- A good idea, but are we ready?
Ordinarily, the decision of ‘no National Identity Number (NIN), no passport’ by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) should be lauded as the way forward in the issuance of the country’s passport. But our peculiar circumstances would make this a mission impossible. Here, we are talking about the cumbersome nature of the processes leading to the issuance of the NIN. NIN, like its precursor, the National Identity Card has been enmeshed in all kinds of controversies, perhaps the most strident being its unavailability despite the fact that it has been in the works for decades.
This would seem the point lost on the NIS. Its comptroller-general, Muhammad Babandede, made all the beautiful points in support of the decision while addressing officers and men of the Lagos Command and formations. According to him, the new passport would be linked and synchronised with individuals’ NIN.
“Nigeria is headed for one identity for every individual; so, everyone’s identity has to be the same, from the bank to the NIN. It will be significant for our national security and development,” he said. “If we had done this a long time ago, it would have been easy for us to do a whole lot of other things as a nation. So now, it will be no NIN, no passport,” he added.
These are points well noted. Indeed, it is the way to have gone many years ago because that is what obtains in most other countries. That was one of the dreams of those behind the National Identity Card Scheme. Perhaps ours is the only country where individuals have several means of identification, from driver’s licence to voter’s card, to bank’s verification number (BVN), etc., all with different identification numbers. This has robbed the country of all the advantages that NIN is supposed to offer.
But it would appear our national identification schemes have been jinxed, given the obstacles that have made their issuance chaotic and inaccessible. As we write, many Nigerians are still unable to have NIN because of the cumbersome processes. Many who have the number do not have the card, years after registering for it. The argument could be made that this should not be a big deal since what is required is the number and not necessarily the card. But the point also is that there is no reason why the cards should take ages to be delivered. After all, similar cards are issued to citizens in other countries stress-free. Why should it be problematic in Nigeria?
Unfortunately, this problem is not peculiar to NIN. There is hardly any card that people want to obtain from government that comes easy. Is it voter’s card, or driver’s licence, or even the national passport? There are always clogs in the processes of issuing them. So, what is wrong with us as a nation?
Perhaps what the agencies responsible for issuing these vital documents forget is that when any of them is in short supply, it gives room for corruption. It is more difficult to apprehend those who might want to exploit the system when there is scarcity. This is why we empathise with the NIS’ comptroller-general when he admonished the agency’s personnel to avoid aiding and abetting service seekers in the procurement of breeder documents for NIS facilities because that would run counter to the Immigration Act 2015. The very fact that there is scarcity is enough fertile ground for such corrupt practices. Unfortunately, it is the ordinary Nigerians who do not know someone who knows someone up there that suffer for such lapses.
We urge the NIS to think through the decision before putting Nigerians through avoidable hassles. We agree that that is the way to go; but, are we ready? We should put the facilities in place such that those applying for NIN would know how long the processes would take and unless there is an emergency, the period for issuance must be sacrosanct.