Consolidating on benefits of harmonised data base



The presidential nod for the activities of NIMC to be harmonised with that of the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy may have sign posted the dawn of the much needed harmonised national data base in Nigeria writes ELEOJO IDACHABA.

At last, the federal government has approved the harmonisation of all national identity data for economic development. By this arrangement, all responsible agencies like the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) would harmonise its data with the digital drive of the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy.

This is coming years after calls by individuals and corporate organisations for a harmonised data base in order to make identification and data collation easier for agencies like the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS); the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC); Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS); National Population Commission (NPC); among others.

While giving further insight into the development, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isah Pantami, said the development noted that part of the reform was that all activities in NIMC would be transferred to the ministry.

Pantami said with the development the concept of digital number would be prioritised to replace the National Identity Cards which NIMC has been battling to issue Nigerians over the years.

Past attempts

This is not the first time that the nation’s data base institutions would be asked to be harmonised. It happened in 2015, but there was no follow up.

There were clamour for the harmonisation of the activities of National Population Commission (NPC) with NIMC for effective service delivery shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari took over in 2015, however, long after there are no evidence to show compliance with the directive. This has made some critics sceptical about this latest move.

Benefits

According to the minster, the contribution of the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased in the second quarter of 2020, while also noting that broadband penetration rose significantly from a little above 30 per cent to more than 42 percent in the last year.

He noted that, “Any country where broadband penetration increases by 10 per cent would witness GDP increase of between 1.6 percent and 6.8 per cent. Digital economy indeed is the future and it is all about prioritising digital innovation and digital entrepreneurship.”

Pantami explained further that when the digital numbers become the new national identity, Nigerians would be able to access relevant services offered by government agencies and private institutions from anywhere.

“The new approach is the digital number, not the cards. The number will be in the country’s database and linked to the person’s passport, driver’s license, among others.

“If an individual wants to access any kind of service, it would be through the digital number provided. There is no point promoting the digital economy and people are going out with cards. It should be optional,” he said.

…I’ll foster transparency, accountability

Meanwhile, while corroborating the minister’s take on benefits of a digital economy, the Chairperson of the Special Task Force Against Covid-19, Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsuji, said the Victims Support Fund (VSF) is the singular organisation that has supported victims of insurgency in North-east with a greater level of transparency and accountability through the application of accurate data.

According to her, the achievement of VSF within a short time can be attributed to the attention paid to numbers.

She said, “We are breaking it into granular details. So where is the N1 billion? Where did it come from? What was it used for? To whom did it go? Who are the beneficiaries? If you asked me to provide you the data of the people that collected our food items in the local government, I can tell you because we have the data,” she said.

“The reason Nigerians no longer trust their leaders is that leaders often cannot give accurate account of the commonwealth in their custody because of unavailable data,” she added.

While giving further details, Akerele-Ogunsiji said VSF donated thousands of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits, food, and medical items to Nigerians in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps spread across the North-eastern and other states of the country consisting of 275,000 surgical face masks; 160,440 hand sanitisers; 1,870 suits; 1,870 protective goggles; and 1,870 safety boots for health workers, who are in the frontline of the battle against the novel coronavirus.

According to her, 68,976 beneficiaries across five states in the South-south and South-east were identified and selected.  The five states are Edo, Delta, Enugu, Ebonyi and Ekiti states.

Experts raise issues

A public affairs analyst Victor Odili Idiaghor has said that the significant advantages that the existence of an operational central database repository would bring were not only to the country but to all citizens.

Idiaghor, who said the central database would provide useful information for planning at national and local levels, however, sought answers to the planned harmonisation policy.

“When these data bases are finally harmonised, will the systems involved be interconnected? In other words, will banks be able to query NIMC database in minutes and make business transactions fast? Will INEC be able to talk to NIMC and verify information without carrying files from one office to another, the public analyst, who is a Middleware Consultant with the Canadian government asked?

“Computer systems today have made it possible to talk to one another in matter of seconds. Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) should be actively involved to make these connections hassle free.

“For harmonisation to be successful, steady and uninterrupted power supply must be in place. We have witnessed more power supply since President Buhari came into power. We hope it improves so that more companies would be able to hook up to NIMC database, thereby making data readily available.”

In the opinions of Ibukun Taiwo and Olayinka David-west, a proper national identity framework is integral to effective delivery of all government’s responsibilities to the citizens.

“From security to social welfare programmes, lack of a cohesive framework capturing the details of every citizen means that many people would be excluded; however, when we consider financial inclusive figures, establishing a data bank identity is central to onboarding that easily incorporates the population into the formal financial services ecosystem,” they said.

‘It’s enormous blessing’

According to a newspaper columnist, Mohammed Modu, the National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) report that the contribution of ICT sector to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2020 which stood at 17.83 per cent was heart-warming.

“This is whooping and means a lot not only for the economy or the ICT sector drivers but, especially for the nation’s socio-economic future.”

Modu, while making further reference to the report said while Nigeria’s GDP decreased by 6.10 per cent (year-on-year) in the second quarter of 2020, ICT’s contribution rose exponentially. He said the contribution of the ICT increased by 20.54 per cent in comparison with the figures a year earlier.

“The figure also jerked up by 3.79 per cent from the previous quarter (Q1 2020). This calls for rolling out the drums.  To many, the coronavirus pandemic was an apocalypse, but as the saying goes, there are often blessings in disguise; it was the case for the Nigerian ICT sector.

“The unfortunate health pandemic, with its resultant economic downturns, was turned into opportunities, thanks to the visionary and focused leadership of Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, the minister of communications and digital economy,” he said.

National Identity Day

The federal government has announced that henceforth, September 16 every year would be observed as National Identity Day. To that extent, the government supports the enrolment of Nigerians for Digital Identity (ID) across the country.

Pantami in a recent press statement signed by his Spokesperson Mrs Uwa Suleiman, in Abuja, reminded Nigerians about the importance of digital identity, saying the ministry is developing the right policy environment to support enrolment for digital IDs in the country.

According to Pantami, “The celebration of National Identity Day would take place virtually. Digital IDs play critical roles in the development of digital economies as they are often called the fabrics of the digital economies.”

The minster also stressed that the importance of a digital identity programme for the successful development of a digital economy cannot be overstated.

“September 16 has been declared as the National Identity Day. Following the approval of the federal government under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria also formally adopted 16/9 as the National Identity Day.

“This year’s edition will take place virtually on the same date and will have the theme: ‘Identity for Health, Sustainable Development and Growth.’

“We would start by capturing Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria and support the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and other stakeholders to ensure that we make the process of obtaining digital identities swift and secure.

“One of the key objectives of pillar 6 (Soft Infrastructure) of National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) is support for the accelerated implementation of a Digital Identity Programme,” he said.

The minister noted that the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa rightly noted that digital identity and digital economy are not only linked, but reinforcing as digital ID is the basis for digital economy platforms.

He explained that digital identification can be an important catalyst for various development initiatives on the continent such as impacting on trade, governance, social protection, financial inclusion, domestic resource mobilisation as well as security and human rights.

As the world and Nigeria mark the International Identity Day and National Identity Day he urged Nigerians to support the development the digital economy by embracing the use of digital identities.

He further encouraged Nigerians to visit NIMC accredited centres for their digital identities stating that his ministry was committed to ensuring that Nigeria derives the benefits of a functional digital ID system and calls on all stakeholders to support the process.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is expected that in a matter of months, there would be harmony among agencies like the FRSC, NIS and NPC that rely heavily on citizen’s data. Also, if this is allowed to work, the job of NBS would be made easier in months to come.

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