COVID-19 pandemic and the NIN debacle
COVID-19 pandemic and the NIN debacle
By Seun Awogbenle
COVID-19 pandemic and the NIN debacle
Everything in Nigeria is going to kill you, says Author and Human rights lawyer Ayo Sogunro. Frankly, nothing else can describe the directive by the Federal Government over the deadline for the enrolment of the National Identity Number, the integration of subscriber information Module (SIM) cards with the National Identity Number (NIN) and the order to enforce the blocking of SIM cards not linked to NIN.

While the policy would have been ingenious without the reality of COVID-19, but clearly with COVID-19 reality, the directive is nothing but a policy somersault and puts the sincerity of government to question in this current fight against COVID-19.

With the way people throng registration centres, it appears we have a government that speaks from both sides of the mouth. A government that will in one breath caution people on the danger of mass gathering and the need to distance physically, while in another breath has a super spreader policy that not just encourages people to gather, but puts people in danger of COVID-19.

Sometimes, I wonder how we ended with a thoroughly disconnected government, the danger of the mass gathering at registration centres has been the highlight and headline of mainstream and social media, at least no one can accuse the media of abdicating this time or not doing enough, but how we have a government that manage to miss everything equally misses me!

For starters, is it not rather disgraceful that at a time Nigeria is talking about a digital economy, we could not implement a process that does not require people to visit designated registration points? This is a purely analogue process in an economy that should be jumping at the speed of digital. If the Nigerian government were bereft of ideas, Nigeria’s young people have the answers, all they had to do was to call for suggestions and ideas or at best get a consultant. Why should people visit registration points in 2021, that belongs to the stone age!

In November 2019, the President unveiled the National Economy Digital Economy Policy initiated by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, then what exactly is the point? if people are still expected to visit registration points before they can register for as basic as NIN? I completely like the idea of mandating Nigerians to link their NIN to their phone numbers, it is a good step in the right direction, we need to harmonise national database, but how about have a self-care portal where Nigerians can log-in from anywhere in the world to register for NIN, thumbprint and generate their number immediately?

I understand there was a deadline for December which has been extended to January and February for the two categories, but at a time we are all talking about a second wave that is ferocious and killing people at an alarming rate, should this even be on the table at all?

The government has put a ban on all forms of public gathering. The other day in the news, I watched the Lagos State Commissioner of Police Hakeem Odumosu, lead a joint task force to arrest fun seekers who violated COVID-19 protocols, they were paraded, charged to court and fined in no time, I have personally never seen our legal system work that fast and efficient. Now the question is who will charge those that asked Nigerians to throng registration points to register for NIN in clear violation of COVID-19 protocols?

I am even more disturbed that such a process rarely took into consideration the vulnerable and old people. How does the government expect people of that category to survive the rigour of a process that is clearly a stampede?

Asides from COVID-19, I am even afraid that we may begin to experience rush and even more stampede at the registration points as the deadline approaches and people will clearly want to do everything possible to ensure their SIM cards are not blocked.

When the staff of the National Identity Management Commission went on strike the other time over their poor welfare and the lack of protective kits, saying they could get infected with COVID-19. I considered the opportunity for the government to review and re-order the process, but as you would expect, things have only just returned to normal even after the strike was suspended.

The issues around the NIN-SIM card deadline has become nothing but a debacle, it fails to add up at a time the government should show the highest level of sensitivity to the dangers of COVID-19. Anything that will cause people to gather at this time must be strongly condemned, since there is no substitute to life, I believe NIN can wait, while we address the current COVID-19 danger squarely and decisively.

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