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The benefits of a robust National Identity System are enormous

The new unified Identity Management System, which would be the outcome of the exercise, would provide a common database for both private and public institutions in the country thereby reducing the cost of data management in many public and private institutions in the country. With the data on the intended unified database accessible to all professionals and/or sectors across the whole economy, economies of scale should bring down cost. Hence, it is expected that the potential price to be paid by end-users of these data would be significantly competitive.

In addition, improvement in crime management on the part of law enforcement agencies, facilitation of wider financial inclusion on the part of the financial services sector, and elimination of multiple identities are immediate advantages to the people. The reduction or elimination of the prevalent scourge of ghost workers in both public and private sectors would be significantly aided by a robust identity database. The current national push for e-payment and e-governance should also receive a major push with a robust national identity management system. A robust national identity database with accurate social and demographic data would aid efficient planning and policy formulation at both the public and private sector levels.


Calamity of the past must be avoided

Nigerians remain sceptical about the genuineness of another round of national enrolment for a national identity project. It may be perceived as yet another white elephant project for siphoning billions of Naira from the national purse. The negative conclusion of the SAGEM transaction would be hard to erase in the memory of Nigerian elites. Though the level of infrastructure and partnerships are encouraging and indicate that the current process is genuine, the NIMC must ensure delivery on its mandate to change this mind-set amongst Nigerians. Unfortunately, it is currently running behind schedule as the first phase of enrolment, meant to commence at the end of the second half of the current year, is yet to kick off.

A robust, harmonised National Identity Management System would potentially provide a springboard for many economic and structural reforms that are being implemented in the country. In addition to checking crime and supporting the growth of financial inclusion, it would promote job creation and open up opportunities previously impeded by identity management challenges. Doing it right is the only way these benefits can be realised. The NIMC may set out by cleaning and harmonising the existing databases, thereby saving the nation significant funds in the process.


Successfully implemented across the Globe

In many developed countries, personal security numbers are essential features of the public personalities of citizens. They are used in the collection of taxes and other levies, redistribution of revenue, distribution of social services, public assistance to the needy, tackling of socio economic issues like unemployment amongst others. The existence of these numbers has supported speedy financial transactions and the depth of financial systems in these countries. While Britain uses a National Insurance number, the US makes use of the Social Security Number.

Among emerging countries, Brazil stands out as it has two different national identity systems. These are the Registro Geral (RG), a number associated with the official states’ residence ID card and Cadastro de Pessoas Fisicas (CPF), federal and supposedly unique (barring fraud) number. The RG numbers are assigned by the states and a few other government organizations, such as the armed forces. RG numbers are unique and identified by the state of issuance. The CPF on the other hand is federal and was created originally only for purposes of taxation. One or both numbers are required for many common tasks, such as opening bank accounts or getting a driver's license.

In September 2010, India's government embarked on a tremendously ambitious project to issue a biometric-based unique digital identity (UID) to each of its 1.2 billion residents. The goal is to connect hundreds of millions of "excluded" Indians with formal economic institutions. It is aimed at enhancing access of all country's people to banking, mobile services, healthcare and education while streamlining the country's massive welfare programs. At the end of 2012, an estimated 300m Indians may have been captured thereby bringing genuinely underprivileged and excluded households into the country's mainstream economic system for the first time.