KEYNOTE ADDRESS OF HIS EXCELLENCY, THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, AT THE POLICY ROUND-TABLE MEETING ON IDENTITY ECO-SYSTEM HELD ON THURSDAY 08 DECEMBER 2016 AT THE STATE HOUSE BANQUET HALL, PRESIDENTIAL VILLA, ASOKORO, ABUJA, NIGERIA
I am delighted to welcome you all to this policy roundtable on identity management in Nigeria. I am particularly happy with the representation of all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), the World Bank and other Development Assistance Agencies here today. The importance of this policy discussion necessitated my acceptance to chair the meeting, which is aimed at optimising the benefits of digital identity and leveraging its use for accelerating development. The particular focus on harmonisation and integration of disparate government identity management databases is of course a matter of crucial importance to Nigeria.
Identity plays a pivotal role in our lives and cuts across so many sectors of the economy. As a government, we recognise the huge importance of moving towards a Digital Government. Therefore, we must embrace and harness the potentials inherent in digital identity to build and develop our country. Nations all over the world and, in particular, developed countries, have utilized identity as a foundation to transforming governance and enhancing service delivery in the areas of healthcare, agriculture, voting, transportation, financial inclusion, access to basic services and welfare programmes, amongst others.
A case in point is Estonia, a country of just over 1.3m population (WorldBank estimate in 2016). According to Digital Nomads, “Estonia currently has one of the most advanced e-government systems in the world. This includes a single digital ID that enables citizens to access all of its secure services. Applicants can obtain a digital ID that will let them register their business within a day, open a bank account, use e-tax services and sign contracts from anywhere in the world. There, you don’t need to input any data manually for your tax declaration as all data is gathered and prepared automatically. And it can make digital nomad life and business much easier.”
The Nigerian National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has commenced work on the harmonisation of all our disparate Identity Management Systems into a concise system to ensure completeness, accuracy and integrity of such a national asset. In this regard, I believe that Nigeria must use its digital strategy to establish a global reputation for technological leadership and business dynamism, building digital ecosystems in which innovation can thrive. We will invest in smart infrastructure, platforms, and services; digitise our records and classify them accordingly; review and upgrade the legal and regulatory framework; and nurture digital talent.
Virtually all the developed nations have a single identifier that forms the core of their identity. For instance, in the UK, it is the National Insurance Number, which is mandatory to have as soon as a citizen turns 16 years of age and becomes eligible to work and pay tax accordingly. In the USA, it is the Social Security Number and, in India, it is called the Aadahar number. This unique number, which encapsulates the identity of the individual, is used for all of the activities relating to the identification of the person – in terms of planning for security, health, immigration, budget, etc. An accurate identity management system with quality data is no doubt a national asset to a country. It is time for Nigeria to also offer a unique identity to every person in the country. Nigeria as a global player and a developing nation must work towards leveraging digital identity as a reliable tool for uniquely identifying its citizenry and residents and accelerating socio economic development.
I am aware that different sectors in Nigeria in response to their peculiar needs, have developed a means to identify individuals in order to perform their specific statutory functions. This has resulted in duplication of efforts, wastage of resources, uncoordinated identity approach, as well as unreliable identity information due to lack of interoperability and disconnected databases. The importance of the confidentiality of the information/data inherent in the identity management system cannot be over-emphasised. We must therefore ensure absolute integrity and security of this information.
It is important that, as a nation, we have an interoperable and connected system to verify that each person or beneficiary is who he claims to be. Our strategic plans, as a government, in the area of identification scheme must therefore converge to make harmonization and integration of the existing and new databases a reality.
Our policies must be articulated and refined in such a way that government agencies must work together; collaborate with each other, share infrastructure and government investments to serve their customers who are potentially the same citizens and residents. The fiscal cost of implementing disparate and unconnected biometric-linked identity databases is increasingly becoming a huge burden and needs to be streamlined going forward as government cannot continue to fund the unnecessary duplication of efforts and overlapping identity functions that further deplete its scarce resources. Clearly, there are potentially large benefits from the integration of the ID programs of our government institutions and we must take advantage of the opportunity that has been presented for us to get it right.
As we endeavour to resolve the identity management system challenges, we will also ensure that other forms of identification such as Drivers’ License, International Passports are aligned and in sync. The President has already taken the initiative in recognising the importance of identity and a harmonized identity management system. That is why there was a directive from my office in December 2015 for all stakeholders who have built independent identity management systems to consolidate, aggregate and integrate existing databases as a way to accelerate and scale up the national identity database so as to offer every person a unique identifier. I am aware that a lot of work has been done in this regard by all of the stakeholders represented here. However, it is the President’s charge that the national identification number (NIN) is used to authenticate eligible voters in the near future, as well as in the areas of access to health insurance, registration of SIM cards, access to social welfare, financial transactions, etc.
The development of identity program in Nigeria will greatly help the nation leverage on its potential to improve security of lives and properties, advance service delivery, and fight poverty and corruption. Achieving full scale national Identity management would boost our efforts at better tracking the movement of people, while minimizing issues with external border controls and terrorism. We have an opportunity to change and transform our country and I believe everyone here has a role to play in the growth and development of our nation through digital identity.
I want to commend the World Bank for its concern and interest in the development of the identity ecosystem of Nigeria, including the harmonisation and integration of many disparate of government identity management databases; and for sponsoring this roundtable meeting. Furthermore, I want to also commend other Donor agencies who have expressed willingness and readiness to support the Nigerian Government in the effort to build a robust identification eco system.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, It is on this premise therefore, that I am pleased to convey the support and goodwill of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; to the World Bank, other Donor Agencies and to all the MDAs here present. He demands that you all take up the challenge of giving Nigeria a world-class identity management infrastructure, which will be pivotal to the security and socio-economic transformation of the country. His Excellency, the President appreciates your sponsorship, willingness and readiness to support Nigeria.
With the calibre of people here, I am sure that there will be in-depth policy discussions on strengthening the identity eco system of Nigeria and robust action plans to shape the implementation of the Presidential directive for the alignment of all biometric identity databases in the country.
As I conclude, I wish to stress the fact that this meeting is not for us to analyze why the policy cannot work or why more time is needed. This policy meeting is for us to reach a common understanding on what our nation needs right now, what business model and approach should be adopted in ensuring that everyone in Nigeria has a unique identity (an identifier that serves the public and private sectors alike) and consider options and strategies for streamlining activities of MDAs and optimizing the use of scarce government resources in achieveing a common goal on identification as an enabler.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is my singular honor and pleasure to declare this meeting open.
I thank you all and wish you fruitful deliberation.
God bless you, God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Senior Special Assistant on Media & Publicity
Office of the Vice President
December 9, 2016