Since gaming numbers is a regular feature of public life in our country and it is an open sesame at election period, it is no surprise that the use of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and the Smart Card Reader (SCR) by the
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has opened up a controversy. Yet, there would have been no issue with SRC or PVC if the National Identity Card project had worked even though, given my recent education on the issue, it could be a solution in future. But I have to put this intervention within the context of my earlier misgivings in the piece titled, “Federal Republic of MasterCard.”
As I have been made to understand, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has provision for a voters' applet (function, in layman’s language) whereby accreditation can be done, as it is in most countries, using the National Identification Number (NIN) to enhance the credibility of the voter’s card. In their work, “Expanding Democracy: Voter Registration Around the World” published by the Brennan Center for Justice, Jennifer Rosenberg and Margaret Chen explained why voters’ registration has become a serious global problem with regards to credible elections. In the Nigerian context, since a person cannot have more than one NIN at a time, the idea of a national ID card would help in eliminating duplication, especially since the data being collected by the NIMC include the 10 fingerprints of the cardholder or facial modalities for disabled people. But how did I know all these? That is a question deserving an answer given my previous position on the identity card project.
Following the earlier critical intervention on this page (4 September 2014) on the idea of having MasterCard logo on Nigeria’s national ID card, I got a mail from the Director General/CEO of the NIMC, Mr. Chris Onyemenam. He explained that the essence of the whole idea isto harmonize and integrate existing identification databases in the country so as to provide an assured identity system through the concept of enroll once and be identified for life while the MasterCard payment applet is meant to offer financial inclusion for millions of Nigerians, especially those in the villages who do not have bank accounts.He also visited me in my office and I returned the compliment while we have exchanged mails and phone calls on the issue.
Apparently to secure my buy-in into the national ID Card project, Onyemenam got his people to explain all the features and processes to me. I have therefore, in the last six months, met with some top NIMC officials who, at every point, answered all my questions while allaying my fears about the MasterCard component. Three weeks ago, Mr. 'Tunji Durodola, Head of the Card Management Services led the team that gave mea guided tour of their facilities (after undergoing a long series of stringent security protocols) to debunk the insinuations about MasterCard.
In the course of the tour, Durodola explained to me that, as the custodian of the identity database for the country, NIMC does not offer datacentre access to MasterCard or any international institution (public or private) for that matter. To buttress the point on security, beginning from last year, NIMC had subscribed to the Global Vendors Certification Programme (GVCP) and ISO 27001 audits to ensure that best practices are followed and information flow is secure and safe. According to Durodola, the logo of the payment scheme (MasterCard for now, but with Verve also coming on board soon) is primarily to have payment functionality built into the 13 applets (functions) that are in the ID card.
I got assurances that each applet on the chip is protected by a firewall, which is to ensure that for each of the functionalities, only data approved by NIMC can be read by an inspection system. So, for example, the payment applet is securely firewalled against a terminal reading the personal identity contained in the eID applet. But perhaps of greater importance is that the NIMC has fibre connectivity to most of the government agencies to offer web services for authentication and verification, an initiative meant to reduce wasteful duplication of biometric exercises in the country. This definitely will help with regards to payroll and the never-ending scandal of ghost workers.
There are other benefits to this. If, for instance,the kind of money that was given to INEC for what is described as a “functional Identity” is given to NIMC to properly implement its Foundational Identity (a collation and integration of a myriad of functionalities, 13 in all, such as payment, tax, pension and voting), Nigeria would have been saved billions of Naira currently being wasted on parallel projects as well as the brouhaha over PVC and SRC.
In all, while I am still not persuaded that the payment functionality that necessitated having the MasterCard logo (and very soon that of Verve) on our National Identity Card is necessary, I am convinced by their arguments that there is no security implication to the idea. I have particularly been very impressed by the professionalism of the NIMC management and staff with whom I have interacted in the last six months. Ordinarily, what most government institutions would do after reading such critical piece would be to get some hired guns to pen abusive advertorials, probably adding innuendoes as to who paid me for it!
However, by engaging me over a period of several weeks as a demonstration of public accountability that is in short supply in our country today, Onyemenam has earned both my respect and admiration. Therefore, notwithstanding my reservations about the MasterCard logo on the National ID Card, all other factors considered, Onyemenam and his team at NIMC deserve our support as they attempt to break the jinx of a project thathas spanned several decades, defied succeeding administrations, gulped billions of dollars and has, perhaps until now, become an emblem of national shame.