of a database driven national identification system.

 

Arrest Records and bookings-

 

Arrests should be backed by citations written copies of which are given to the arrestee, the Police division and the court registry. The court registry then enters the information in

a criminal record database. The record should have such information as Name, present address, date of birth, citation number, national id number/driver license number, particulars of offense, court room assigned, name of judge and arresting officers, original/new court date, offense code, and disposition.

This record from arrest to disposition of the case constitutes individual criminal records.

 

What are the uses of criminal records? It reveals all you need know about an individual for hiring purposes, elective offices, government benefits, administration of justice, national security, pre-qualifications in the financial sector etc.

 

The stakeholders here include the Police, the Court and Prisons systems and this criminal records database could be linked to a Global Criminal Justice network.

  

Administration of Poverty Alleviation Programs.

 

Poverty alleviation programs are usually targeted at families within poverty level. The absence of an identifier makes it impossible to target the right category of people and Government programs in this direction fail woefully.

 

The national identification system should form the bedrock for identifying those eligible for the program. In the United States these programs include;

 

Food Stamp Program

Housing Vouchers

Transportation vouchers

Assistance to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)

Medicaid

Medicare

 

Eligibility for these programs is based on minimum poverty income levels that are verifiable where the national identification numbers are used in reporting incomes.

In other words, once a beneficiary’s income rises above poverty level such person ceases to qualify for the poverty alleviation benefit. The efficient administration of these programs is of course made possible by computer information systems.

With the National Identification system now in place, the goals of the Poverty alleviation programs can be realized in very visible and concrete terms.

 

Financial and Banking Sector.

The lack of a proper identification method makes the finance and banking sector exposed to the danger of big time fraud. Fictitious names are used in opening bank accounts and illegal funds could be hidden in such bank accounts.

It is also extremely difficult to manage a credit system in Nigeria in the absence of an identity system.

 

Educational System

 

The absence of a reliable identification system creates problems such as impersonation at enrollment examinations, difficulty in student loan /financial aid administration and in the library system.

  

Healthcare System

 

A national individual identifier is a key requirement for the effective operation of the healthcare system. The absence of this identifier has made it extremely difficult for the Government to implement the National Health Insurance Scheme. A national individual identifier would among other things enable Health Insurance companies underwrite health coverage to real people.

  

Immigration and Passport System

  

The ethnic groups on both sides of the Nigerian border have significant populations and it is difficult to distinguish their nationalities. This allows illegal immigration to flourish and foreigners are able to obtain Nigerian passports since there is no national identifier.

Using the present National ID to check illegal immigration will not work. Only Nigerians of age 18 and above were registered. The system does not give a clue as to how many 17 year olds would be turning 18 in the following months or year. How would you identify Nigerians younger than 18 who want for instance a Nigerian passport or who want to open an account.

  

Motor Vehicle Administration

 

Vehicles in Nigeria do not have Vehicle Identification Numbers and it is difficult to track stolen vehicles or help owners recover their stolen vehicles. Vehicle owners therefore

resort to the crude method of engraving their license plate numbers on the chassis and engine of such vehicles.

   

Highway Safety and Enforcement

The national driver license is not database driven and it is possible to obtain multiple driver licenses even with the same bio data. The use of fictitious names is possible and it is difficult to make drivers take responsibility for highway safety or have a duty of care towards other road users.

 

Employment Eligibility Verification.

 

The absence of a national identifier makes it difficult to verify employment eligibility and the hiring of illegal aliens makes it impossible to know the unemployment rate.

 

The major cause of these problems apart from the absence of a database driven national identification system is the fact that there has been no proper or permanent forms of record keeping in the past. There is a general consensus on this and a policy is needed to take care of these numerous problems.

 

 

2. The present Registration exercise for the National ID is greatly flawed and defeats the Public policy goal of accurately and reliably verifying the identity of every individual that lives in Nigeria. No proof of identity was demanded during the registration exercise and people were registered on the basis of who they said they were. National IDs should never be issued on an honor system.. Besides, there is no birth certificate system in Nigeria that is reliable. The method of obtaining a Nigerian passport is greatly flawed and the integrity of that document is questionable .

 

3. The absence of what is sometimes called ‘breeder documents’ that should help one establish an identity in this country is a major problem. An example of such a document is the birth certificate. Unfortunately, the vulnerability of the birth certificate system has made it unreliable. Verification letters by local government offices is not full proof and in another paper, I have examined in some detail how we can use other sources to establish  identity of an individual in this country.

 

4. Presently, it is possible for some one to falsely assume the identity of a real person for fraudulent purposes.

 

CRITERIA FOR EVALUATING ALTERNATIVE POLICIES:

 

 In selecting from among alternative policies, different approaches can be used in evaluating these alternatives as follows:

 

ü      Technical Feasibility

ü      Economic Feasibility

ü      Political Feasibility

ü      Legality  and Ethics

 

Feasibility is a measure of how beneficial or practical the implementation of a Policy will be.

  

Technical Feasibility:

 

Today, very little is technically impossible. Consequently, technical feasibility looks at what is practical and reasonable. Do we have the necessary technology to implement the Policy? Do we have the necessary technical expertise? For example, there may be a Database Management System, but the analysts and programmers may not know the DBMS well enough in order to apply it. Interoperability and connectivity issues may arise.

 

Economic Feasibility:

 

The bottom line in implementing many policies is economic feasibility. Here the benefits and costs of each alternative are weighed.

It is not often easy to pick the best alternative, because economic and operational issues often conflict. For instance, the policy that creates the best operational impact may be the most expensive, and therefore, the least economically feasible.

The short definition of economic feasibility therefore, is a cost benefit analysis.

 

Political Feasibility:

 

Here we consider if the Policy is compatible with the Politics of the country. Will any group suffer a disadvantage as a result of the Policy?

  

Legal and Ethics:

 

Is there any legal issue that could arise? Are there issues that would make the Policy unethical? Will an individual’s privacy be violated? What would be the consequences of Identity theft?

  

POLICY ALTERNATIVES.

 Four policy alternatives have been identified namely:

 

ü      Each sector should develop a unique individual identifier for end-users in the sector.(Do nothing, maintain the Status quo)

ü      A State Identity Card for each citizen or resident of a state.

ü      A Database driven National Id with Biometrics.

ü      Database driven National Driver License.

 

 

DO NOTHING, MAINTAIN THE STATUS QUO.

 

Each of the sectors mentioned above have their different identity numbers and there is absolutely  no co-ordination between other sectors. This is the current practice today.

  

 A STATE IDENTITY CARD FOR EACH CITIZEN OR RESIDENT OF A STATE

This alternative would involve every citizen in the state being issued a unique identifier. There are 36 states in Nigeria and these individual states will have to issue state identity cards.

 

The idea for this alternative is from Best practices research whereby the 50 states in the United States of America issue State Driver licenses/Identity cards.

  

DATABASE DRIVEN NATIONAL IDENTITY CARD WITH BIOMETRICS..

 

This alternative involves a database driven national identification system with biometrics for all Nigerians.

 

The idea for this alternative is from the Best Practices research; the U.S .The US has an automated fingerprint information system although it does not have a national id. The AFIS is already in use within the Homeland security system.

When the United States Social Security Number system was set up in 1935, it was originally intended to be a social security account number and merely to identify the account and not the person. However, in practice, the SSN has been adopted for numerous identification purposes outside the social security system. For instance, in 1943, President Franklin D Roosevelt signed an order requiring federal agencies to use the SSN as an identifier for any new records system. The Department of Defense used the SSN as military identification number during the WW II and later adopted it officially as the Armed Forces Personal Identifier in 1967. Prior to this, the Civil Service Commission adopted the SSN as an official employee identifier in 1961.In 1962, The Internal Revenue Service adopted it has the taxpayer identification number.

The SSN is database driven and is used in several systems including tax administration, crime control, administration of social welfare schemes, finance and banking, healthcare systems etc.

 

DATABASE DRIVEN NATIONAL DRIVER LICENSE

 

The present National Driver License is not database driven but a national database could be created for this project. The advantage is that this is also a picture identification card but not an evidence of citizenship.

 

 

EVALUATE AND SELECT POLICIES

 

ü      Do nothing alternative.

 

        All the problems identified in the problem definition stage above are inherent in the Do nothing alternative and this alternative cannot be chosen.

 

 

ü      State ID for each of the States.

 

 

·        Political Feasibility.

 

The introduction of an identity is usually a very contentious issue and this idea is resented by certain sections of the country because it affects the religious sensibilities of Muslims while others feel it will be used to affect their voting strength adversely. Some of the State Governments are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists who will thwart the program if it is state sponsored. For example, fictitious people could be registered to inflate the number of voters in the state.

 

 

·          Technical Feasibility

 

The technology to power this system is available for this can only serve state sponsored programs. For example, states may not be able to assess the databases in other states. This is an operational issue that could be taken care of if the states had the funds. Interoperability issues could arise here and thus affect the overall public policy goal of accurately identifying individuals in the country.

 

 

 

·        Economic Feasibility

 

The cost of setting up Information systems to support a state id with database systems that could be assessed nationwide is very high. States not in support of the id system may divert funds if the Feds allocate funds for this project. This may take up a lot of time for the Federal Government to persuade states to conform.

 

 

Database driven National Identification System with Biometrics.

 

·        Ethics and Legality

 

Since there are multiple uses for the national identification system, it is important that limits be placed on kinds of information on an individual should be available.

For example the medical information database should not be linked with the national identification system database.

All that the health system needs is the individual national identity numbers with matching bio data. The privacy of individuals should be protected and specific recommendations have been made as part of this Policy alternative.

 

 

·        Economic Feasibility.

The first phase of the project will involve total enumeration, i .e. collection of primary data at local levels. The total Population of Nigeria is 130 million people and at least 1,000,000 registration centers will be needed for the initial phase.

This represents very heavy capital investment but the benefits of putting all the sectors in order as highlighted above far outweigh the costs. For example, all the sectors mentioned will become more efficient and effective.

     

ü      COSTS of this project are outside the scope of this paper.

                      

ü      BENEFITS.

 

The benefits of this policy include the solutions to all problems identified in the Problem identification stage of this paper including the various bases for evaluating the success of the Policy as outline below. A very crucial benefit to the financial system is highlighted in this section for emphasis.

 

Financial System

 

The use of national identification numbers in opening bank accounts helps in identifying the actual owners of the bank account. It would be impossible to open a bank account with a fictitious name to hide illegal funds. It will be possible for the Internal Revenue service through data matching to identify people evading taxpayer registration or committing tax fraud.

 

The use of proper identification makes financial transactions less cumbersome and reduces paperwork. Before the introduction of a national identity card, financial institutions relied on other forms of identification at their own peril as those forms of id were not verifiable.

 

One area of the financial system that will benefit from the introduction of a national identification system is credit management.

For example, credit bureaus could organize credit files of individuals on the basis of national identification numbers. This will help the credit bureaus maintain credit histories of potential credit applicants and provide the necessary information to credit providers to base a decision to grant credit.

Typically merchants register with these credit bureaus and have computer information systems that can dial into the credit bureau information system to obtain credit information on the credit applicant. Every credit grantor wants to minimize risk involve in granting credit and therefore need reliable information to make sound decisions. The success of the National ID policy could also mark the introduction of credit and debit cards all over Nigeria.

 

 The use of checks as means of payment can also be made possible through a check verification process whereby merchants scan a check to query a database of bad check writers or the banking system.

 

In short, a major possibility   in the financial system is that the national identification system can help make the society a cashless society or reduce the dependence on cash.

Residents could be assisted with homeowner’s mortgage financing as loan applicants are easy to identify thereby reducing the risk involved.

 

 

·        Political Feasibility

This being a Federal project, the Federal Government could dose the suspicions of different regions of the country by highlighting the benefits of the project. Cooperation between the Federal Government, State governments and the private sector is essential to achieve comprehensive identity management that is necessary to protect personal information while improving national security by accurately identifying individuals in the country.

 

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS:

Based on the evaluation of the alternative Policies discussed in this paper, the Database driven National Identification system appears to be the most cost effective alternative amongst the alternatives identified.  In order to maximize the benefits to the greatest potential, It is recommended that the National Assembly initiate legislation that will;

 

 

It is further recommended that the National Assembly provide legislative controls that would,

 

ü      Protect the privacy and prevent abuses of personal information

ü      Impose severe penalties on any employee of the Department of National Civic registration that willfully alter records in the national identification system.

ü      Prohibit private companies from using data on the cards for any purpose other than for verifying identity.

ü      Prevent linking of medical information databases with national identification

             System database.

 

EVALUATION OF ADOPTED POLICY

 

This Policy can be evaluated on the basis of the effect it has on the all sectors identified in the Problem definition stage.

 

Ø      Tax Administration

A reduction in the non-flier problem and increase in number of registered tax payers.

    

Ø      Crime Control

Reductions in the number of lose criminals in the system and identification of criminals. People’s identity will not be in doubt, impersonation will be easily detected.

   

Ø      Administration of Poverty Alleviation Programs

A reduction in the poverty index will indicate success of the programs in targeting the right segment of the population.

     

Ø      Financial and Banking System

The success of the Policy will be determined when lenders are able to identify real people to manage credit and efficiency is improved in the entire system.

  

Ø      Educational System

The success of the financial aid to students is a clear indication of success of the national id policy. Loan defaulters can be tracked even when they get employed in the economy. The incidence of bad debts can be reduced and the student loan system will not be bankrupted.

 

Ø      Healthcare System

The National Healthcare scheme can be implemented when eligible people can be identified. Also Health Insurance Companies, HMOs can underwrite insurance policies to real people and reduce the risk from fraudulent claims.

 

Ø      Motor Vehicle Administration.

There will be a noticeable increase in revenue from motor vehicle registration and tracking of stolen vehicles will be made easier.

Ø     Employment Eligibility verification

Database driven national identity system will eliminate ‘ghost workers’ on payroll and employment opportunities for legal residents will rise as illegal aliens are identified.

 

CONCLUSION

Now that the National Identification project has been launched, it is important to do it right the first time. To ensure the integrity of the system, it is important that attention be paid to the enumeration process and that standards are set for documents that are needed prior to national identity registration. The success of the project does not mainly depend on the huge investment on hardware and software. It will require Political will and courage on the part of the Federal Government. The national identity system should not be used as proof for citizenship status although citizenship status should be included in the database but not on the card.

Because of the doubts that still linger about the national identification system, government should as a matter of priority embark on massive enlightenment and educational campaigns showing the various applications of the national identification number system. The momentum must be sustained until the system becomes part of Nigerians.

 

REFERENCES

 

1.      Ham, Shane and Atkinson, Robert D (2001) Modernizing the State Identification System retrieved from Progressive Policy Institute website at  http://www.ppionline.org/

2.      U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Unique Health Identifier for Individuals: A White Paper retrieved October 30,2004 from http://www.hipaadvvisory.com

3.      Obi, Emmanuel U (1998) The Bridge to the 21st Century: The Path for Nigeria .Enugu, Nigeria. Bizon Associates Nigeria Ltd

4.      Obi, Emmanuel U.(2004)How Information Technology can empower the Police to enhance Public Safety in Nigeria retrieved September 2004 from Nigerian News website http://www.gamji.com/NEWS3178.htm

5.      Tax Policy and Administration(2001)retrieved from World Bank group website on October 12,2004  http://www.worldbankgroup.org