Digital identity is recognised as an important tool to improve public service operations. In an effort to improve governance and to transition from traditional paper-based identity systems, several government agencies in Nigeria (and in some cases, sensitive-sector based companies) were mandated by law, to digitize the collection and storage of personal data by obtaining the biometric information of citizens.
The overarching aim of implementing most biometric registration policies was to improve efficiency in Government operations. This is done by providing reliable identification of individuals, while also controlling and protecting the integrity of sensitive data stored in information systems. However, the benefits which can be harnessed remains unexploited due to the absence of strong policy initiatives to facilitate the harmonization of data collected in a centralized database.
The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) was established in 2007 to create, manage, maintain and operate a unified National Identity Database for Nigeria. Despite this statutory mandate there still exists a proliferation in biometric registration systems and databases such as the SIM Card registration, Driver’s License registration, Voters registration and the Bank Verification Number, with a curious disparity in the figures and quality of identity data collected.
The duplication of registration databases also generates the concern of; the high cost of deployment and maintenance (which is borne by several agencies), the vulnerability to breaches, the privacy of individual’s information and the inability to obtain data from an accurate source.
Keeping in tandem with International best practices, there have been several attempts by the Nigerian government to harmonise existing databases of its agencies with the most recent effort being an Inter-Ministerial Committee, inaugurated in January 2018 with a mandate to ensure the harmonization of data collection and evaluation. There has, however, not been any ostensible progress.
Statutorily, the NIMC is empowered to undertake the harmonization of identity systems, which includes the integration of all existing identification databases. Section 14 of the NIMC Act also establishes a National Identity Database with one of its objectives being to enable the harmonization of identity card schemes in Nigeria. The NIMC board also includes representatives of several agencies who independently maintain their own databases.
A functional identity system is a vital tool for economic, financial and social development. While acknowledging that this is a daunting task, the NIMC must inquire as to why previous integration efforts have failed and take advantage of its statutory responsibilities by developing a comprehensive policy framework for the integration of existing identity databases across the public and private sector.
This prospective policy must also include innovative financing strategies and cost-saving mechanisms, taking into cognizance the limited resources of the Federal Government.
It is pertinent to note that collaboration between stakeholders and agencies is important to facilitate the creation of a functional digital identity ecosystem and entrench simplified data sharing between government agencies as much as allowed by legal restrictions.