Outcry over NIMC ID Card charges: A validation of widespread ignorance?

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For hours unending yesterday, 15th October 2019, ‘National ID’ was number one on Nigeria’s Twitter Trends and a leading headline on most major news portals across the country. As is now usual with trending topics on Nigerian social media and online space, tens of thousands of people, especially youths, jumped on the issue to share their own views and opinions, and probably cash in on an opportunity to be seen as being in tune with trends.

As is now customary for me when I see a topic trending on a national scale with young people, I sat back with a smirk on my face and tried to look up what could possibly have triggered the all-powerful one hundred million Nigerian youth on social media on another new day. We had only just recovered from last week’s roller-coaster ride on the wheels of BUSA2019 and TheWedding, what could the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) have done this time to provide fodder to an army which always seems to be ready, data-loaded devices at hand, to vent out frustrations, rage and the ever accompanying comic relief on government. It wasn’t long before I discovered it was an ‘ordinary’ Tweet from @Nimc_ng (the official NIMC Twitter handle) in response to a question by a citizen, that had been lifted by a widely read national news medium and published hurriedly like a breaking Press Release or policy announcement by the Commission which is mandated by the law to operate a national identity database for the country.

A citizen on Twitter, @novjb had tweeted at NIMC (@Nimc_ng):

How do I get another card if my is stolen or misplaced?

NIMC’s handler, probably unwary of the fact that majority of Nigerians have yet to be issued their NIMC e-ID Cards or have only recently been issued same with only about a year left to expiry, or even worse still, the person behind the handle did not pause first to process the fact that most Nigerians, even the most educated, are yet to grasp the operational difference between the eleven digits National Identification Number (NIN) issued by NIMC to enrollees on a slip of security paper and the plastic-based National e-ID Card launched in 2014 and issued by the same NIMC much longer after the NIN, so he or she at NIMC proceeded to respond to @novjb by tweeting:

Good afternoon. Kindly visit any of our offices with a writtten application and attach with proof of payment receipt made through remita, bank teller, NIN slip and submit it at our office

Card renewal costs N5000 payable through remita

The second part of that tweet-response was the banger that went off and threw Twitter and indeed all major news portals into a frenzy yesterday and part of today.

Wondering why that tweet from a government agency with less than 30,000 followers on Twitter was able to get so much attention on the social media platform and on major online news media in such a very short time, even without a Re-tweet from the official social media handlers in the Presidency or from any of the well-known Nigerian Twitter influencers and critics, I quickly contacted a colleague at a major print media who’s online desk had flashed the news in a screaming header, he confirmed to me that they had tracked the news from the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), who’s report had cited a Tweet announcement from NIMC as source.

If the rapid spread of the headline FG ANNOUNCES N5,000 CHARGE FOR NATIONAL ID RENEWAL was bewildering, the manner of outcry, backlash, commentaries and takes which followed on social media within the next hours were indeed even more intriguing. Most Nigerians on Twitter took the news as a new government policy requiring citizens to pay N5000 to re-affirm their citizenship as Nigerians. A lot more others concluded that the move and announcement was another ploy by the Buhari/APC led federal government to tax Nigerians through the back door and raise money for government expenditures, some persons went as far as celebrating the near end of their Nigerian citizenship and an impending mass deportation of anyone who does not part with N5,000 to NIMC in the form of a compulsory renewal of their National Identity registration. How brilliant! A few persons were already tagging Canada, to consider them for migration upon deportation by Nigeria.

I have constantly been of the opinion that, if Nigeria’s youth are ever going to be taken seriously by the political class, typified in this instance by the older citizen leaders who have had control of the country since after independence, the youth must urgently do more to prove intellectual maturity and grasp of the most important national issues.

I thought to myself, since when did NIMC become the arm of government saddled with the powers to confer citizenship or strip one of same? Even as weak as the NIMC have seem with their public sensitizations and service provision to Nigerians, they have repeatedly tried to put it out there that registration to have the National Identification Number (NIN) and the e-ID Card for a first timer were all FREE. In the case that one was lucky enough to get issued the plastic-based e-ID Card and such a person misplaced it or it gets stolen, like in the case of citizen @novjb, is it then out of place for a cost to be placed on the reprint of a fresh one? Do we not pay to reprint International Passport, Drivers License, Birth Certificate, State of Origin Form and so on?

I did not also expect that a manufactured token such as a card would last in the hands of a holder forever without an expiry date. It is the plastic-based card that expires NOT one’s 11 digits National Identification Number which is issued once and used as an identifier in the National Identity Database forever, until that citizen dies.

Below are some of the very interesting tweets I monitored yesterday when NATIONAL ID trended on Number 1 on Nigerian Twitter:

@firstladyship: Card renewal N3000 Card replacement N5000 Card expiration 5yrs Tell me the benefits of Nigerian citizenship? Why should a National ID card have an expiration date? It means jobless citizens will pay money to the APC every 5 yrs to remain Nigerians This is RIP-OFF Yahoo Yahoo

@AyoBankole Tweeted: You gave poor people N10,000 loan, spent millions on ADs to convince us that 10k means a lot to them & will change their lives! Then after elections, same poor people now expected to afford N5,000 for National ID. Half the amount you said will change their lives o! Yahoo govt!

@AyoBankole seems to have a lot of followers and got over 2,500 retweets and over 3000 Likes for the above, that was very interesting to me.

@JoeTechTracker: So if my NATIONAL ID expires, where will I be deported to?

See other screen-grabbed Tweets below:

After all said and done on this, I do think that this is a warning shot to NIMC, the Commission is expected to do more to educate Nigerians on their services and mandate. It is VERY clear that people are in the dark. The case where even news reporters cannot understand the difference between the NIMC NIN and the Card calls for action and strategic communication towards a more robust public awareness. I also think that the Commission really needs to go back to the drawing board and decide on the future of the plastic-based e-ID Card which it launched in 2014, majority of Nigerians who were issued with NIN at that time and promised to check back for the cards are yet to get the cards years after, but we are told the card has a five-year life span before the material used to manufacture it expires and needs to be reprinted. This means that for a person who registered in 2014, their card would be expiring in 2019 and they are only getting them now or not even getting it at all. The decision NIMC needs to take now is whether to rest the issuance of the card and focus squarely on the NIN which is the more important token and which is easily issued to an enrollee on a slip right at the registration center or less than a month after. I am also aware that the Federal Government recently announced a partnership with the World Bank to support the registration of all Nigerians and issuance of the NIN with funds running into several millions of US dollars, there was no mention of the printing and issuance of the Cards in that wonderful arrangement.

My two pence!

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